America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 20th Jun 2019 | 4,751 views
If you adore Ace Attorney and Yakuza, there might not be a more perfect game on the planet than Judgment. A spin-off of the open-world crime saga Yakuza, Judgment merges legal and investigative elements with the showy third-person brawling, dramatic storytelling, and immersive virtual tourism typical of the series. Some of the game's novelties—crime scene investigation, tailing missions, and dialog decisions—aren't especially engaging, but the package overall is a smart mix of action and adventure mechanics that's worthy of the Yakuza franchise.
As with Yakuza, storytelling is a highlight in Judgment. The plot follows Takayuki Yagami, a young lawyer who three years ago made a name for himself when he secured a rare acquittal for a murder suspect. Tak's career went into a nosedive shortly thereafter, however, when the defendant was charged and convicted with another violent murder. In the present, Tak, now a private investigator, finds himself on the hunt for a serial killer who is gouging out victims’ eyes in the red-light district of Kamurocho, Tokyo—familiar stomping grounds for Yakuza veterans.
Featuring expert voice acting, high production values, and lots of plot twists and turns, the story in Judgment is excellent. The cast of characters is even more impressive. Stand-outs include Kazuya Ayabe, a pragmatic dirty cop; Masaharu Kaito, an ex-yakuza with a steely facade and a surprisingly soft interior (one of the game's funniest moments comes when Kaito impersonates "Captain Cop" for a young fan); and the no-nonsense lawyer Saori Shirosaki, who has an insatiable sweet tooth and steals every scene she's in. The game's protagonist, Tak, is also compelling. For any Yakuza fans apprehensive about the absence of series hero Kazuma Kiryu, worry not. Tak, with his skinny jeans, biker jacket, and persistent determination, is a reliable substitute.
Overall, there is more character development, wit, and thematic depth in Judgment's 40 GB than in the majority of Hollywood blockbusters. If you are a fan of cinematic storytelling, murder mysteries, and/or Japanese culture, this is an ideal title.
The only downside: the length and frequency of cut-scenes can prove exhausting. Judgment offers the player an extraordinary amount of freedom at times, but when the narrative takes over you'll find yourself sitting and staring for long stretches. There are gameplay segments, in fact, that exist only to walk Tak from one cut-scene to the next.
Judgment is at its best when it moves away from scripted storytelling toward unfettered open-world exploration. Kamurocho, the principal setting of the game, is an urban playground filled with hundreds of things to do and see in the downtime between story missions. Tak can walk the city streets, try blackjack in an underground casino, play Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 5 in a Sega arcade, dine out at restaurants, and chat with dozens of quest-giving citizens.
It doesn't end there. In Kamurocho, Tak will participate in airborne drone races, play a virtual reality board game, develop bonds with friends, play mahjong, sell items at pawn shops, and pick fights with roving street gangs. In addition, players have the ability to retire to Tak's office, where they can decorate and play a pinball machine. There's even a complete rail shooter campaign called "Kamuro of the Dead", available in one of the local arcades. As a sandbox experience, Judgment scores its highest marks.
Interspersed among aimless open-air segments are story and side missions, which focus on either classic Yakuza gameplay—e.g., street fights—or case investigation mechanics. Combat is as fun and flashy as ever, thanks to interactive objects, EX actions, and Tak's ability to swap between two fighting styles in the heat of battle. Crane style, with its sweeping fast attacks, is ideal for encounters with a large group of enemies; Tiger style is designed to deliver powerful strokes against a single, formidable opponent.
Less successful are the game's investigation mechanics. These include first-person crime scene surveys, which are sometimes boring pixel hunts; tailing missions, which are difficult to make entertaining even for the most talented developers; and summation sequences, where Tak must present evidence in the correct order—although there doesn't seem to be a penalty for failure, outside of a few lost experience points. Judgment deserves kudos for branching out mechanically with these new features, but also a couple of demerits for embracing some tedious gameplay.
The game also embraces some lovely visuals and special effects. Judgment is a great-looking PS4 title, with realistic character models, atmospheric lighting—the bright lights and dank alleys of Kamurocho make it feel alive and dangerous—and some stunning battle animations and visual flourishes. The smoky neon auras that envelop bosses are particularly stunning. Judgment also offers a full English dub, a first for the Yakuza series in over a decade, although purists may wish to opt for the original Japanese audio.
By combining the legal proceedings of Ace Attorney with the visceral combat and open-world hijinks of Yakuza, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has turned in a new, but familiar property. Some of the novel gameplay elements like tailing missions and crime scene investigation are dull, but outstanding production values, flashy fighting, and a stellar urban sandbox make this legal drama a hit.