Judgment is a spin-off of the Yakuza series in which the player is put into the role of a detective who has to solve a crime involving a serial killer. The game meshes the action-adventure of the Yakuza setting with the crime-solving of the Batman: Arkham and Phoenix Wright series in a product that succeeds in some aspects of what it tries to achieve, while failing in others.
The story of Judgment puts the player in the shoes of Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer who became a detective after a former client who he secured a "Not Guilty" verdict for went on to commit a murder. Yagami is quickly caught up in an investigation into a killer he has dubbed The Mole, who has been targeting Yakuza members and removing their eyes from their corpses. It doesn't take long for the story of Judgment to expand out into a massive conspiracy involving different factions and the tale of a murdered Yakuza member is revealed to be part of a much larger scheme. The story of the main case in Judgment is the highlight of the whole experience (which we won't discuss in great detail here for risk of spoilers) and fans of conspiracies and crime-solving will find a lot to love in this game.
Staying Busy In The Kamurocho District
The main gameplay loop of Judgment involves solving The Mole case while performing side missions that crop up in order to provide you with money and useful items. The game takes place in the fictional Kamurocho district of Japan and covers several different streets worth of buildings. The player will swiftly become used to the locations within Judgment, as the bulk of the game involves running back and forth between the same few buildings.
The story of the main case isn't the only one in Judgment, as the player is free to take on side cases, some of which involve the kind of bizarre situations that can only crop up in Japanese video games, like tracking down a trio of perverts and taking them on in manga-style battles or trying to retrieve an errant wig that is being dragged by a powerful gust of wind in a chase sequence throughout the area. It's possible to make friends with various inhabitants of Kamurocho in order to gain benefits from them, though these quests usually boil down to spending a lot of money or answering questions. There is also an abundance of minigames to take on, including playing darts, visiting the batting cages, trying to win prizes in a claw machine game, racing your drone around the city, or playing a selection of Sega titles in the arcade, including games like Fighting Vipers and Space Harrier. There is a lot of content crammed into Judgment and the task of achieving 100% completion will be a daunting one.
Leave No Stone Unturned
The protagonist of Judgment is a detective, which means that some of the recurring activities in the game are based around crime-solving and police activities. There are a lot of sequences where Yagami has to observe the scene of a crime and make notes concerning evidence, in a manner that is straight out of the Phoenix Wright series. There are also dialogue scenes where Yagami has to use these pieces of evidence in order to prove a connection to crimes, which is also a major part of the Phoenix Wright games. The detective scenes rarely hold the player's hand, and you will be expected to pay attention to what is going on throughout the game in order to be able to solve the mysteries as they are presented to you. Yagami also has access to a portable drone that is used in several different missions to acquire evidence. The drone sections offer a refreshing change of pace from the other detective missions and it's a shame that it wasn't included more.
Not all of the detective activities are fun, however. The loathed tailing a suspect missions from the Assassin's Creed series are here in full force and are still complete wastes of the player's time, especially as it's established that Yagami owns a portable drone that would be far more effective at tracking someone than he is on the ground. There are also several chase sequences that are filled with QTEs, and it won't take long for the player to notice that these consist of recycled moments, as they will be seeing a lot of them.
Know Thy Enemy
The scourge of the Kamurocho district are gangs of roaming Yakuza members who exist in numbers that make the cities from the Streets of Rage series seem like the villages from Animal Crossing by comparison. Yagami can scarcely walk five steps without being accosted by a group of thugs and being forced to defend himself. The sheer number of random encounters will eventually grate on player's patience, especially if they are in the middle of a different activity. The ability to switch off these encounters would have been most welcome, but the player is forced to wade through armies of thugs for the bulk of the game.
The way in which enemy groups work is also a major issue in Judgment. Yagami can switch between the crane and tiger fighting schools in combat, with the former being suited for fighting groups, while the latter is meant to be used when fighting one-on-one. The majority of the combat encounters in the game are against groups of foes and they will either mill about and let you deal with them one by one (in the manner of old action movies that Jackie Chan has always shown disdain for) or they will use tactics, try and surround Yagami, and grind the fast action down to a crawl, as the player is forced to play defensively to avoid being surrounded. Judgment is a game that is crying out for a Batman: Arkham counter system that rewards timing, instead of constantly needing to keep maneuvering or chugging health items in order to stay on the offensive.
The boss enemies are also a major issue, as they are little more than frustrating health sponges. The boss enemies generally take on the form of Yakuza members who are either well-equipped, well-trained, or are under the effect of a power-up. These boss monsters can dodge roll while trapped against walls, can have an extended reach that makes the normal defensive tactics redundant, and take forever to kill even when using the powerful EX moves. For a game that relies so much on exaggerated action set pieces, Judgment drops the ball in making Yagami feel powerful and skillful in the times when it matters most, as the boss battles descend into tedious grinding that seems to go against the swift martial arts action that takes place throughout the rest of the game.
A Juggling Act With A Superb Story
Judgment tries to do a lot of things at once and only manages to succeed in a few areas. The main storyline is excellent (despite a few pacing issues) and the abundance of activities to engage in means that the player is never left without anything to do. The issues mainly stem from the endless random encounters, the uninspired nature of many of the detective activities, and some of the side cases and friend activities feeling like filler. Judgment is the kind of game that should keep you hooked from beginning to end, but the little issues start to pile up and diminish what could have been an amazing experience.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
A copy of Judgment was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Judgment is available now for PlayStation 4.