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Platform(s): Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: June 25, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Judgment'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 24, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Judgment is the dramatic tale of a disgraced lawyer seeking redemption in a world rife with corruption and despair.

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Judgment follows the story of Takayuki Yagami, an ex-Yakuza who righted his path and became a lawyer. His faith in himself is shattered when a client he helped set free goes on to murder his girlfriend. Broken by this incident, he doubts his own abilities and quits law to become a private detective. A few years later, a series of serial killings forces him into a twisted story that brings him into conflict with Yakuza captains, pharmaceutical companies, and the truth about what happened in the aftermath of his big case.

Judgment is a Yakuza title, down to the plot that's a mix of over-the-top manly drama and ridiculous side-quest content. At times, it feels like a punch-based Phoenix Wright, but other times, it's dead serious. With that said, the focus on the detective and lawyer elements give the game a distinctive feel, and it stands on its own better than any Yakuza title besides the original or Yakuza 0.

The biggest difference is in the protagonists. Yagami gets the game to himself, much like Kiryu usually does, but their personalities are vastly different. Yagami is jovial, snarky and forthright in comparison to Kiryu's stoic masculinity. The result is that they feel like distinctly different characters but in a good way. Yagami's interactions make him feel different, rather than Just Another Yakuza Protagonist. He's more overtly heroic, which is also a nice twist — even though he has his share of gray areas and Yakuza connections.

The gameplay in Judgment is — well, it's basically Yakuza. It's a better version of Yakuza 6's gameplay, more akin to Yakuza 0. You still explore the fictional Tokyo neighborhood of Kamurocho, and most of the familiar sights are there. You can visit arcades, hang out in bars and restaurants, collect capsules, and it generally feels like a busy segment of a city. None of this will be new to fans of the franchise, and that might be a touch disappointing. On the one hand, it feels familiar, but I would've liked to see a fresh start.

There are fewer minigames in Judgment, and it keeps the game from feeling too bloated, but I kept expecting that there'd be some more. The game certainly isn't empty; you race drones, find alchemist recipes, fulfill side-quests for almost every shopkeeper in the city, find lost cats, and so on. Each side-quest also contributes to your character's combat abilities by providing access to more skill points and special moves.

The game tries to mix things up with a bunch of minigames focused on being a detective. This can include solving puzzles and mysteries, chasing perps through crowded streets, picking locks, and tracking enemies. Yagami's quest is largely linear, but with some careful thinking, you can occasionally see special scenes or get bonus skill points, which is a nice balance between a linear story and something that gives the player some control.

I'm really torn on some of these. I love the more mental elements, even if most of them are pretty guided. The closer the game gets to being Phoenix Wright: Ace Puncher, the more I enjoyed it. It was awesome to solve puzzles, present evidence, and pick through dialogue to find the important information. The chase sequences were also pretty fun, and lockpicking as good enough to be inoffensive. I also enjoyed the photo op missions, which challenged you find the exact right moment to catch evidence of someone doing something illegal.

On the other hand, I did not enjoy the tailing missions, which were by far the most common. They felt slow, repetitive and uninteresting. There's just not much to them. Judgment really needed to twist them around more and add some more mechanics to be really fun, but instead, I found myself bored stiff every time. It's also a place where the humor could've come into play more. If it was more fun to watch someone, then trailing might not be so tedious. They're the low point of the game, and it would've been better to have fewer of them.

Combat is pure Yakuza, almost to a fault. If you've played any of the recent games in the series, you have a pretty good idea of what happens here. When you get into a fight, you can string together combos. Performing certain actions can unlock EX moves, which are cinematic special attacks that do boatloads of damage and often have other benefits. For example, running up the wall lets you perform a swinging combo attack that hits multiple enemies at once, and that's great for clearing out crowds in a brawl. Like Kiryu, Yagami has multiple styles, like Crane and Tiger. Crane has more AoE moves, while Tiger has harder-hitting single-target moves. You can swap between the two at will, and some EX moves even change between the two styles.

The game tries to give it a little more personality by emphasizing that Yagami isn't Kiryu. He's agile and deft and can leap over enemies and run up walls and generally benefits more from staying on the move, more than a little reminiscent of someone like Jackie Chan. This feels really cool, but it doesn't change the gameplay very much. It's still about baiting opportunities for EX moves and brutalizing enemies with them. Thankfully, the boss fights are pretty well designed and err on the side of being too easy instead of overly long and tedious, like Yakuza Kiwami.

If Judgment has a significant flaw, it's familiarity. Whether you'll like Judgment boils down almost entirely to if you like Yakuza games. It's a really good example of a Yakuza game and comes darn close to being up to par with Yakuza 0. Despite the new cast, it feels so familiar and safe that I couldn't help feeling disappointed. If it had leaned harder into the detective and lawyer elements and less into beating up people, it might have had its own personality and stood out better. On the other hand, it knows exactly what it wants to be: a really good Yakuza game.

Visually, it looks great. Judgment seems to have been built on the same engine as Yakuza 6, so the characters are amazingly fluid and well animated, and the cut scenes are well directed and look superb. The game has both Japanese voice acting and a dub, and amazingly, the dub is actually quite good, and the actors do a solid job selling their roles. However only some of the content is dubbed, and even that's inconsistent. Sometimes side-quests are dubbed, and sometimes, they're not. There are even situations where the protagonist speaks English and the character they're talking to is speaking Japanese. It's not game-breaking, but the quality dub is undercut by these choices, and for that reason, I'd recommend sticking with the Japanese voices.

All in all, Judgment is a solid addition to the franchise. Like Yakuza 0, it is kind of a back-to-basics offering, and it's self-contained in a good way. It contains pretty much everything you'd expect from a Yakuza title. It's well designed and easy to play, and that makes it a boatload of fun. If you like Yakuza, then you'll like Judgment and if you've never played a Yakuza game, then this is a great place to start. Additionally, you get a free copy of Virtua Fighter 5 in-game, and who can complain about that?

Score: 8.5/10

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