Previously on Judgment, successful lawyer, Takayuki Yagami suffers a devastating blow at the hands of one of his former clients. Now, with his reputation destroyed, Yagami descends into the seedy underbelly of Kamurocho setting up a private detective agency in the red light district with his partner former Yakuza Masaharu Kaito.
When Yakuza begin showing up dead with their eyes gouged out, Yagami’s former law firm asks for his help. Using his detective skills and underworld connections, the lawyer turned detective takes it upon himself to find the killer and expose everyone involved.
Judgment for PlayStation 4 is the latest game from the makers of the Yakuza franchise. It’s a pulpy detective drama perfect for gamers who love a good mystery. The story is well written and cinematic, told throughout a dozen or so episodes, loosely adopting the structure of a crime TV series.
What begins as a series of brutal murders quickly spirals into a larger conspiracy involving Yakuza, corrupt police and even the higher-ups within the Japanese government. Judgment wouldn’t look out of place on HBO or AMC, except for the fact that it’s a video game.
For the most part, the story is told through cut scenes, and there are a lot of them. In between, Yagami engages in a fair amount of actual detective work. Gameplay includes tailing suspects while keeping distance and taking cover behind objects to remain hidden. Sometimes suspects run, and you give chase through a series of Quick Time Events.
You will also search crime scenes for clues, snap surveillance photos with Yagami’s smartphone, wear disguises and pick locks to access sensitive areas. Questioning witnesses involves selecting between different dialogue options and presenting evidence at appropriate times.
Choosing incorrectly doesn’t necessarily end in failure. It’s more likely that whatever options you choose will get to the correct answer, although the most direct route snags an experience point bonus which is used to unlock and upgrade skills for Yagami.
Takayuki Yagami is not a cop, so he’s free to beat the shit out of any Yakuza or street thugs who get in the way. He’s also a trained fighter for some reason. Story missions involve plenty of hand-to-hand combat and adopting random objects as weapons. The combat is fast-paced and in true Japanese fashion, increasingly over-the-top. It feels like a mix of Street Fighter and the Sega Mega Drive classic Streets of Rage. Outside the story, random brawls with street thugs are not only entertaining, but also a legitimate way to earn money early on in the game.
Between the story beats, you are free to explore the fictional city of Kamurocho and take on a wide range of activates. There’s a hidden underground casino with card games. Gaming arcades with Sega classics like Virtual Fighter 5 and Space Harrier. Baseball batting cages, pinball machines, girls to date, drones to race, vinyl to collect and an apartment to decorate. Most activates are worthy distractions from the story, and it’s easy to rack up hours of playtime on Poker and playing claw machines while attempting to win toys to place around the apartment.
Judgment is a long game. Each of the chapters/episodes can take several hours to complete. Combine this with the side cases and open-world activities, and you could easily spend forty-plus hours in Kamurocho before the credits roll. The only aspect of Judgment that could make its length feel like a chore is that the city is quite small. It’s not long before events begin reusing the same streets and alleys. A larger game world with more diversity in the environments would have been appreciated.
Arguably the biggest issue with Judgment is its tone. The story ventures down some dark roads, only for an absurd line of dialogue or scenario to ruin the immersion. For example, early on, Yagami decides to name the killer “The Mole.” Why? Because the killer claws at his enemies and then burrows back into the darkness. Just try and keep a straight face.
There’s another scenario where right in the middle of a court trial, the defence stands up and starts questioning the prosecutor as if he’s a suspect. This goes on without so much as an “objection” on any intervention from the judge. Japanese courts may differ from those in the west, but it’s also possible that the writers have been watching too much Suits.
And if that wasn’t enough to get a feel for the tone, a full-fledged professional doctor sets up shop underground within the dirty, bacteria-ridden sewers to treat homeless people. He has a lab coat, stethoscope, bed and everything. Chance of infection rising…
Overall, Judgment could be the best detective game ever made, though it doesn’t have a lot of competition. LA Noire is the only similar game that comes to mind. Tonally, it’s all over the place. Yet the story is engaging enough that you will want to stick around to see how it’s resolved.
The combat is tight and Judgment could be one of the only games where random encounters do not become tiresome. The living, breathing world of Kamurocho offers plenty of entertainment, even if most activities can be filed under ‘busy work.’ Judgment is a great entry point into the often bizarre world of Japanese pop-culture and is a nice alternative to all the open-world games set in the west.
And if you were wondering why our protagonist Takayuki Yagami looks like he was pulled straight from the Japanese version of the Backstreet Boys, it’s because he’s played by Takuya Kimura, who outside of acting, was also a member of Smap – one of the best selling boy bands in Asia.
Judgment is available now on PlayStation 4.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher