Judgment is a game that is close to my heart before even playing it. At the end of 2018 and into January of 2019, I played through all the Yakuza games. These are games that I absolutely loved, especially now that 1 and 2 have been remade. The lineage of the series lies in the classic Shenmue game from the Dreamcast. After the team lead by Yu Suzuki fell apart after the sequel, a few of the members of that team formed a new studio and got the original Yakuza game made for the PS2. It’s been a long road for the series, and luckily for me, picked up the pace with new games being produced from the studio Ryu Ga Gotoku on a regular basis.
A fascinating aspect of this game, along with the Yakuza games it owes a tremendous amount to, is the world of Kamurocho. This is the city, first introduced in Yakuza 1 in 2005, that has slowly filled out with each subsequent sequel. All of these games are based around the same city. That means you’ll see the same buildings and the same layout of streets in every game. This could be considered lazy and boring game design, but it somehow works for these games.
The city of Kamurocho becomes a character in and of itself in the series and it’s what ties Judgment to the rest of the Yakuza franchise. There are no games of this style that have used the same map layout for all the games, but it gives the player a sense of knowledge that is otherwise impossible. If you actually play all the games, that means you’re spending 30-100 hours, depending on how hard you go, in each title. So when you get to Judgment and a character tells you to go to Children’s Park to meat someone, you already know where it is and what path you want to take. You can visit the same convenience store or sushi restaurant from a decade ago and see how it’s changed.
Even after all these games and all the time I’ve spent in the city, all I want to see is how it’s going to change with the next generation of systems. I want them to keep this city in their games while adding and filling out more buildings, increasing the amount of micro details in the city. It is a character in the game, so it’s evolution is a critical aspect of the design philosophy of the title. It’d be amazing to have this virtual city where ever room and building is recreated perfectly, a little simulation where stories can unfold and engross the player.
The sad part of this game is that you have to say goodbye to Kazuma Kiryo, the main protagonist of the Yakuza games so far. Perhaps this will prepare me for not being able to play as him in the upcoming Yakuza 7 game. It’s sad that I can’t play as him, but luckily the main protagonist of this game, Takayuki Yagami, does an admirable job of drawing you into his world. You also still get to deal with the Tojo clan and all the Yakuza members that fill out the streets of Kamurocho so you wont be missing out on Yakuza.
Instead of a badass Yakuza member, Yagami is a detective/lawyer that is trying to deal with being a detective in the city. Along with his best friend Kaito and his old law firm, he quickly gets involved in a soap opera plot of assassinations, government officials, corrupt cops, and alzheimers drugs.
If you’ve played any of the Yakuza games, the story unfolds in a similar fashion. It slowly draws you in until you’re absolutely hooked by chapter 10. At that point you’ll want to just plow through the story to find out who is doing what and how it all fits together. It turns into a soap opera, which sounds like a bad thing, but absolutely works for this game. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll avoid a lot of the plot. What I found, that I didn’t think would happen, since I loved the characters so much by the end of the last Yakuza game, was that I just wanted to spend more time with these characters as the credits rolled. They made me want to watch them interact together, go on another adventure, and wish that a sequel was in the works so that I could see how their relationships play out from here.
I made the choice, right from the start, to play this game with the English voice acting. This is something I would have never done prior, but I was actually happy that I did. The voice acting in this game is surprisingly good. It even has Mathew Mercer from Critical Role fame voicing one of the police officers.
The gameplay, while good, can be a bit repetitive. The biggest issue is the amount of running you have to do around the city. If you try and blow through the game in four days, like I did, you run around Kamurocho an awful lot. It gets fucking tedious. I actually got to a point where I wanted Yagami to get an electric scooter or something to allow him to zip around the city. Hopefully with the fast loading speeds of the PS5, we can get some super fast travel system in case I just want to warp to a place I’ve already been 100 times. Don’t let this seem like I’m contradicting myself with what I said about the city earlier. The city is a great character, it’s just that I’d like to have a bit more say in how I interact with it.
I found the fighting in this game to be more repetitive than in the last Yakuza game. I felt like I had more options in that game and in this one I was doing the same one or two combos over and over for almost all the battles. The only thing I’d change up would be what object I picked up to smash someone with, or perhaps just using my special triangle attack to mix it up a bit. You can change your stance between the two that are available, one is for dealing with crowds, while the other is for one-on-one battles. I just wish they added more combos and allowed you to really mix up your fighting style, perhaps If I go for the Platinum trophy and have to play the game on the hardest setting will the combat truly shine.
I just need to give a shoutout to my girl Saori. I just loved her demeanor and the way she handled herself in the law-firm. She’s a character that is reserved but assertive. She hides behind her hair yet knows who she is and isn’t afraid of just being herself. Her English voice acting was spot-on also. It was funny how she got to shine for a bit during the game, where she was needed for two of the missions, and it was really nice to see how her personal relationships with another character evolved. I can’t wait to see how she grows in the sequel.
Final Score – 9.1
The studio still keeps me glued to the cutscenes and the story that is playing out, something I can’t say about 95% of all video games. I’ll definitely line up for more soap opera goodness from them. Let down by a really simple combat system and a lot of running. I loved the characters and can’t wait for a sequel to this game.