by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
It’s no big secret by now that the Yakuza franchise is one of my all-time favorites – which says a lot for someone that is not a fan of open-world/sandbox games. I will admit, I was a little worried that Judgment would just be Yakuza with a new character. Not a lot was known about exactly how Takagi Yagami would deal with his problems as a private eye/detective. Fortunately, this is not the case, and absolutely stands on its own merits with unique gameplay, and though it’s the familiar town of Kamurocho, there are still new things to see and do in this, the most modern setting so far from the RGG Studio. Kiryu walks around like a force of nature, obliterating anything in his path, making huge mistakes, and ultimately setting things right, but Yagami is a considerably different character. I won’t spoil his backstory, but it’s a markedly different one. Another thing I was sort of worried about, is that we wouldn’t see any of the Yakuza staple characters, but I’ve really come to enjoy this new cast. After all, Kamurocho is a pretty big town, and there are tons of people in it.
Judgment is excellent about teaching you what you need to know, which is a surprisingly large amount of mechanics. Every time I turned around, I received a new tool or trick to be used in my detective escapades. Whereas Kiryu has his fists and his word, and he doesn’t break ‘em for anybody, Yagami has an awesome Drone to spy with, picks locks, uses a wire to break through doorknobs, a camera to snap photos with. He also has his Detective Mode with which to focus in on the minute details around him to figure out his next move/declarative statement. Does this sound overwhelming? Perhaps, and it definitely can feel that way. He has passive skills he can unlock to make them a little easier to manage, which is excellent – I have only unlocked like three locks in ESO or Skyrim ever using these systems. So while he has plenty of tools in his bag, the game will teach you exactly how to use them by doing them.
The gameplay for Judgment is fairly intricate, but you won’t have to wait too long to really understand and dive deep. Each Chapter feels like its own case, but they are tied together neatly with plenty of intrigue, lies, and murder. Whether it’s a robbery, murder, or possibly worse, there is tons of intrigue right out of the gate. Takagi Yagami runs his own detective agency and is a former lawyer. But each chapter will be its own case and have its own goals, where he has to run around, gathering evidence, getting clues, grilling people, and of course, knocking the lights out of various bad guys that get in his way. But he spends far more time snooping and spying, which is awesome. One of the biggest parts of his kit is the “Detective Mode”, where you shift to First-Person Perspective and have to find something amiss in the world around you. It’s not always staring you in the face, either. You might have to walk up and down a street to find a security camera, a missing wedding ring, or whatever. You can get hints if you want, but you gain no SP if you ask for hints.
The detective work is not hard, you just have to be careful and think your way through each conversation. You always have evidence you can go back and look at on your phone (your menu). When talking to important characters, you will have plenty of choices for your statements. You also have moments where you can reveal evidence to prove someone’s guilt/complicity. Getting the right choices/saying the right things give you bonuses, though you don’t get penalized for getting the wrong one. You can keep picking until you get it right, but it’s better to get things right the first time. I don’t want to spoil the detective work, but it’s in-depth, and it’s honestly a lot of fun. I was a little leery of it, but once I got the hang of what I was doing, I was having an absolute ton of fun. Wearing disguises, sneaking about, picking locks and spying on people? It felt so damn awesome. Hell, you can also tail people, ducking around corners, hiding behind things and pretending to look at your phone to keep an eye on people. Is that not enough for you? You also have moments where you have to run people down, with several quick-time events to make sure you catch up to them. I would double the size of this article going into how to do these things, but it’s better that you experience them yourselves. Being a detective isn’t easy, but it is awesome.
Don’t get me wrong though – there is plenty of fighting in Judgment. Takagi has two martial arts styles that feel legitimate and authentic – Crane and Tiger. He also has some parkour gifts, such as bouncing off of a wall to pummel his target right in the face. I was told that if fights drag out too long, the cops can show up and you wind up having to pay them off or something to get them off your case, but it did not happen to me even once. If I let fights go on too long, I died, so I stopped trying to get this to happen. But be aware that it could very much happen. Some of your heat actions will feel similar (weapons mostly), but his Takagi’s personal grappling/combat heat actions will be unique and fitting to his character. A new feature comes to the game for combat as well – wounding. Certain weapons (guns, swords) can maim/wound Takagi, and no blocking can prevent this. This can also happen when major enemies enter Heat Mode.
This can only be cured by using a Med-Kit or talk to a Doctor (who happens to be down in the sewers). Even with that, combat is incredibly fun, and both Tiger and Crane styles have important uses. Tiger is more for single-target fights, and Crane for multiple foes, but use which feels right for you. Combat felt so fluid and smooth in Judgment, and there are absolutely loads of cool weapons and heat actions to utilize, but at the end of the day, combat is great. You don’t really make money from fighting though, except for the occasional yen dropping from punching people so hard it falls from their pockets. So what’s a P.I. to do? Side-Cases! You have several places to get Side-Cases from – Your own office, your former law office, and even a bar (called Tender. Bar? Tender? Love it). The greater your reputation in town is, the more cases you can unlock. Reputation is increased by shopping at local businesses, eating at restaurants, and generally being a helpful guy.
