Over the past month or so, I have taken a crash course in the art of Yakuza, or as it is known in japan – Like a Dragon. And while I initially wasn’t impressed by it, then by the time the credits have rolled for Yakuza 6, I was in firm belief that Yakuza, might just be the greatest videogame franchise ever created. Wanting more, I jumped straight onto Judgment, which is a spinoff of the series.
Judgment, just like the vast majority of Yakuza games, takes place within a fictional district of Tokyo, named Kamurocho. While Kamurocho has been overhauled slightly, as certain parts of the district are now under construction, then it is still largely the same as it was in the previous instalments. Sure, some establishments have been replaced, some have been added, but if you’ve played any of the Yakuza titles you are not going to get lost.
Judgment begins with Tak, the main protagonist, who happens to be a lawyer, winning a landmark acquittal for an alleged serial killer, who after his release, kills again, this time in a much more gruesome fashion. This makes Tak abandon his dream profession and become a private eye – despite of being raised by a patriarch of a Tojo clan subsidiary.
If you are jumping into Judgment, hoping to meet the pivotal characters of the Yakuza series, or to even catch a glimpse of them – then you are going to be disappointed, as despite of the main storyline heavily zeroing on the Tojo clan, vital characters such as the patriarch of the clan Daigo Dojima, never make an appearance; which somewhat defies logic, as early on in the game, one of the Tojo clan captains, Hamura, who also happens to be a Captain, is accused of murdering a Kansai Yakuza. If you played any Yakzua title from 2 onwards, you’d know that a member of Tojo, killing a member of Omi Alliance would heavily affect patriarch Dojima – who within Judgment, completely ignores it, and never gets brought up in relation to the above outlined events.
Overall, Judgment, despite of its premise – suffers from some major lapses in logic. And without spoiling too much, let’s just say that later on in the game, Tak and his ex-Yakuza side kick end up crossing Hamura and somehow, someway, they both end up spending most of their time with Matsugane family Yakuza, who Hamura keeps a close eye on – due to events which precede the main story of the game. But despite of that fact, Hamura never punishes the said Yakuza for his disobedience.
Don’t get me wrong, Judgment is still an incredible tale, which only further showcases the studio’s writing prowess. But it unfortunately, it isn’t as watertight as the story of Kiryu Kazuma of the Yakuza series. And sure, Yakzua had its own logical fallacies, but those didn’t stem from potholes, or lazy writing, but from the fact that they all supported the character and mindset of the title’s protagonist. Whereas in Judgment the same fallacies come across as plot branches, which have been swept under the rug, due to possible time, or monetary constraints.
Time constraints could have played a big role in the development of Judgment, as besides of Tak, who has been built from ground up with brand new fighting style, and previously unseen – for the franchise – character development, the remainder of the game is very akin to the Yakuza series. And while playing through Judgment, you may have moments of Déjà vu, where you’ll complete a certain quest, or fight a certain enemy, and feel like you’ve done this before. This is the most apparent when fighting Toru Higashi, who’s fighting style, especially during the second encounter, heavily resembles the one of Yakuza 6’s Koshimizu.
Judgment shares a lot of similarities with the Yakuza series. But it also features an abundance of unique features, and components and one of them is the addition of free running, which allows you to chase after targets, while vaulting over vehicles, jumping eight feet tall fences, and most impressively of all, leap across rooftops. But that’s not all, as Judgment has you get into the role of a private investigator, you will also do a fair share of investigating. This entails everything from tailing targets, through evidence collection and witness/defendant interrogation, all the way down to drone reconnaissance. And yes, while you will be asked to take a fair share of photographs using your in-game phone, then Judgment also places a brand spanking new drone, into your hands to elevate your investigator’s skills to brand new heights – in every sense of the way.
All investigations related to the main narrative, feature a fair amount of detail and are largely enjoyable – bar a handful of tailing sequences which just overstay their welcome. But when it comes to side-cases, then the same unfortunately cannot be said about those. As such usually are rather bothersome, and often feel more like time consuming chores, rather than entertaining side quests. And yes, those by their very definition are nothing more than ‘side’ activities, but in order to extend the title’s play time, Judgment often forces you to play through those, even during major story developments and at times, you end up being forced to tail a woman to find out what her profession is, instead of delving deeper into a Yakuza killing, which has occurred mere hours ago – as far as in-game time goes.
Judgment is a great game in its own right. From the narrative, through combat, all the way down to core design, it excels on every level. But while playing it, you cannot shake the feeling, that the studio behind the title, has tried everything it possibly could, to remove it as far as it is humanly possible, from the Yakuza series. And by doing so, it has ultimately removed some of the proverbial soul, which ultimately made the Yakuza series so incredible. Sure, Judgment has some great characters, but Matsugane is nowhere near as impactful, or charismatic as Shintaro Kazama; Tak is by no means a level match to Kiryu Kazuma, or even Goro Majima; and seemingly, only Hamura, Kaito, and Ayabe can hold their own – and could easily slot into any instalment of the Yakuza franchise.
I’ve spent a lot of time comparing Judgment to Yakuza, despite the fact that the developer, is not fond of such comparisons, and has done its best to market it as a unique entity. But at the same time, Judgment as a product, does its best to convince you that it is in fact is, ‘yet another Yakuza’, as if that weren’t the case, Tojo Clan would have never even been mentioned. Hell, even if the developer were hell bent on featuring the clan within the title, it didn’t have to introduce the Omi Alliance into the fold, which introduction obviously draws comparisons between Judgment, and the rather excellent Yakuza 2.
As I’ve mentioned before, Judgment is an excellent game. But while playing it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it is slowly tearing itself apart, as it barrels towards the final conclusion. On one hand it does its best to tell a captivating tale, far removed from the Yakuza series; but on the other, it does everything it possibly can to convince you that this is in fact yet another Yakuza. This lack of concrete direction results in product, which heavily resembles Yakuza 4. A title which coincidentally enough has also featured an investigator, and who’s individual plotline has also done its fair share of damage to the overall experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Judgment Video Game Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Judgment is a yet another stellar release from Ryu ga Gotoku, but it pales in comparison to the studio’s renowned Yakuza franchise.