Judgment Review

Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is famed for its Yakuza series. Set in the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho, they follow Yakuza man Kiryu Kazama dealing with difficult relationships and issues that plague his life. While RGG Studio’s latest game takes us back to Kamurocho once again, it places you on the right side of the law, casting you as lawyer turned private detective Takayuki Yagami. This is Judgment, but how will this crime drama be judged against its peers?

Murder most foul is how the story of Judgment begins. A Yakuza man turns up dead in an alley with his eyes gouged out, the third Yakuza member to suffer such a fate. It’s a matter for the police to investigate, but it’s not long before Yagami is dragged into proceedings. What RGG Studio excels at is creating complex relationships between characters in a way that means you never quite know how a situation may play out. It is one of those complicated relationships that brings Yagami into the fold. He may be a law abiding citizen and have had a promising law career, but he only got to where he has because the Patriarch of the Matsugane Family took a shine to him when he was younger and put him through law school. Yagami may not be a member of the Yakuza, but he is tied to them and the police lights are shining on this minor Tojo Clan family in relation to the murders. As with the Yakuza games, not everything is as it seems and the murders are just the tip of the iceberg.

To investigate what is going on Yagami has all the skills that would be useful to a detective. When entering a scene of special interest the camera switches to first person mode and you have to look around for objects and clues that catch Yagami’s attention, highlighted by a rumble of the controller and letting you zoom in and add some fresh details to the case file. These scenes have a number of things to find (including meowing bonus cats) and you’re locked in until you’ve satisfied all the criteria.

Scene investigation isn’t the only thing in Yagami’s arsenal. Sometimes the game will call for Yagami to chase or tail a person of interest, but these vary in quality. Chases require quick thinking as you avoid obstacles by navigating past them or pulling off a quick time event that brings you closer to the target and the end of chase. Fail to avoid the obstacles and you’ll lose the target, meaning you’ll have to start the chase all over again.

Tailing a character will invariably bore you as each one goes on too long. The formula is the same each time; follow behind a target and duck out of sight behind a sign, car, or building when they turn around to see if they’re being followed. Even if they do see you, the awareness meter is so generous you have plenty of time to find cover and the targets just come across as a bit dense when they fail to recognise Yagami running around looking for cover.

It’s understandable that a PI would have to follow suspects, but the execution is just so dull that nothing would have been lost if these sequences had been cut. Also among Yagami’s arsenal are his phone and a drone which are used to take pictures of situations or scout out an area and look for ways in to solve a situation. The drone can be quite fun to control, but it’s simply used to highlight things similar to the investigation screens. You’ll use your drone a lot more in the side event of drone racing rather than for a lot of the detective work in the main story, though it does show up now and again.

Chasing, tailing, and watching criminals isn’t all Yagami does. He’s a dab hand in a fight as well. Combat is generally fast paced and the enemies will come from you at all angles at any time. It’s similar to the Yakuza games, in that as you wander through Kamurocho someone takes a disliking to you and proceeds to get a bit physical. What is slightly different is that all of the groups that attack Yagami have a reason to be hounding him, instead of feeling completely random.

Yagami has two combat styles to pick from: Crane and Tiger. One is best used against groups while the other is preferred for one on one encounters, but to be fair I switched between them fairly often regardless of scenario and both were similarly effective. There are EX moves as well which are powerful attacks that can drain a ton of enemy life.

What is noticeable is a drop in the violence presented compared to the Yakuza games. It may be due to Yagami being on the side of the law, but he can’t use weapons like knives, guns and swords, they just clatter to the floor and fall apart instead. He still has access to blunt weapons like baseball bats, clubs, and whatever seems to catch his eye in the environment, but it’s noticeably sanitised.

The combat is satisfying, but you won’t be that versatile at first and will need to upgrade using Skill Points. Unlike Yakuza, skill points aren’t split into different categories but instead act as a single currency, if you will, to unlock skills, abilities, and bonuses. It’s a much simplified and easier to understand system meaning you can better work out which skills you want to unlock and easily see the cost of doing so. Some skills are locked for purchase until certain conditions have been met, like progressing the story or getting a certain item. Earning Skill Points is done through winning fights, successfully navigating lines of questioning in order and completing optional objectives on the KamurochoGO in game app, which includes eating every available meal or getting taxis a certain number of times. There are also friend events and side case to consider as well with the latter really bringing in the money.

Side Cases take the place of Yakuza’s Substories, but work in a similar fashion. Instead of being encounters on the street, these cases are accessed through a notice board at Yagami’s office or through two other characters in different locations. Now and again a side case will pop up randomly or as part of the main story, but most of the time you’ll be aware of what side cases you can take on. Some won’t be available until Yagami’s reputation is at a certain level, and that’s where friend events come in. These can include helping someone learn English or investing in certain projects on the Quickstarter app in the game, but they’re also where RGG Studios’ penchant for wackiness and goofiness can shine through, from hunting a trio of perverts to looking for lost cats. Most cases won’t take long to beat individually, but some require a little time to pass and you might pick up some clues on Yagami’s phone if you’re stuck.

Yagami’s world feels a lot more grounded compared to what Kiryu went through during his time in Kamurocho. The characters are much more stoic and serious, but because of that there’s no larger-than-life character to inject some real energy. Yagami’s partner Kaito is probably the closest there is to some comic relief, but doesn’t compare to a larger than life character like Majima from Yakuza. The story itself is a real mystery thriller with plenty of moments that are both unexpected and come together expertly. RGG Studio knows how to weave a narrative that keeps you hooked, wanting to know what happens next.

Kamurocho itself will feel familiar to those who have tread its virtual streets before with a lot of familiar locations popping up, be it Bantam or Kamurocho Tower. The location itself is as excellently designed as ever, so nothing is too spaced out to get to, and it’s filled with enough distractions to grab your attention, be it going to the arcade, getting in a fight, or going on a date with a love interest. The environment looks great and it feels like a bustling area of Tokyo where you’re just a part of a larger world.

Summary
Judgment is another great Japanese crime drama that will grab your attention as the stakes get bigger and bigger, but it's not quite on par with the Yakuza series. Some of the private detective busywork could make way for more of RGG Studio's trademark goofiness to cut through the seriousness of the main story, but anyone who has any interest in Far East crime dramas or the Yakuza series should pick Judgment up. Judgment has been judged and has been found worth playing.
Good
  • Engaging story
  • Tons of activities to take part in
  • Yagami is a great protagonist
Bad
  • Tailing suspects is tedious and dated
  • It's missing a true stand-out character
  • Meowing cats will start to get on your nerves
8
Written by
From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.

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