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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 Preview - 'Judgment'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 6, 2019 @ 6:30 a.m. PDT

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

Pre-order Judgment

Judgment returns to the seedy, crime-ridden hellhole that is Kamurocho, home of the Yakuza franchise. This time, you aren't playing as Kiryu but Takayuki "Tak" Yagami, an ex-Yakuza who passed the bar exam and became an expert lawyer. Unfortunately, one of the people he defended went on to kill their girlfriend, shattering Yagami's faith in the process. Now he makes a living as a private investigator. When a rash of horrible serial killings strikes Kamurocho, Yagami is drawn back into the confusing world of law and crime.

If you've played a Yakuza game, you'll be familiar with Judgment's gameplay. It's Kamurocho once again, and as you explore, you'll see a lot of recognizable sights. Like the previous games, Kamurocho is a small but densely packed piece of urban Japan. It has bars, batting cages, fast food places, video game arcades, and even a VR "palace" to explore. You can visit these places to play minigames and make friends in between the dramatic antics of Tak and his pals.

The core mechanic in Judgment is friendship. There are a few dozen characters who you can befriend by completing their side-quests, each offering a specific benefit. Some grant you access to special menus at their restaurants, while others may provide access to skills or help in combat if you're fighting close to their location. Making friends can also unlock new attacks and investigations. It's also the best way to level up your character to unlock new stats and abilities.

Combat in Judgment is basically the same Yakuza beat-'em-up action that you've seen in that series. The inventory and statistics have been even scaled back a bit. Yagami is distinct from Kiryu in a few ways. First and foremost is that he's an agile fighter who's reminiscent of Jackie Chan. He flips off walls, leapfrogs over enemies, and has a fighting style that is equal parts martial arts skills and scrambling around. Rather than brutalizing enemies like Kiryu, he'll do a lot of running up walls and attacking from advantageous positions. Of course, he can also down a few bottles of booze and go Drunken Master on his unfortunate foes.

Tak also has his own distinct fighting style: Crane and Tiger. These basically amount to multiple enemies and a single target. Crane style has long, sweeping attacks that hit multiple enemies, while Tiger tends to focus on one foe with precise and powerful attacks. You can shift between the two at will, and it even alters some of your attacks, including Heat Actions (called EX Actions here). It's a simple mechanic, but it feels really good and avoids some of the problems of other Yakuza titles by making single-target boss fights feel a lot better, based on what we experienced in our preview build.

What separates Judgment from Yakuza is how you spend the time you're not collecting cute plush animals from claw machines. Oddly enough, the closest comparison I can think of is Phoenix Wright. As a bizarre hybrid yakuza-lawyer-PI, you spend your time in the story and in side-quests doing investigations. This can involve trailing people, searching for clues in crime scenes, taking photographs, or various other PI activities.

In the early parts of the game, the investigations are rather linear, as you'd see in similar adventure games or Phoenix Wright). What makes them interesting is that you can collect bonuses by paying close attention. When interviewing a witness, you're given a series of responses, but only some of them are worthwhile. If you immediately get to the point and choose the questions that provide the necessary answers rather than meandering along, you'll get bonus skill points that you can use to level up your character.

There's also a fair bit of investigation to do, and trailing targets is just one part of your job. You might have to get proof of someone cheating on their spouse or use someone's Twitter account to puzzle out where they are before something terrible happens. Some of your friends can help with this, but sometimes, you're entirely on your own. You even get a controllable drone that can be used to explore areas that Tak can't reach on foot.

There are some non-linear areas where your choices matter more. Early in the game, you're forced to put on a disguise to sneak into a Yakuza-filled building for information. Naturally, this includes smooth-talking your way through their suspicions. Answer carefully, and you can avoid certain dangerous situations, but some fights are inevitable (this is a Yakuza spin-off, after all).

It's a really neat dynamic that helps the game feel significantly different from Yakuza without actually losing the Yakuza feel. The combination of adventure game-style exploration and occasional bouts of rousing violence adds to the game's feeling of action movie detective rather than hard-bitten crime drama.

Judgment also includes both a Japanese and partial English dub, unlike most recent Yakuza titles. The English dub primarily covers the main characters and some side-quests while leaving environmental chatter in Japanese. It's also quite good. The voices in our preview build were extremely well-acted and fit the characters well. The Japanese version will probably feel more authentic after the past series of games, but Judgment's translation is shaping up to be top-notch.

In essence, Judgment is Yakuza: Lawyer Edition. It feels a lot like a Yakuza game but with its own distinct style and tone that set it apart from just being another Kiryu adventure. Assuming the full game lives up to the strong first chapter, fans of Yakuza should be very happy when Judgment hits store shelves on June 25 exclusively for the PS4.

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