Looking back over the past few years it would be hard to believe that the Yakuza series and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio were once a questionable localization since not only have the games gained quite a bit of popularity but their English releases seemed to come out quicker with each iteration. Now not only has this developer been given the chance to spread their wings a bit and try a new original storyline separate from the Yakuza series but it has even been localized with an English dub. With Judgment being the first game in some time to be given this type of treatment, has Sega’s trust in this developer paid off?
Takayuki Yagami may have had a tough childhood and his way through law school may have been backed by some less than lawful people but that didn’t stop him from being at the top of his game as a lawyer, even getting a rare acquittal on a murder charge for one of his clients. Unfortunately when a defense attorney manages to get someone freed from prison only for that person to then potentially murder someone once again, that will quickly sour anyone’s career.
In fact thanks to this outcome Yagami has spent his last few years working instead as a private detective taking on any odd job that will help pay the bills be it tracking down a cat to spying on a cheating spouse while being assisted by a former Yakuza member that was expelled from his clan. As players step into Takayuki’s shoes a number of strange murders have been taking place throughout Kamurocho and now this most recent murder has found one of his old acquaintances needing a little extra helped. Initially hired to do some leg-work for his old law office with the insistence of some members of the Tojo clan that helped bring him up, the truth behind these murders is far more complicated and has closer ties to Takayuki than anyone could have expected.
Now while the mention of the Tojo Clan may ring true for veterans of the Yakuza series, players shouldn’t worry about needing any prior knowledge of those games before diving into Judgment. Outside of these familiar names players will find that this game is a separate entity all on its own and this works in its benefit story wise as not only can newcomers enjoy the story as it is but it also provides everyone with a fresh take on the world and new cast of characters to see grow and learn more about over the course of the game.
As a whole Takayuki is a different approach to a central character for the developer as he is not only more tech savvy than usual but he isn’t tied down by things like clan hierarchy, giving him a bit more freedom both in the world itself and with his personality. By having such a strong leading character the numerous acquaintances and other allies that players meet while progressing the story feel just as strong as they play well off of Takayuki’s personality. Combine a well-written cast with a wide range of personalities together with an engrossing storyline that features a number of twists and turns that will keep players on their toes and you have a game that players will constantly want to push forward in just to see what could happen next.
In fact thanks to this strong core storyline players will notice that the side-missions actually have to be tracked down a bit more than in the Yakuza series. Rather than simply stumbling across them Takayuki will be able to make friends with various shop owners and other people throughout Kamurocho. Not only does this help make the city feel more like an actual living one but also tends to be how players find a number of side-missions, described as side cases, in the game. These range from being a bit more on the serious side to completely ridiculous. Balancing the tone of the game between serious drama and comedic gold can be a difficult task but the developers have pulled it off perfectly since most of the oddest elements are relegated to these side activities that players have to track down when they feel like taking a breather from the core story.
Shortly after beginning the game players will find that they will have mostly free reign to explore the city of Kamurocho. This means that players will generally be able to spend time messing around with mini-games or taking part in street brawls while traveling between various mission markers that start up either main quests or side quests. Taking part in all kinds of activities, defeating enemies in combat, as well as completing missions reward Takayuki with points that can be used to increase his health, unlock more combat moves, or provide extra bonuses that either make certain detective activities or side missions a bit easier.
Combat in Judgment has been made a bit more streamlined as Takayuki is the master of two styles of combat that can be swapped immediately at the tap of the button. The styles that he can use happen to be the single-target high damage moveset of the Tiger or the crowd control based Crane style. Both of these moves have a unique set of attacks that help keep combat feeling varied and not only do these two styles still favor a faster style of movement but Takayuki can even perform wall jumps into special moves and take various evasive actions that some of the stiffer previous main characters couldn’t have dreamed of.
This combat works incredibly well and as you fight and defeat foes players will fill up an EX gauge that can be used to perform EX actions (heat moves) that are stylish finishing moves on the enemies. It is worth noting that while some standard brawls are mostly a piece of cake, the game does ramp up the difficulty at a satisfying pace as foes start to use more damaging weapons that will actually remove chunks of your health bar that cannot be restored simply by drinking an energy drink or eating at a restaurant. Instead these type of damage can only be restored permanently by using a medical kit to patch yourself up or actually visiting a doctor. This helps ramp up the difficulty a bit that doesn’t feel challenging and instead keeps players on their toes.
Since Takayuki is a detective now players also have a number of new mechanics to deal with. These come in the form of asking questions in the proper order which will reward the player with more points to improve their skills. While there isn’t really a negative to choosing the wrong order in questions it feels rewarding to get information as efficiently as possible. Players must also now tail certain targets which tend to almost always play out the same way by staying far enough back to not raise suspicion and taking cover behind objects to avoid being detected when your target looks around. More often than not these tailing missions turn into chase sequences that see players needing to catch up and take down their target usually by dodging through crowds and obstacles while taking part in quick time events to avoid slowing down.
A few other aspects such as having to investigate a crime scene or location to find clues or track down a target using a vague description also appear. The latter is a simple enough task that actually has some unique qualities to it while the former can be a bit frustrating at times since some objects of interest can only be seen from certain angles, making them more annoying than rewarding at times. Oddly enough there is even a lock-picking mini-game that, while okay on its own, is placed in the worst locations sometimes and really breaks up the flow of some missions.
The various mini-games remain a strong source of fun for those who want to reminisce about older Sega titles such as classic games like Puyo Puyo, Virtua Fighter 5, Viper Fighters, of course UFO catcher machines that give plushies that can then be used to decorate the office, a rail shooter featuring zombies invading Kamurocho, and more. There are even some more modern side activities such as drone racing to take part in if you feel like or learning the intricacies of mahjong.
Visuals & Audio
The flair and style that Ryu Ga Gotoku are known for when it comes to providing detailed character models continues to hold true in Judgment. The fighting animations feel incredibly fluid as both of Takayuki’s fighting styles flow together well between combo moves and, although some are clearly hold-overs of previous Heat moves, the fancy EX actions remain a true delight. It is worth noting that although the city of Kamurocho has been once again given a bit of a face lift and a number of areas do feature some unique stylings compared to other games from the developer, it is a bit difficult not to notice how similar a lot of the environment can still be and how it was simply carried forward into this release.
For the first time since the original release of Yakuza 2 Sega has given Judgment the English voice acting treatment and given the player the choice to select between either the new English dub or the original Japanese voice track at their leisure. Thanks both in part to the great localization efforts from the company as well as the wide array of voice actors in the game and their serious efforts in bringing the game’s writing to life, the English dub works wonders in what is still a very Japanese style game. This means that those who wish to play in English will find the voice cast doing the story the justice it deserves but if you wish to hear the original Japanese all of their voice work is still available as a viable option. It is worth noting that while the background music and sound effects for the game work fairly well, the lack of certain side-activities such as karaoke are a bit disappointing.
By going outside of their usual comfort zone Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has managed to develop a fresh new experience that newcomers and longtime fans of the company will enjoy. By crafting an extremely satisfying story that features a refreshing cast of characters and a narrative that manages to balance its drama heavy storyline with its more comedic side-activities Judgment may still feel a bit too familiar to some of the developer’s recent works at times but easily succeeds at delivering an experience that stands up just fine on its own.