Judgment Review

Richard Walker

Judgment's Takayuki Yagami and Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu share a lot in common. Both have an inimitable dress sense, both love the ladies, both are incredibly handy in a fight, and both have an ingrained morality and sense of duty that goes above and beyond all else. Both also call Kamurocho their home, the fictional Tokyo stomping ground realised here in its most down, dirty, and detailed guise yet; you can almost smell the delicious ramen emanating from the restaurants and the stink of corruption hidden down the city's darkest alleyways. It's good to be back.

Look out criminal scum. The lads are on the case.

Set within the Yakuza universe, anyone with even a passing fancy when it comes to Kiryu and his exploits will immediately feel at home in Judgment. This is for all intents and purposes a Yakuza game, albeit one with a new and almost equally likeable lead character. As former practicing ace attorney turned private investigator Yagami of the Yagami Detective Agency, you'll find yourself embroiled in all manner of mysteries, including the one at the game's heart surrounding a serial killer, the identity of whom is a closely guarded secret.

A conspiratorial 'whodunnit' of sorts, Judgment's story is predictably excellent (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio knows how to craft a good yarn), keeping you second-guessing as to who exactly the mysterious 'Mole' - as he's dubbed by Yagami - is exactly. While building your investigation throughout the main story, you'll enjoy numerous run-ins with the yakuza and other dodgy criminal elements making moves in Kamurocho. Side Cases flesh things out with the developer's typically weird sense of humour, ensuring you'll always have something to do when you're not sleuthing your way towards finding out more about the Mole.

Much of the offbeat strangeness seen in Side Cases is also present in the game’s Friend Events and dates with Yagami’s various girlfriends (Judgment's substories, in essence), so if you like the idea of chasing a perv named 'Ass Catchem' down Shichifuku Street, fighting a naked guy who calls himself 'Giant Impact', looking for a precious cat worth a fortune, foiling a mad bomber, or running after an errant wig, you'll be well-served here. Kamurocho remains a bustling hive of activity, too, bursting with mini-games and other activities, including SEGA arcade classics like Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, Virtua Fighter 5, and Puyo Puyo. Or baseball. Or poker. Or mahjong. No karaoke, sadly. I don’t much fancy Yagami as a crooner, though.

All of these asides are what make spending time in Judgment's world so enjoyable. It's what made the Yakuza series a constant joy. You're navigating updated versions of the same streets Kiryu did, but familiarity, rather than breeding contempt, has the opposite effect. It’s actually quite comforting. Yet it's the story that will ensure you're constantly hooked, its complex murder mystery unfolding in a way that you'll never see coming. What at face value seems like a serial homicide case, soon develops into something that runs far deeper than you'd expect.

With best buddy Kaito – an expelled member of the Tojo Clan subsidiary Matsugane Family – serving as the muscle, Yagami leverages his lawyer connections via the Genda law offices to get to the bottom of a web of corruption engulfing Kamurocho and beyond. What this normally entails is gathering evidence, usually by chatting to people, and following suspects from one point to another. It's this latter element that proves tiresome; tailing missions tend to drag on for too long and if a target moves out of sight for even a second, an intense musical cue and 'you're losing them!' message infuriatingly starts up. Every. Single. Time.

You could also criticise the game for not really straying too far from the Yakuza template. From the return of a familiar, well-trodden location to the intense combat and loopy side objectives, Judgment is a Yakuza game through and through, but that’s not something I see as an issue. Every visit to the city is a new journey. And when Judgment does veer off course with new activities like drone racing and the Dice & Cube VR Paradise mini-games they only succeed in being completely disposable, unless you're dead set on 100%-ing the game (incidentally, I am). But returning to an old haunt isn't always a bad thing.

Fighting (again like Yakuza) is one of Judgment's strengths, Yagami's crane and tiger styles injecting a nice bit of flexibility into the way you tackle enemies. Crane style favours faster, more sweeping attacks ideal for crowd control, while the tiger style is better for one-on-one encounters, comprising sharp, powerful strikes and crushing kicks. EX moves fill in for Kiryu's 'Heat' abilities, so you can deliver devastating and outlandish blows with aplomb. Combat is great and all, but when restaurateur Kim from the Beef Zone texts you for the umpteenth time about the Keihin gang wreaking havoc across the city, you may get more than your fill. I’ve never felt this harassed since Roman asked me whether I’d like to go bowling.

Finishing fights accrues SP (skill points) that can be spent on upgrading Yagami's various skills, so busting heads is always worthwhile. And the new wall vaulting move and ability to leapfrog opponents are excellent additions, to boot. SP upgrades encompass your core fighting abilities, moves, and aptitude for detective stuff like lockpicking, tailing, snapping incriminating photos, and identifying clues while in first-person search mode. Choosing the correct dialogue options during interviews with suspects also grants bonus SP, and being thorough during the designated search mode bits also reaps SP rewards. Unfortunately, there aren't quite enough of these detective elements interwoven into Judgment's story and Side Cases, however, save for the all too prevalent pursuit sections.

Tailing perps can be a real pain in the arse.

It's to the game's detriment somewhat that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio hasn't leaned more into Yagami's legal skills and powers of deduction – there are only a handful of times in Judgment where you're left to present evidence of your own volition, or given space to come to your own conclusions. More of this would have helped Judgment feel like something more unique. Instead, there's a lot of punching, kicking, on-foot chases (returning from some of the previous Yakuza games), and those interminable tailing bits.

Judgment might be flawed, then, but its twisty storyline, brilliant characterisation and varied gameplay completely glosses over the scuffs. Granted, this is superficially yet another Yakuza game in all but name, but Judgment gets by on its own merits, not limited to its cast of loveable rogues. Being a detective in Kamurocho, seeing the city from a different viewpoint, and searching for serial killers and mewling stray cats alike, Judgment is a triumph, and we can only hope that there will be sequels (that May teaser is tantalising). More from Yagami, Kaito, et al. would be more than welcome.


If you're a Yakuza fan, you've probably already bought Judgment in your head. If you're not, then this is a great place to start, Yagami's hardboiled crime saga a remarkably engaging, surprising, and rousing journey from beginning to end.

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Anyone looking to play through Judgment with the new English voiceover won't be disappointed. The voice cast is exemplary and the performances are uniformly excellent, Fred Tatasciore especially menacing as snarling white-suited Matsugane yakuza Kyohei Hamura, and Greg Chun doing a stellar job as Yagami. Music and atmospheric noises are wonderful, too.


Judgment is polished to an almost blinding sheen, character models are detailed and wonderfully realised, while Kamurocho has never looked better; at least not since Kiryu's last outing. A truly fantastic-looking game.


Combat in Judgment is superb, Yagami's flashy crane and tiger fighting styles making for some spectacular dust-ups. Enjoying the many sights, sounds, and flavours that Kamurocho has to offer remains a joy.


The main story proves consistently engaging throughout. Truly, the central narrative is far and away Judgment’s forte, its expert execution delivering something that succeeds in being complex, but never needlessly convoluted. Mini-games (that support 2-players) and other distractions will keep you hooked during the game's 40-50 hours, but activities like drone racing and VR Paradise are a bit on the dull side. Sadly, the original release's pinball machine has been nixed.


A varied list with excellent spread, the only downside being that you have to win every single drone race. Beyond that, the achievements will encourage you to spend countless hours stalking the streets, discovering every Side Case, making Friends, and so on. Not that you'll need any encouragement.

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