Judgment Preview

With an attempt to put a spin on the well-established Yakuza series, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio brings Judgment to the table. It’s a new title that wouldn’t really be out of place as a Yakuza game. However, despite taking place in the same old Kamurocho, Judgment definitely feels like a fresh take on the old open world formula. The preview let me finish the first chapter and I was having a great time.

The game stars Takayuki Yagami as a private detective seeking the truth behind the serial murders taking place in Kamurocho. Once an up-and-coming defense attorney, Yagami’s career was cut short after his recently freed client was accused of murdering his own girlfriend and setting her apartment on fire. From what I have seen, the story is quite captivating with the occasional court scene as well as dramatic tension. Admittedly, the lack of strong or interesting female characters is somewhat disappointing. Women in the game so far are mostly tied to love interest, service, and hostage roles as they often are in the media. Regardless, I’m very interested to see how the crime drama plot unfolds. Even just from the first chapter, there is a great cast of characters with memorable personalities and excellent voice acting.

Fortunately, the game comes with a dual language voice-over option, allowing players to experience Judgment whichever they choose. As a Yakuza fan, I have been playing the game with Japanese voices. I listened to some of the English voice-overs and they just seemed off to me. Admittedly, it was probably due to me being accustomed to the Japanese voice acting and then switching to English afterwards. I was also surprised that the subtitles changed depending on which voice language was selected. Often, creators take the shortcut of having matching subtitles usually at the detriment of the non-English languages, so it was refreshing to see a game with dedicated subtitles for both options.

Mechanically, Judgment continues the typical Kamurocho activities, such as dining at restaurants, playing arcade games, shopping at stores, befriending locals, and the like. The arcade games from Yakuza 6, like Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo, make a comeback as well as a couple of new games, like Fighting Vipers. Playing a game inside a game has a strange appeal to it that I hadn’t really appreciated until now. In Judgment, the mechanical deviation from the tried and true comes from Yagami’s role as a detective and his fresh new fighting styles.

As a private detective, Yagami often delves into sneaky activities, such as tailing, lock picking, investigating, and spying. They add variety to the typically combat-heavy gameplay of the main campaign. Tailing involves your basic stealth mechanics, like using cover and avoiding your target’s line of sight. The lock picking is a very well implemented minigame where the player has to carefully use the right analog stick to raise each pin to match the shear line. It’s surprisingly engaging and tense as raising one of the pins too high results in having to start over.

In Judgment, most areas often require investigation to gather crucial information. From spotting cameras to searching the scene of the crime, the game invests a decent amount of time to observation. Spying takes the form of drone piloting, providing an aerial approach to eavesdropping and spotting targets. These segments slow the pace of the experience down a bit, but it’s a small price to pay for a huge shift in the overall experience.

The combat feels still superb. It’s highly engaging, polished, and hilariously over-the-top. Getting into scuffles feeds into visiting restaurants for replenishment, this then ties into interacting with the locals to boost your reputation. It’s a smart and enjoyable feedback loop that makes for an addictive experience. Along with other systems, the game tops it all off with a fleshed out skill system.

The player gains skill points for every little thing, which constantly incentivizes the player to keep on experimenting with the game. Skill points can be traded in for an assortment of interesting traits, from the basic combat skills, like dealing more damage or having more health, to the more detective-based, like making investigations easier. With all that I’ve mentioned, I found Judgement hard to put down. There’s just so much going for the game even in the first seven hours I experienced.

Judgment will be out on June 25. Having played through the first chapter, I have very high hopes for it. Though the game uses assets from the Yakuza series, it makes a name for itself with the clear change in perspective. The developers had already been flirting with the idea of new protagonists in the past and now, Judgment doesn’t even feature our main man, Kazuma Kiryu. I highly recommend keeping an eye on the game when it comes out. With a mix between the new and the familiar, Judgement is free from the shackles of the long-running series, while making effective use of what came before it. From the looks of it, Judgment is certainly shaping up to be one of the highlights of the year.