RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Aug 31st 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Sega, Yakuza, Ryu Ga Gotoku, RGG Studio, Action, Adventure, RPG


Judgment is a game that intrigued me as soon as I first heard of it. There are the obvious similarities to the Yakuza series which, as I have stated here many times, is one of my favorite video game franchises, as well as the new additions to the familiar formula. Playing the part of a former lawyer, many were quick to label the game as "Yakuza meets Phoenix Wright," and while this isn't a completely inaccurate assessment of the game, I still think that it can give the wrong impression as to what this game actually is. Given the similarities to Yakuza, I knew going into Judgment that I would enjoy it to some extent, but the new investigation features felt like a wild card that could go either way.



Developed by Sega's own Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega, Judgment (known as Judge Eyes in Japan) is an action/adventure game and a spin-off of the Yakuza series. Released exclusively on PlayStation 4 on December 13, 2018 in Japan and June 25, 2019 in the rest of the world, the game has been met with generally positive critical reception.

In the red-light district of Tokyo known as Kamurocho, members of an outside yakuza clan known as the Kyorei are being found brutally murdered with their eyes gouged out. Disgraced lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami takes a job working with his former colleagues at the Genda Law Office who are working to defend a Tojo clan captain for the latest in this string of murders. Convinced that there is more to these murders than meets the eye (no pun intended), Yagami is determined to uncover the truth. What he finds is a conspiracy that goes deeper than he could have ever imagined.


Who doesn't love a good courtroom drama?

I have always enjoyed the stories of RGG Studio's previous works, and Judgment is no exception. Judgment's story is an intriguing mystery filled with plot twists, and you'll be left wondering just how deep the rabbit hole goes as the layers keep peeling back. The game features a cast of interesting characters that help keep the dialog entertaining and will endear you to the game's plot. Yagami himself is also an interesting character that has a bit more personality and is less stoic than Yakuza main man Kazuma Kiryu.

Judgment once again places you in the familiar locale of Kamurocho where you are free to explore the city as you please. Kamurocho is full of places to explore, people to interact with, and of course plenty of random street thugs to beat up, so there is never a shortage of things to do. The city is fairly large and may feel overwhelming at first, but you will quickly learn where the key locations are, and there is also a handy map in case you get lost. Taxis can also be used to quickly traverse from one end of the city to the other, for a small fee of course.


Cheese!

The combat in the Yakuza series has always been a highlight, and Judgment is no exception, with a fun combat system that is both accessible to newcomers but still has enough depth for those who want to delve into it. Fighting is mostly similar to the last two Yakuza titles that used the Dragon Engine, but there are some differences that give Judgment a unique feel. Firstly, Yagami is a leaner and more agile character than most of the main Yakuza protagonists, so he deals more in light attacks that hit quickly. Light and heavy attacks can be chained together to form combos, and certain special moves and grabs can be utilized. Yagami has two fighting styles that he can switch between on the fly, Tiger and Crane, with the former being better suited for fighting single enemies while the latter is better for fending off groups. There is also a wall-jumping mechanic which is new to the series and allows Yagami to run towards a wall and jump off of it to either attack enemies or avoid incoming attacks. Weapons can also be picked up and used during fights, but unlike previous Yakuza protagonists, Yagami will only wield blunt weapons and will forego blades and firearms, which I assume is because he is a detective and not a member of the criminal underworld.

Heat moves also make their return, although in Judgment they are called EX moves. During combat, both attacking enemies and being hit will cause Yagami's EX meter to increase, and portions of it can be expended in order to use one of the game's many contextual EX moves. EX moves typically deal quite a bit of damage and are always satisfying to perform. Available EX moves will vary depending on multiple factors, such as number of enemies, player and enemy location, weapons currently equipped by the player or enemies, among other things, so there is no shortage of devastating attacks to perform. There is also EX mode which puts Yagami in a more powerful state until the EX meter fully depletes, and this can be extremely useful when dealing with large groups or particularly strong enemies.


Teamwork!

Also returning are the many different side missions, referred to as Side Cases in Judgment, and these are similar to the sub stories from previous Yakuza games. Side Cases are quirky little side jobs that can be acquired at Yagami's office, at the Genda Law Office, from the bartender at Bar Tender (I see what you did there), or sometimes just randomly in the town. These can and usually do include anything from finding lost cats and spying on suspected cheating husbands to scoping out a supposedly haunted apartment and solving an armed robbery case. Various people from around the city can also be befriended by interacting with them enough times, and these typically open up side cases also, among other things.

The biggest way that Judgment deviates from the Yakuza series lies mainly with the new investigation elements. As a detective, Yagami will sometimes have to investigate scenes and look for clues, and these play out from a first-person perspective with the player able to click on certain objects of interest. There is also a new lock-picking mechanic for those times when Yagami needs to sneak into certain areas, and this is fairly straightforward and not unlike other games with lock-picking mechanics. Yagami will also have to sometimes tail a person of interest in order to find out what they are up to, and this mostly involves keeping a certain distance behind them and taking cover behind objects whenever they turn around. The one bright spot was the Phoenix Wright style courtroom scenes where you must present the appropriate evidence to prove your case, but this was sorely underutilized. Overall, most of these mechanics felt tacked on and underdeveloped and ultimately didn't add much to the game. The tailing mechanic in particular was poorly implemented and overused, and I would find myself groaning any time the game switched to a tailing sequence.


