If you’re a fan of the Yakuza series from SEGA, then returning to Kamurocho once again for a new story will entice you. The town that Kiryu Kazama and the rest of the Tojo clan inhabit can be a wild and rough place. But instead of focusing on the Yakuza badass, the team behind the series gives us a new tale based in Kamurocho in the form of Judgment. This drama still involves the yakuza but takes a different perspective on things while letting us run around in a familiar city once more. But does it have the same charm SEGA’s ongoing series has encapsulated us over the years? Only partily because of how different in tone Judgment feels to the other Yakuza games, which may or may not be a bad thing.
Judgment follows the story of Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer turned private investigator that has ties to the criminal underworld. After successfully defending a client in court, Yagami finds himself wrapped up in a murder case with many twists and turns. Nothing is as it seems, especially when different sections of the yakuza crime families begin to get involved and layers of deceit start to peel away. While dramatic and filled with many characters like previous Yakuza games, Judgment has a much more serious tone that sometimes works to its disadvantage. The sillier aspects of Kamurocho take a back seat to everything else in the story, even the side-missions that the series is known for feel more grounded and told with a straighter face.
There is the occasional wacky moment or character you come across, but it’s not as prevalent this time around. Because of this some moments in Judgment seem to drag on far longer than they maybe should, especially with the longer cutscenes with a lot of dialogue or flashback sequences. They aren’t done bad, but they do drag on and bring the pace of everything down.
The main cast of Judgment works well for the story being told, but they are very different than what the Yakuza series usually presents. Takayuki Yagami, the main protagonist, has a redemption arc for many events alluded to throughout the story, but the supporting cast don’t always turn out as interesting as him. Like usual, some characters fall into clear stereotypes or aren’t given enough time to really shine in any unique way. A few side-missions try to give them a bit more attention away from the main story, but they aren’t as interesting or fun to follow as what you would get in previous Yakuza games. Because of the serious tone that Judgment stubbornly sticks to, these story sections and other plot points feel restricted and might lose your attention.
Gameplay is mostly identical to many Yakuza series games, with a few exceptions. You can still get into random fights with punks and gangsters in the streets, as well as enjoy the occasional mini-game at the local Kamurocho arcade, which is still fun. Combatallows you to fight in one of two styles, one made for groups and the other for single targets, and yet both control in very similar ways. However, Judgment plays up the detective aspect of the story with tasks such as following targets, using a drone for reconnaissance, and even showing evidence to characters during cutscenes.
Not all of this as interesting as it sounds however, with more than a few becoming very boring and annoying in some instances, but mandatory to do in order to progress the main story. The tailing missions where you follow targets to a location can get very annoying when your target bugs out or runs into objects that prevent them from moving forward. If you’re spotted by your target, you’ll have to quickly hide behind something to prevent yourself from failing the mission, but you can somewhat cheat by positioning yourself by nearby walls and poles in the street in order to hid while still moving closer, despite how exposed you might actually be.
The drone side-missions are fun at first, but can quickly become challenging if you fail to gain certain bonuses that give you an edge. The speed and handling of your drone can be upgraded as you progress the story or complete side-missions, as well as level up your Yagami’s abilities. The recon missions are usually tied to the main story missions and are interesting when they happen, but it’s the racing missions that might cause some frustration. Unless you get enough upgrades beforehand, these missions are a real struggle. You need to be fast enough to make sharp turns and recover if things go awry, which can cause you to fail the missions easily without any preparation.
An awkward change in Judgment’s gameplay from the Yakuza series is how you level up Yagami and interact with healing items throughout the game. Completing missions and defeating enemies will help you obtain stars that you can spend to unlock new abilities and stats, but you only gain that experience in that one way. Unlock in Yakuza 6 or Kiwami 2, you can’t gain experience from visiting food spots. This forces you to do many more side-quests within Kamurocho in order to unlock abilities, but also prevents you from visiting food places in the city unless you want to refill your health.
This makes most spots within the city a little useless to visit, outside of completing the few related side-missions. In addition to this, you’ll have to keep an eye on Yagami’s health bar after certain battles, which can occasionally lock out part of your health bar from serious injuries. Finding a medical pack or visiting the local doctor can fix this right up, but it’s another annoyance to deal with in certain portions of the game, which can be devastating if you don’t have a medical pack on hand.
Judgment is an interesting concept as an offshoot of the Yakuza series, but its differences in tone and gameplay elements might stick out badly for some. While dramatic, you still might not find the plot of Judgment as captivating or exciting as any Yakuza game for how serious the game presents itself. The side-missions aren’t as wacky or crazy as before, but they still allow you to go on a tangent outside of the main story and explore the city for a bit. If you wanted to see a different side of Kamurocho, then Judgment gives you exactly that, even if you aren’t completely satisfied with what you find.
This review was based on a digital review code of Judgment for the PlayStation 4, provided by SEGA.