Judgment (PlayStation 4) review
"When you're tired of Fantasy Zone, there's still the matter of those murders to do something about."
Sometimes, your greatest victories become your worst defeats. Such is the life of lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami, the protagonist of Yakuza creator Ryu Go Gotoku Studio's Judgment. After representing an accused murderer and poking sufficient holes in the prosecution's case to find him innocent, Yagami suddenly became a rising star in the legal profession. And then the accused perp, Okubo, was quickly arrested again after being found intoxicated and incoherent next to his murdered girlfriend. The effect of this on Yagami was devastating, as he had truly believed in Okubo's innocence. Believing he was inadequate as a defense attorney due to not being able to trust his instincts, he quickly resigned his position and started up a detective agency with a former yakuza by the name of Kaito.
But his past was destined to follow him. After working a series of low-paying and menial cases in the less-than-affluent Kamurocho district of Tokyo, often revolving around hunting down people who owed the local yakuza clan money, something really meaty finally came along: a gruesome murder in which the victim's eyes had been removed. Since Hamura, the accused, was the captain of the Matsugane yakuza family and since the patriarch of that family had served as a father figure to Yagami, he and Kaito were enlisted to find evidence to help the defense.
Yagami's work proves sound enough to get Hamura released, but the detective comes away from the case convinced that even if Hamura didn't commit the murder, he was working with the killer. And with that killing being one of a chain of similar crimes, his sense of justice inspires him to continuing investigating, regardless of how opposed…I mean, VIOLENTLY opposed to that notion Hamura might be. That decision leads Yagami on an adventure loaded with all sorts of twists and turns, where the trail of evidence leads to all sorts of powerful men, while also having a connection to his now-infamous Okubo case.
Judgment is essentially a Yakuza game if the protagonist switched jobs. It's a sandbox game loaded with all sorts of optional activities destined to distract you from the plot. You'll be able to enjoy a number of classic arcade games, as well as Japanese games such as mahjong and shoji, drone racing, a VR board game, a couple casinos, batting cage challenges, a quartet of potential romances and probably a few other diversions my brain is too overloaded to remember. It's easy, especially in the early chapters of the game before the plot's gotten really good, to start up a session with this game and not accomplish one damn thing because you just wanted to play one more game of Space Harrier or you weren't going to leave the damn batting cage until you got the hang of hitting a damn slider.
And since Judgment is essentially a Yakuza game, that means you'll be doing a lot of fighting. Street thugs, angry yakuza and a well-organized band of ambitious criminals will all confront Yagami with regularity, giving him a chance to show off his fighting skills, which improve throughout the game as you spend experience on abilities and improved attributes. Said experience is gained in a myriad of ways. Large amounts get bestowed from achieving plot-related goals ranging from defeating boss fights to simply walking a short distance to a taxi. Smaller amounts are given from beating up random thugs, doing side quests, making friends with local residents, participating in various activities or simply eating or drinking at any of Kamurocho's many restaurants and bars.
Often, these activities are related. I made a number of friends simply by purchasing food at restaurants or goods in stores. By doing side quests, more friends became available. Some of them proved quite helpful, as they would provide assistance if a group of thugs accosted me in their presence. Another benefit of doing side quests is money. It costs cash to engage in activities and when the game begins, you have very little. But complete a few missions and you'll have the means to spend entire days losing it all at the poker table! Crawl away from the casino in defeat and you might discover that a few activities, such as drone racing, are unlocked simply by following the main plot. This all creates a cool vibe where you're constantly discovering new things to do as you progress through the story. The more you do, the more you can do.
I should also praise the main plot simply for never really feeling like you're just going from one point to the next in order to progress the story. It's not like Yagami and friends are constantly making headway on the game's major cases. Oftentimes, you'll be stuck waiting for someone to get in touch with you or for something to happen that you can investigate in hopes of finding some sort of clue. Since Yagami is a detective, those periods are often filled by one of the game's side quests being integrated into the main plot -- essentially giving the impression of a struggling professional doing what it takes to put food on the table while waiting for a break to develop on his primary project.
Regardless of how many times I've said Judgment might essentially be a Yakuza game, it isn't the exact same due to the differing occupations of the protagonists. As a detective, Yagami does a number of things you wouldn't see Kazuma Kiryu do. You'll frequently investigate crime scenes for evidence, a process that changes things to a first-person viewpoint while you scan the screen for stuff. Oftentimes, you'll have to trail suspects down city streets, making sure to both keep them in sight and keep yourself out of their line of vision. And there also are a number of interrogations where you have to select the proper dialogue options or pieces of evidence to get the proper results.
The thing is, while I loved Judgment as an action game and as a sandbox title, some of this detective work left me underwhelmed. While I didn't have the same negative reaction to the trailing missions that it seems a number of reviewers did, I did find they came up a bit too frequently, leading to me getting fatigued by them near the end. It probably didn't help that they're mostly pretty easy if you purchase the skills relating to them and are careful to not get so close to your quarry that it's child's play for them to notice your presence. As for the rest, they're too low stakes to feel like anything more than busy work. If you're looking for evidence, you'll be there in first-person mode until you've found it -- whether that takes 15 seconds or 15 minutes. As for interrogations, it seemed that every time I made a wrong choice, Yagami would simply have a nonplussed reaction and I'd get to choose again. Maybe I'd lose out on a smattering of experience, but the plot would still advance like nothing had gone wrong.
Regardless of those issues, I found Judgment to be a great experience I'm glad I made the choice to enjoy. The main story was well done and contained a lot of characters with complex motivations who couldn't simply be summed up by rattling off a basic trope or two. Side quests contain a variety of moods, with some being serious and others being so over-the-top and whimsical that you can almost feel Yagami questioning his choice of professions while he soldiers through such tasks as impersonating a very eccentric actor who always is in costume or hunting down a series of utterly bizarre perverts who all mysteriously have selected the same young woman as their quarry. Add in the myriad of activities a person can partake in around Kamurocho and this is the sort of game that can be a time-sink for weeks upon weeks. Really, the biggest negative is that I already have an obscenely long backlog of games and now I'm going to have to add the entire Yakuza series to it. Damn you, Ryo Go Gotoku!!!
Community review by overdrive (September 17, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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