With the Yakuza series finally receiving the recognition it deserves, it only took 6 games, the franchise can still feel overwhelming to newcomers of the series. The narrative can be pretty difficult to follow, navigating the dense streets of Kamurocho can be daunting, and there are so many characters to follow, you might lose sight of their importance. Luckily for those interested, the studio behind the Yakuza series has released Judgment, a spin-off title set in the same universe that does more than hold it’s own to the main franchise.
Unlike Yakuza, which had you deeply embedded in the criminal underworld of Kamurocho, Judgment has you on the opposite side of the law. Players assume the role of Takayuki Yagami or Tak for short, a former lawyer turned private investigator who gets embroiled in a number of mysterious murders that have shook the city of Kamurocho. The plot does have its contrivances, but it’s easily the most coherent of the series and has a smaller number of key characters to follow.
There are a number of twists and a-ha moments, with the story ramping up its intensity as Tak begins to wrap up the main investigation. It’s melodramatic and pulpy, but like Yakuza it does have its moments of charm and humor which can help ease the tension. Tak is a fascinating character who has zero qualms with operating in the gray area of the law. He shows great conviction even when facing insurmountable odds. If anything, he is the best new entrant into the Yakuza universe.
Alongside Tak, Judgment has a diverse cast of characters who will make you constantly guess their motives. It’s a lot of fun discerning where a character stands in the grand scheme of things. There are those that appear downright villainous but their motivations may actually surprise you. One of Judgment’s biggest strengths is its core characters and having a smaller core cast works to its benefit.
Like the Yakuza series, Judgment is a brawler at its core. Players will encounter all manners of thugs and undesirables roaming the streets of Kamurocho but Tak is more than capable as he utilizes two distinct fighting styles, Tiger and Crane, to either fight one on one or take on groups as a whole. The combat is fast-paced and brutal, with just enough depth to force players to adjust to the different enemy types. With every victory, you’re rewarded with experience, but if you’re unable to beat the enemy within a certain time limit, the cops will arrive and a chase will ensue, effectively negating the experience gained.
Outside of combat, players gain experience from the different side stories and objectives found throughout the game. There are numerous investigations to take part of which can require you to tail suspects, take photographs with either your camera or drone, and if need be, engage in quick-time chase sequences. The side stories tend to be well-written diversions, but they’re all framed with repetitive mechanics and tailing can be a chore.
If you don’t feel like fighting or taking part in investigations, players can head to the Sega Arcades to play classic games, go drone racing, or take part in a new VR minigame that closely resembles Mario Party. The latter is a really fun side excursion that you can lose yourself in as it also happens to net some of the best rewards. It also just happens to feature some of the best visuals in the game, so make sure you take your time when playing.
One of the most interesting features in Judgment is its social system. The only way you’ll be able to experience the best side stories in the game is if you take the time to develop relationships with the various NPC’s in Kamurocho. As you complete them, you’ll see new side stories appear and the relationships you create will result I NPC’s assisting you in combat. There are even certain stories that will lead to romantic opportunities, but these are fairly generic and have no real impact on the narrative. Minor gripes aside, Judgment does an excellent job of immersing you in its world.
Visually, this is easily the best looking title in the Yakuza franchise. Character models are incredibly detailed and the various combat animations are fluid with little to no hitches. Kamurocho is dense and the city is gorgeous both during the day and at night. The voice acting is fantastic regardless of the dub and the music featured is great and will change based off the current setting. There are so many cutscenes that will make you giddy, because they are so fantastical and badass that it will be difficult to contain your excitement. In short, Judgment is the complete package.
Being on the opposite side of the law in Kamurocho is weird considering the franchise Judgement stems from. It is however, one of the better entries in the series even if it can be a bit repetitive. The lean narrative and smaller cast drives home key plot points and will be easier to follow for players new to the series. If you’re looking for the best way to experience the Yakuza franchise, Judgment is it and it’s great.