I’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of things in Judgment. I’ve investigated the brutal murder of a yakuza gang member, beaten up thugs on the street with my bare hands, helped a hotel barista with her English, smashed traffic cones into the faces of thugs on the street, tailed an unfaithful husband, clobbered a bicycle over the heads of thugs on the street, played a few rounds of blackjack in a lush underground casino, spin kicked and headbutted thugs on the street, and bought a collectible anime figurine for my hacker buddy…right after I slammed a helpless thug’s face into an oncoming car. If all of this sounds like I’m describing a Yakuza game you wouldn’t be too far off because Judgment has the critically acclaimed Japanese gang drama series’ DNA coursing through its veins whilst still managing to be its own game standing on its own merit.
Better known by the superior, in my opinion, title Judge Eyes, Judgment follows private investigator Takayuki Yagami as he roams the streets of the fictional district Kamurocho seeking justice wherever it can be found. Formerly a lawyer for a small local law firm, Yagami becomes an overnight ace attorney after acquitting a murder suspect of all charges, a feat regarded as nearly impossible by Kamurocho standards. His claim to fame, however, is short-lived as the same suspect is later caught after stabbing his girlfriend repeatedly and burning her in her own apartment, which earns him the label of serial killer. Fast forward sometime later, Yagami goes from clean-cut suit-wearing lawyer to messy-haired leather jacket adorning detective. Along with a recently ejected yakuza called Kaito, he has founded the Yagami Detective Agency in a bid to redeem himself for contributing to the death of the girl. Kamurocho is home turf to the Tojo clan’s Matsugane family. Their captain called Hamura is arrested as a key suspect in the murder of a rival gang member who was found dead with both his eyes gouged out, the third in a series of similar murders. It’s from this case that Judgement’s story takes off with Yagami, Kaito, and a slew of other characters navigate the underbelly of Kamurocho in search of the truth. Yakuza fans should feel right at home with the familiar setting and yakuza gangs, though the story itself feels more like a crime thriller rather than a campy gang drama. The camp is still intact, though, with the familiar over-the-top storylines and superbly delivered dramatic dialog.
While other games in the Yakuza universe have you playing as multiple characters, in Judgment you’re only in control of Yagami, who’s an expert martial artist able to employ two fighting styles in combat. Tiger style is primarily used for one-on-one fights focusing on staggered and precise strikes and tons of upgrades which are perfect for dispatching lone thugs and challenging bosses. Switching to Crane style allows for more fluid and wide arcing attacks that help take out larger groups of enemies more efficiently. As with other Ryu Ga Gotoku games, combat feels like a 3D version of classic arcade beat-em-ups. Its main focal point is the EX Actions which take up a bar of the EX meter and are executed in a variety of situations, such as when standing on top of a downed foe to deliver a mercilessly brutal kick to the face and when holding a helpless thug against the wall to smash their sides with a Muai Thai style knee strike. Things get even crazier when Kaito and other characters are in the mix with EX Actions leading to some extremely flashy team combination cinematic attacks. EX Actions can also be activated whilst holding objects and weapons. There’s no shortage of these brutal attacks which makes it fun experimenting with the environment. Filling up the EX meter allows for the activation of Boost Mode in which Yagami’s attacks become faster. switching between styles is more fluid enabling longer combos, and stagger from enemy attacks is negated. While the combat falls into familiar territory, Judgement differentiates itself in several ways from the Yakuza series.
As a detective, Yagami must perform a variety of tasks for each case he takes on so that hard evidence can be gathered and justice can be served. One of the most frequent tasks is to tail targets to find out more information about them. During tailing, you’ll have to be on your toes for moments when your mark becomes suspicious and checks to see if their being followed. At the same time, you’ll have to avoid bumping into people and making too much of a ruckus. Taking photos of marks at just the right moment either with Yagami’s smartphone or drone is also part of the detective day-to-day, the latter of which can have its own challenges depending on the wind. When searching for evidence, a special Investigation mode is employed at crime scenes and other situations. In this mode, you must go around looking for clues and details until you fulfill the checklist on the right of the screen. Beyond these tasks, Yagami makes use of other tools and tricks of the trade to get the job done, including matching marks to vague sketches and disguising himself as a homeless bum or repair guy. The detective side of things is well-paced with tasks like picking locks feeling like short mini-games, of which Judgment, in classic Yakuza fashion, has no shortage.
Another new element is the Friend Events which in many ways feels like the social bonds found in the Persona series. As a detective looking for justice, Yagami is willing to lend a hand to a variety of characters who live and work in Kamurocho. By performing various tasks that can range from simply talking to them to fending off ruthless thugs in their stead, you can level up your friendship status with each individual character which in turn improves your city reputation. Each relationship comes with its own set of perks that provide Yagami with aid in battle and other situations. The Friend Events system is so intricately crafted as each character has his or her own unique backstory and personality. I’ve found myself eager to check in with each of my friends as I venture on to solve cases. There are even some potential romances that can be found through building your friendship with some of the female characters. Keeping up with your friendships, like with almost every other activity in Judgment, nets you Skill Points which can be spent to improve Yagami’s skills in combat, detective work, and social situations.
Judgment is a spin-off of the Yakuza series yet with all of its intricacies and a wide variety of activities it feels like a mainline title. The district of Kamurocho is as bustling and lively as ever. Voice acting is superb and the story holds enough secrets and twists to keep wanting to find out what happens next. Running around, talking to people and helping out presents another side of this fictional yet familiar nook of Tokyo. It almost feels like a playground filled with endless possibilities, whether you’re looking to advance the story, make some money through side jobs or just kicking back with some mini-games. Even if you’re new to the legendary games made by the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio, it’s a great introduction to the universe and very likely one that will suck you in for the long haul.
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