From the team behind the Yakuza series comes Judgment, a spinoff of the Yakuza franchise that puts a detective twist on a most familiar universe. The concept felt a bit like a gamble, so how did it turn out? Currently exclusive to the system, we tested the game on a PS4.
For years, I treated both Yakuza and Shenmue the same – titles I considered to be a bit ‘niche’. Today, this is mostly true for Shenmue (for which a third game is in the works), as Yakuza has steadily been transformed into a big franchise with a worldwide appeal. The excellent Yakuza 6 was a testament to this, and since then we’ve been enjoying the promised remakes and remasters of the earlier titles in the series, which started back in the PS2 days. And now we have Judgment – something very different yet familiar at the same time.
I was really curious to see how Judgment would turn out. In pre-release assets, it looked and felt like a Yakuza game in ways, and it even takes place against the same backdrop. You’re in the same city, see the same restaurants and bars, and there even are mini games to enjoy, including a few familiar Sega classics. The big new twist in town, however, is that this isn’t a typical action adventure – Judgment is a detective story.
At the heart of the story is a serial killer that you need to try and catch. In true TV detective drama style, you’re exploring crime scenes, trying to find that elusive witness, and asking tough questions when you do. Sure, you can still engage in Yakuza-style brawls in the street, but it’s not front and center this time around – and if you tried then I think you could try to avoid it altogether. Yakuza fans aren’t likely to do so though, and it’s been well implemented. You can switch between crane and tiger styles at the push of a button, giving you the option to engage different enemy types in more than one way.
What’s also great about combat in Judgment is that the environment can be used in a number of new ways. You can completely wreck a place by tossing an enemy or two around, but you can also get a little more creative with the environment and use it by jumping into and off walls to attack from surprising angles. As expected, this is all delivered with plenty of cinematic flair – which also extends to the game’s many cutscenes and excellent animation and art.
Judgment also features a new protagonist in Takayuki Yagami, who as a lawyer once allowed a murderer to go free only to have him commit murder once more. He’s turned private detective since then, but Judgment’s story is one with dark undertones – much more so than the Yakuza games. As with any good crime thriller (and any Yakuza game, really), there are also plenty of good plot twists, making this a great narrative to play through.
The actual detective parts are a bit underwhelming (often ranging from too simplistic to being too much like a chore), but they’re not prominent enough to detract from the excellent story and combat. I’ll be a while before we get another proper Yakuza game, and this one’s a great diversion while we wait.