Selecting the correct options can net you some extra SP, but it ultimately doesn't make a difference.

My other big complaint with Judgment is the addition of the Keihin gang that likes to harass you every chance they get. Random thugs on the street who want to pick a fight have always been a part of the Yakuza series, but these enemies were always easy to take out and could usually be avoided. Fairly early into Judgment's story you are introduced to the Keihin gang that quickly begins to hold a grudge against Yagami. Very often while exploring the city, you will get a text from an NPC that says the Keihin gang is attacking shops all over town and asks for you to take care of them. While this is going on, the number of enemies on the streets increases dramatically and become more powerful, making them both much harder to avoid and harder to take down. This happens way too often and becomes very tedious and annoying, and there are practically no rewards for taking them down nor is there a way to stop them permanently.  The requesting NPC will also try to make you feel bad if you don't help them (it didn't work on me).

There is also the addition of the new drone mechanic. Yagami has his own personal drone at his disposal that he can use to scan areas from an aerial perspective, and this is necessary at times during the main story. There is also a drone racing minigame that allows you to race through the city against several other drones. The drone can also be upgraded by crafting new parts from various components you find scattered throughout the city. I found the new drone mechanics to be a neat addition to the game and something I can see some people really getting into, but I personally didn't spend much time with it and only participated in a few of the drone racing minigames.

Speaking of minigames, Judgment has no shortage of side activities for those looking to take a break from the main story or side cases. There are the familiar UFO Catcher machines, batting cages, darts, and various gambling games that have been featured in previous Yakuza titles. Including various arcade games to play has always been a staple of the series, and Judgment contains an impressive assortment including Virtua Fighter 5, Fighting Vipers, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, Puyo Puyo, a House of the Dead knockoff called Kamuro of the Dead, and Motor Raid, a fun racing game that has previously only been available in Japanese arcades. There is also a VR board game experience called Dice & Cube in which Yagami dons a pair of VR goggles and places himself inside of a virtual board game, although I found this to be a bit underdeveloped and not as interesting as similar minigames from other games such as the Dragon Quest series.


This is why you're really here, isn't it?

Virtually every activity in the game will earn you SP which can be used to upgrade Yagami's attributes. Things such as health, EX, and damage can all be upgraded, and there are also a variety of standard and EX moves that can be purchased. There are also upgrades to make certain investigation elements such as lock-picking easier. Certain upgrades are locked and can only be purchased once the associated skill book is found, by scanning QR codes in the city, or through story progression. It is also worth noting that there is no equipment feature in Judgment, so equipping defensive items or bringing your own weapons into combat is not possible like it was in the Yakuza games.

Utilizing the Dragon Engine that the last two Yakuza games were built on, Judgment is the best looking game from RGG Studio yet. Character models and facial animations of the main characters are impressive, although it's clear that the same attention to detail isn't given to minor characters and random NPCs. The city itself also looks great with a nice level of detail given to the environments. There are also some cool looking particle effects that appear during combat which helps give it a nice visual flair.


The visuals during cinematics are particularly impressive.

Just like RGG Studio's previous works, Judgment has a great soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. There is a bit less of a hard rock/heavy metal emphasis than in the previous Yakuza titles (although that genre is still represented), but the comparatively more laidback tone of the music fits the detective theme well. Judgment is also noteworthy for being the first game from RGG Studio since the original 2005 Yakuza to feature English voice acting in addition to the standard Japanese, and the voice work is great for both languages.

Judgment definitely feels more like a Yakuza title with some new investigation elements sprinkled in rather than an entirely original experience, and given how lackluster I found many of these new elements to be, I'm perfectly fine with that. It will be interesting to see if Judgment becomes a franchise of its own and if any sequels will have more fleshed out and better implemented investigation mechanics. While this isn't my favorite title from RGG Studio, I still really enjoyed it overall and find it an easy recommendation for fans of the Yakuza series. While Judgment is still a good game that I think newcomers can still enjoy, I would have a hard time recommending it over the mainline Yakuza titles. Either way, Judgment is absolutely worth playing.


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Comments
 
I'm almost to Chapter 4 and agree with your assessment. Its nice that they are trying to do something different but  the new mechanics become dull after a while. I like the game and agree that it stands on its own its a show of what the mainline Yakuza games are. I believe it makes a good Yakuza Gaiden game but won't start it's own series.
 
@Addicted: Nice, I'm glad to see someone else playing Judgment! The story just gets better and better as you progress, so you've still got some good stuff coming up. Thanks for reading!
 
Man, this is a good write-up. And it further cements that I need to jump into the Yakuza series. I guess I'll have to be on the lookout for this one as well!
 
@Disposed Hero: I've made it to Chapter 10 now. It certainly has more side content than the other games in the series. I do like where the story is headed but the following mechanic is wearing thin and the gang takeover is happening too frequently. I agree that Yagami's fighting is based upon speed instead of the power element of Kazuma. I just wish they had stuck with the rock-paper-scissors dynamic of the previous games. I'm sticking with Tiger style and it seems to dominate everything. As much as it seems like you need to befriend everyone in Kamurocho it does go a long way to make the place believable.

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