Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
Release Date: 06/21/2019
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The Yakuza series had massive success with its spinoff Like a Dragon. While it had flaws it was entertaining and had great characters and a detailed story. The entire Yakuza franchise excels in the storytelling and character development department. Judgment is no different. You play as the lawyer turned-detective Tavo Kagami trying to rid of his demons and upturn a bunch of corrupt politicians. An Alzheimer’s cure and a murder mystery are at the center of this. The story is well constructed and kept me on the edge of my seat at every turn. The entire story has chapters ending on cliffhangers like addictive binge-worthy TV shows. I always wanted to know what was going to come next. At many points, it felt that Yagami and co. were backed into a corner and I didn’t see any way out only for the story to twist and turn in crazy ways.
I don’t want to say too much about the story as any small detail can spoil it. Just know that this is the strongest point of the game and what makes it worth sticking through the 30+ hour game for. The second reason is the characters. There are many and they are well-acted and have great backstories. They are slowly introduced throughout the game and by the end, I either loved them or hated them. Tavo himself is a well-rounded character that’s stubborn and unwilling to back down from anything. I really liked the personalities of each character. They were unique and interesting and they all stood out in their own way. For such a large cast this is usually hard to pull off or not done well enough.
As for the gameplay, this is where Judgment falters and the entire Yakuza series lacks here in every entry in some way. You get to run around in this open…map called Kamarucho. I don’t want to say open world because it’s just a small city that can be run across in about 2-3 minutes. It’s a city full of crime and underground misdeeds. What’s the point of the open city? I don’t really know. Mostly for side quests, but I always found these to be underwhelming and repetitive in the Yakuza series. There are a few types. First off are actual side cases which net you more SP and cash. That’s bout it. They are mostly uninteresting and don’t advance the story or characters at all. There are friend events spread throughout which net you skills that can be unlocked, SP, and cash. These are the two main types of side quests you can partake in and I did finish most side cases just for the SP and cash. You really need cash to buy healing items and stay stocked up.
There are taxis spread throughout to help with fast travel. With such a small area you would think it’s pointless but it’s great to avoid fights on the streets. These are randomly occurring and you can usually run from them and you should. I felt it hindered progress and after the third chapter, it didn’t net enough SP to be worth bothering with. Eventually, you will be wanted by street gangs and your threat level will increase unless you stop a boss-type enemy. This never goes away and will always go back to 100% so I just ignored them. There are also side activities that are mostly used for dating. That’s another side quest that I didn’t find interesting. You can meet girls through friend events or side cases and later date them by presenting presents. Side mini-games like batting, darts, and gambling can be fun to an extent, but when are mini-games like this ever fun to go back to? It’s just filler content and for achievement hunters really. It doesn’t advance the story or add to it in any way I just felt like all of these side activities/missions were chores to complete.
Let’s get into combat. It’s flawed for sure. While it looks cool and it’s simple to understand it suffers from unresponsive controls and animations that don’t interrupt when you input a command. I always felt like my button presses were delayed. There are two fighting stances. Tiger for one-to-one fights and Crane for multiple enemies. You can pick up objects and hit people with them and there’s a special EX finishing move that you can perform which is key to winning tougher fights. You also have an EX boost which unlocks more powerful combos and increases your defense. Again, a key thing to use to win fights. I just felt like no matter what I did I couldn’t master the system. There is a block and dodge button, but it seems that the enemies are magnetized to you because no matter how much I dodge or run away they always follow me and connect their attacks. It makes boss fights especially infuriating. While I had plenty of items I could use at my disposal to help I wish I could rely more on my skill, but the fighting system just doesn’t allow it.
There are other small annoyances such as mortal wounds. These lockout parts of your health bar and the only thing in the game that can fix this are med-kits which are rare and cost a lot of money. There’s only one person that can heal you and they’re sold underground in a sewer. Of course, you have to go through the animation of opening the sewer great, sliding down a ladder, running down the sewer, and then the same thing going back up. Just cut all of this out! I also found the game way too long. It’s padded with a ton of fights throughout the main story and I wish a lot of this was cut out. There are easily 10 hours of fights just in the main story. Nothing breaks this up, however. There are repetitive detective events like searching for objects in first-person, chase scenes and tailing people. My god, do these get old quickly. Tailing missions are never fun in games and these are dragged out for sometimes over five minutes. You can hide behind objects and that’s about it. Just don’t fill the suspicion meter. All of these mini-games are just incredibly repetitive and could have been cut out.
The game at least looks decent. It’s a PS4 port so some parts look rough. There are some textures that look like PS3-era stuff, but at least the facial animations and character models are really good. There’s lots of detail everywhere, but don’t expect this to push your hardware to its limits. It mostly looks very realistic and sterile with not much in the way of artistic flair. It looks like a modern-day Japanese city.
Overall, Judgment excels in storytelling and character development but falters in gameplay. The fighting is stiff and unresponsive, the mini-games are repetitive and pad out the hours, and I felt the detective work in the courtroom was a missed opportunity. The open city is an excuse to throw side cases and missions at you that are meaningless and just pad gameplay. Random city fights are annoying and get in the way of progress, and the visuals aren’t much of an upgrade. What’s here works, but I mostly stayed for the story. If it had a bad story this game would be barely above average, however, it’s one of the best and most detailed video game stories I’ve seen in recent years.