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Platform(s): Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: April 23, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Judgment'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 26, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

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

Buy Judgment

Before Yakuza: Like A Dragon introduced us to the new mainline protagonist of the series, the Yakuza franchise had a notable spin-off that functionally amounted to Yakuza with a different character. That was Judgment (Judge Eyes, as it is known in Japan). Naming convention aside, it's a delightfully fun Yakuza spin-off with its own flavor.

Judgment's protagonist is Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer who raised himself up to a level of respectability from simple Yakuza origins. When a client who he had proven innocent goes on to murder someone, Yagami loses his confidence. Using his Yakuza and lawyer skills, he begins to make a living as a private detective. The tragic story of his past comes head-to-head with one of his most recent cases, and Yagami finds that his career-ruining case wasn't quite so simple. Now he has to solve a rash of serial killings and bring the truth to light once and for all.

Judgment is thoroughly a Yakuza title, and that includes the plot, which is a mix of excessive, over-the-top, manly drama and ridiculous side content. It sometimes feels like a punch-based Phoenix Wright, but at other times, it's dead serious. I like the change in tone from the Yakuza titles. The heavy 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.

Judgment is still a full-on Yakuza title. It has the same mix of crime drama and absurd humor, the same setting, and the same general feel. What makes it stand out is its protagonist. Yagami is a nice midpoint between the excessively stoic Kiryu and the dense-but-lovable Ichiban. He's charming, snarky, and shines as his own distinct character. The rest of the cast consists of stock Yakuza archetypes, but as in the rest of the series, they're largely fun and memorable. I don't quite like the cast as much as Like A Dragon's cast, but they're still a fun bunch to hang out with over the course of the game.

Originally released between Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Judgment is basically a gussied-up version of Yakuza 6. It's overly familiar in a lot of ways with the same basic gameplay, same Kamurocho setting, and the same arcade and minigames, so a lot of it will feel very familiar to Yakuza fans. I'm predisposed to look more positively on this after Yakuza 7 went in an entirely different direction for the franchise, as it makes Judgment stand out more. If the developers had continued Judgment using the old-style Yakuza gameplay and kept the new JRPG style for the new franchise, it'd be the best of both worlds.

Probably the biggest difference in the game is that Yagami is a private eye/ex-lawyer, so the game includes more elements built around that. Occasionally, you'll need to solve logic puzzles, trail suspects, pick locks, and investigate. I actually like the private eye element of the game a lot and wish that it had been played up even more. Having what amounts to Phoenix Wright: Ace Yakuza is a ton of fun, and I'd love to see Yagami take more of that role in future games. Of course, there's still the usual mix of bizarre Yakuza minigames from drone races to alchemical crafting and beyond.

Overall, Judgment is a darn solid Yakuza game. My opinion of it hasn't changed much since the original PS4 version because it's charming, funny, and a lot of fun to play. If you're a fan of the franchise and were disappointed by the swap to JRPG combat, then Judgment could be a great addition to your library. It might not be the same as having Kiryu, but it's a darn fine Yakuza title nonetheless.

The PS5 version of the game is not a huge upgrade. The original Judgment looked great, but the PS5 version's remastered graphics really make a case for it being the best-looking game in the franchise, even over Like A Dragon. The game now runs at a smooth 60fps, which isn't necessarily a huge improvement, but it keeps the gameplay feeling nice and smooth. Of course, the loading times are way better as well, as is the norm for PS4-to-PS5 upgrades. The voice acting is still excellent, and the English dub makes a strong case for having a dub in a Yakuza game, something that I normally felt iffy about.

Beyond that, though, there's almost nothing. The game includes the DLC from the original Judgment, almost all of which is barely noticeable cosmetics or unnecessary boosting items. It doesn't seem to support most of the PS5's features, and in pretty much every meaningful way, it's just a prettied-up version of the PS4 release. It also does not feature a free upgrade like so many recent remasters. Judgment PS5 is easily the version to go for if you've never played the game before, but if you already own the PS4 version, there's no real need to rush out and buy it again. The improvements are nice, but they're not $40 nice.

All in all, Judgment is still one of the better titles in the Yakuza franchise. The biggest flaw it had and continues to have is that it feels a bit too familiar and a bit too safe, but it's a lot easier to accept that in the wake of Yakuza: Like A Dragon. The plot is interesting, the characters are fun, the gameplay is charming, and overall, it's just a darn good game. If you're looking for another entry in the Yakuza franchise, then Judgment is the way to go. Now we just have to wait for news about the upcoming sequel....

Score: 8.5/10

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