Judgment, also known as Judge Eyes, is the newest game within the Yakuza franchise by the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, set as a spinoff to the main series. Switching to more of a legal thriller, Judgment still keeps the comedic nature, over the top action and bizarre attitude of Yakuza. Changing from playing as Kiryu, we now control a lawyer turned detective, swapping out the political nature of organised crime for saving cats or finding lost bags.
The story starts off with a short introduction mission as we tail a fellow detective who hasn’t paid back their debt. Not too long after completing our first mission we are treated to the backstory of our protagonist, Takayuki Yagami, being one of the few lawyers to get a convicted murderer off the hook as he was found innocent, only to later kill his girlfriend. From this initial backstory, we will spiral back into the world of lawyers and courts as Yagami finds his past case coming back into the light.
While completing normal detective work we will stumble onto a new serial killer, who gouges out the eyes of the Kyorei clan of Yakuza. Close friends are accused, suspicions are thrown around with Yagami being hired to sort out the fallout via his detective skills, hunting for evidence around every corner. Using both his skills as a detective and that of a martial artist, Yagami will find the truth one way or another.
The main story will last you around 20-30 hours, depending on how side-tracked you get whilst undertaking the main missions. In usual Yakuza fashion, Judgment is full to the brim with side content, collectables and minigames to enjoy. Your playtime can easily double with all the additional content, granting you up to 80 hours total playtime. After completing the game you also unlock a harder difficulty mode as well as new game+ to replay the game with all your skills, money, and items. There isn’t any major reason to replay as the game will end the same, with choices only giving you slight dialogue changes here and there, though there are 1 or 2 sequences that are missable.
If you’ve played any of the Yakuza franchise, especially Yakuza 0, you’ll feel right at home with the combat in Judgment. As normal, you will be running around the streets of Kamurocho but when a group of thugs, Yakuza or hitmen spot you they will charge after you and attack. When close enough to enemies you will enter into a battle stance, being able to freely swap between Crane, for multiple targets, or Tiger, for singular targets. You have a light attack on Square with a heavy attack on Triangle, a combination of both allowing for combos.
Similar to Yakuza, Judgment uses an Ex Gauge that works almost exactly like the heat gauge. Once full you can enter into Ex Mode where you deal more damage, take no damage and can enact unique Ex attacks, or you may use 1 segment of the gauge at a time to utilise Ex attacks. Sadly this can be abused just like the heat gauge to make fights incredibly easy, simply pack some alcohol or stock up before a fight and spam the Ex actions to take down bosses in seconds. With later skills you can even reset your drunk meter, allowing you to cycle this technique even easier.
Following the style of Yakuza, almost too closely, Judgment contains 50 sub-cases which are essentially the sub-stories of the main series. Plenty of the sub-stories are straight up fights but thankfully they contain much more chain events, cutscenes and conversations that allow you to become more attached to the NPCs. You will also be able to find random events, race drones across the city, collect parts, craft extracts to enhance your fighting skills, eat all the sushi of the city and more as you explore Kamurocho to the fullest extent of the map.
The music of Judgment is definitely a step up from Yakuza Kiwami, and middling around the Yakuza Kiwami 2 quality level. Sadly it doesn’t reach the peak of Yakuza 0’s OST but it didn’t send me to sleep like Kiwami. There are plenty of energetic tracks with techno/electric vibes as well as rock and metallic songs that aid with the awesomeness of some scenes. Some of the later music is top notch, as it normal with the Yakuza franchise, but it is a shame that some of them aren’t heard for too long.
Possibly due to the number of characters on screen and the pushing of hardware of the PS4, Judgment suffers a lot with lag and loading times. Plenty of times where I ended a fight, engaged an Ex action or moved between areas the game would freeze for up to 5 seconds as it loaded the next segment or animation. While this could be ignored if it happened rarely, it happens a good 2 or 3 times every hour, pulling me out of the excitement far too often.
Judgment has taken quite a large jump in focus from Yakuza, moving towards a much more serious tone which ditches a lot of the comedy and surreal events of the main series. While it does throw in humour now and again, the game is really set up to be more mysterious as well as more sombre. With more intrigue, investigation and thinking put into place the story also shifts to figuring out how all the pieces fit together. However, this doesn’t translate too well in-between chapters 4 and 9, where you’re solving cases and helping people attached to the main story. The links to the serial killer are loose, with around 10 minutes of actual progress being made in the 2-4 hours per chapter, making those portions of the game feel really detached and somewhat pointless padding in the main story length. The middle part of this game needed a bit more work and polish, as it stands now they fit better as side-cases than main story content.
One other issue with Judgment is the weird pacing you’ll sometimes find within the main story as well as the overall gameplay style. Combat is faster and bigger due to the improvements in technology, putting the remakes of the first games in a much slower category. Although, this faster-paced action is incredibly opposed when you are forced to tail targets in a slow manner or gather clues whilst standing still. You’re essentially charging headfirst into a standstill. The pacing feels disjointed at times, especially when tailing a target can last a long period of time to either start with a fast-paced fight or end with one.
While there are some issues with Judgment they are somewhat minor, the enjoyment found within the gameplay and side-content more than makes up for it. With the addition of dual audio that is increased even further as one of the few games of the franchise that actually has English audio, featuring some amazing talent that brings the characters to life. Problems with the story can be ignored, for the most part, only rearing their heads toward the ending portions of those specific chapters.
Overall, Judgment gets a 9/10, it is a wonderful redesign of a great concept that was introduced with the Yakuza franchise. It does stumble when it comes to story, pacing and optimisation, which could have been fixed with some added time or polish but otherwise don’t break the fun too harshly. Combat is fast, the character can be upgraded easily, and items can be abused for those who need help or ignored for players who wanted a challenge. The side-content can even outshine the main story at times, with some rather intriguing plots or mechanical changes. For fans of Yakuza, this is a must-have.
Judgment is an action-adventure video game developed and published by Sega for the PlayStation 4