The Yakuza franchise is something I hold near and dear to my heart. These were titles I had been with since the beginning, all the way back since the first released in 2006. Over the years, the franchise spawned six main entries, a few spin-offs, and a number of remastered titles for the PlayStation 4, Ryu Ga Gotoku studios have moved in a different direction for this latest entry in the Yakuza universe: Judgement.
Judgement puts players in the shoes of Takayuki Yagami, an ex-lawyer who left the business after getting a serial killer acquitted of a crime. Immediately after the acquittal, the killer murders his girlfriend, and Yagami can’t in good conscience stay as a lawyer, so he decides to quit the business and start a detective agency.
Yagami’s regret plays an important role in Judgement, and after working so closely with a lot of the characters over the years, often plays a role in how they treat him. Throughout the game, players will tackle a series of murders that have ties to various Yakuza clans around Japan.
It’s a bit weird switching from one side of the law in all the other Yakuza titles to playing as a detective in Judgement. Luckily though, the jump works in part due to a really great cast of characters.
For the first time in a Yakuza title, Judgement actually has an entire English dub. I prefer the Japanese voice acting in this franchise, because it’s what I’m used to. For the sake of this review though, I actually switched over to the English voice actors to see what they were like.
This franchise has an incredible cast of Japanese voice actors, but the English voice actors were actually pretty great. Crispin Freeman and Matthew Mercer are standouts here, and the English voice cast benefits from their inclusion.
Judgement runs on the latest version of the Dragon engine, so anyone who’s played Yakuza 6: The Song of Life knows what to expect here: a beautiful, living world filled with bright neon lights and lots of people. The world here is extremely beautiful, even if the people that fill the world don’t always looks a good.
The neon banners light up streets at night, and the hustle and bustle of people going about their lives make every street unique and fun to run down. A lot of NPC’s are engaged in other conversations which are never heard, but speech bubbles appear above their heads. It’s not necessarily the most immersive way for Yagami to engage with the people surrounding him, but does help make the world feel a bit more alive.
There are, however, tons of characters for Takayuki to engage with. From big time Yakuza heads, to small restaurant owners. Some are more integral to the story, obviously, but the intimate stories that a lot of the smaller characters tell are just as engaging. One person Yagami can become friends with is the president of a restaurant chain who often ends up at one of his restaurants working.
After talking to him, we discover that he likes being in the restaurant working so he can see the smile on people’s faces when they eat his food. His busy assistant has forgotten about how it feels to work in the service industry, so the president has him work in the store to remind him what it’s like to work with customers.
Yagumi learns valuable lessons from these people, especially when his mind keeps going back to the girl who lost his life from him doing his job.
Players can befriend a lot of the important people they meet, who generally have tasks or conversation pieces to go through. These people can even gift Yagami items occasionally, so it’s a great idea to meet and talk to as many people as you can, and continue to revisit them.
Much like the Yakuza series, it’s easy to get caught up in doing a number of side activities, from helping friends to playing mini-games, there’s no shortage of things to do in Judgement.
The classic batting cages return, which is probably where I spent the most of my free time in Judgement, but there are also arcades, as well as a new mini game, Kamuro of the Dead. Kamuro of the Dead plays like classic light gun games, but is controlled with the DualShock joysticks. While a lot of fun, this mode could have benefited from motion controls or a VR mode, and it seems like a missed opportunity not to include.
An in-game VR dice mini game is another standout in Judgement, where Yagami traverses a course earning items and undertaking short missions. Items earned in this game mode can also be taken back into the main game, as long as the course is completed.
Something the franchise has always excelled at is giving players interesting things to do while not going through the story, and Judgement is no exception.
Similar to the mini-games, combat in Judgement is what players of the Yakuza series have come to expect. Yagami has a series of punches and kicks to utilize to take down foes, and can switch between two different styles depending on the number of enemies attacking. One style is better for groups, while the other is better for one-on-one battles.
My biggest complaint with Judgement is that it’s a bit easy on normal mode. There are additional difficulties that players can choose, but even in Yakuza, playing on normal difficulty still provided a challenge. Here, just smashing the square button yields great results, and I very rarely had to block any attacks.
The boss fights are significantly more difficult, and provide some much-needed variety to combat. These boss fights require players to utilize a lot of the skills and abilities that Yagami has at his disposal.
On top of punches and kicks, an EX prompt often appears depending on what actions they’re taking for a strong finisher. Additionally, players can utilize a ton of items that are on the streets to hit enemies for a lot of damage, and provide some very flashy attacks.
Since this is a detective game, there are several new mechanics here. Yagami must tail people to find evidence, analyze crime-scene photos, ask questions of suspects and witnesses to earn bonus experience, and chase down suspects on foot.
The detective portions of Judgement were my favorite sections of gameplay, and I’d love to see more of this explored in later iterations (if there are any). To be fair, we never got a Yakuza: Dead Souls sequel, but I’m not sure if that’s because of sales or if it was a one-off. Now that the Yakuza franchise got a satisfying ending, hopefully we see more here.
Occasionally, Yagami will go into a search mode where he must analyze the environment. These sections were fun, and even have some hidden surprises in them, although the camera is a bit touchy during these parts and the drone flying sequences.
The drone flying sequences were interesting, but controlled a bit weird. The camera in the drone is difficult to control, and resets positions, which is a bit disorienting when looking for a specific object of interest.
Overall, Judgement is pretty incredible. It’s a nice change of pace moving from the Yakuza perspective over to the law side of the universe. Some occasionally odd controls aside, Judgement is another hard-boiled crime story in the Yakuza universe that earns its spot alongside the other great Yakuza titles with an incredible cast and beautiful world.
Judgement launches on June 25 for PlayStation 4. This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher. Preorders are still available here.
- Wonderful cast of interesting characters.
- Lots of fun things to do in the world.
- Great hard-boiled crime story told from the other side of the law.
- Looks really great.
- Touchy controls during drone sequences.
- No motion controls for Kamuro of the Dead?
- Easy combat during regular fights.