Side-Cases give nice, huge amounts of money, and you will use those detective skills from the main cases as well, so don’t think that goes away anytime soon. Some of them are very serious, but a lot of them are the wacky nonsense you can expect from the RGG/Yakuza writers, such as a trilogy of weird perverts that are stalking an innocent girl. These Side-Cases can also lead you to romance, meeting quite a few girls whom you can sweet talk, wine, dine, and take selfies with. That’s a useful way to spend that mountain of cash you’re compiling – you get prompted to buy them gifts before each date. I had one Side-Case that did not activate, no matter what I did, but all the others worked just fine. You can also find Side-Cases just walking around (highlighted by a Blue Folder on your map), much like Kiryu’s Side Missions. Finding perverts, outwitting sleazy bar owners who cheat on their husbands, you name it, Judgment has amazing Side Content for you.
There are also absolute loads of mini-games and side content aside from being a detective. Batting Cages? Still here. Virtual Sugoroku? Also a thing! Eating at amazing restaurants? You better believe it. Arcades? Oh yes. There’s even an amazing new game, Kamuro of the Dead! It’s House of the Dead but set in Kamurocho. So there’s a new, wonderful Rail Shooter with zombies, set in the Yakuza/RGG universe, in the game. It plays well, and once you’ve unlocked it, definitely go give it a try. There are plenty of classic SEGA arcade games to play there, don’t worry. Mahjong is back if you enjoy that, but remember that Drone that I off-handedly mentioned? You can also enter Drone races! I’m personally very bad at them, but as the game goes on, you can pick up scrap to update/improve your Drone with, and race them against the best in Kamuorocho. I love it being there, but I’m not good at it. One final cool feature is outdoor Shogi, for those of you who want to really test your strategy skills. What good detective wouldn’t be a Shogi master?
Kamurocho is a beautiful city, and this might be the prettiest iteration game set in Kamurocho yet. The gameplay felt smooth and easy to get into, though if I had to nitpick about a part of it, it would be wire sliding. One of the detective skills you have to master is sliding a wire back and forth on a doorknob to pop it open. You have to hold the left stick and gently rotate, then the right (or sometimes the left again), until it’s open. But you have to hold the other stick in the place it was in while rotating the other. It can feel very frustrating to do, at least to me. But again, you can spend skill points to make a variety of things easier, unlock new skills, and gain strength/health for combat. I didn’t feel like every couple of steps would result in combat, and I was mostly free to just wander the city and do what I wanted. There are lots of callbacks to the earlier games from RGG Studio, but I don’t want to spoil them for you. Spend time talking to people in town though, help them out, and find love and friendship. I do want to also mention that like any good detective, you have a pinball machine in your office, and a record player! Through romance events, and simply spending money at local convenience stores, you can acquire awesome music to listen to while in your office, on vinyl no less.
Angel Eyes. . . Er, Judge Eyes: 5/5:
I do not hand out 4.5s/5s lightly, but Judgment absolutely deserves it. Judgment could be the start of a brand-new IP/franchise from RGG Studios, and I am one hundred percent on board for it. The complaints are minor, but they are there. Tracking down Side-Cases can be incredibly frustrating, thanks to some of the buildings with multiple stores/shops in them – or simply not having people show up at all. Another thing that kind of bothered me at first, was in order to gain friendship with certain restaurants, you need to eat there. If you want to eat there, you have to have taken damage first. So you have to get into fights, let them hit you, then go spend money. That felt so damn frustrating, but it made sense at least. Luckily, through Side-Cases, you can unlock a skill (5,000 SP) that will let you eat, even when full. There is no hunger meter, other than your health meter. I’m also grateful this game doesn’t use a stat system – that would probably be too much.
You aren’t supposed to unlock friendship levels easily, but I spent a lot of the early chapters doing just that. Judgment is a beautiful game, with a gritty story that starts off hard. It doesn’t work slowly up to tragedy and violence – Judgment starts at 11 and just goes up from there. It requires a lot of thought, consideration, and strategy. It’s set in the same town and is from a completely different perspective. The detective aspects of the game feel easy to get in to, and there are just so many possible things you can do. Judgment is easily one of the best games I’ve played this year. Even standing around in smoking spots, just listening to people is fascinating. RGG continues their tradition of taking a town and giving so much to see and do, without it feeling overwhelming. If you enjoy detective games or kicking people in the face, you owe it to yourself to play Judgment. It is easily one of the best games of the year, and definitely one of the best offerings from RGG. They created a whole new story in this town, from a new perspective, with an absolute mountain of storytelling possibilities. Even the font and font transitions were beautiful. It feels like a gritty detective story, and I cannot get enough of it. As a final aside, though I prefer the JP voice cast, I will say the English cast absolutely knocked this game out of the damn park.