Judgment PS5 Review

With the mainline Yakuza series retiring its signature protagonist and embracing a new direction, the franchise depends on new blood now more than ever. While last year’s Just like a Dragon introduced an entirely new Yakuza protagonist which will carry on the torch for many years, 2022’s Judgment marked the start of developer Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s experimentation with the series after Kiryu’s story came to a close. It’s a Yakuza game in all but name, featuring exactly the same melodramatic story and over-the-top combat, but it unfortunately got drowned by the slew of other great releases in 2022. It was also initially a PlayStation 4 exclusive, but now it’s back with remastered visuals on a wider array of platforms. If you missed out on Judgment to begin with, you should absolutely give the remastered version a shot regardless of whether you’re a sequence newcomer or veteran.

Judgment distances itself in the organized crime stories of the main series, instead concentrating on a serial killer that’s been gauging peoples’ eyes out. You play as Takayuki Yagami, a yakuza-raised ex-lawyer currently being employed as a personal investigator. Because Yagami includes a different perspective than traditional Yakuza protagonists, Judgment allows players to get a side of Kamurocho they normally don’t get to see. The mainline Yakuza series is focused on crime, but Judgment requires a darker, more grounded consider the victims of Kamurocho’s criminal underground.

Because Yagami is a detective, Judgment adds several new gameplay mechanics to the game to help you in crime scene investigation or pursuing suspects. Unfortunately, however, many of these new additions ultimately fall flat. Tailing missions are almost never fun, and Judgment throws them to you fairly often. The segments last far too long and the suspects seem to check over their shoulders every few seconds, which quickly becomes frustrating. Crime scenes feature first-person evidence gathering sequences, and they’re mostly inoffensive. They don’t hider the knowledge, however they don’t necessarily stick out either. Yagami may also get mortally wounded during combat if an enemy utilizes a deadly weapon just like a gun, permanently lowering your health bar until you use a special medical kit or visit a doctor. This seems like a much bigger problem than it really is, and I wish this idea was more fleshed out to match this game’s grittier tone. Since it leans so heavily into the detective theme, it’s a shame that Judgment’s detective mechanics feel a little half-baked.

Combat is a huge thing about this series, and Yagami has a few moves up his sleeve which make him really feel not the same as the other Yakuza protagonists. He’s a lot more nimble than Kiryu, which is reflected in his fighting style. He makes use of quick thinking and acrobatics instead of raw physical strength, flipping and even jumping off walls during fights. Yagami may also freely switch between two styles: Crane and Tiger. Crane is best used against groups of enemies, featuring a wide array of sweeps and kicks, which Tiger is meant for one on a single fights and breaking enemies’ guard. Each style could be leveled as you will get more skill points, becoming a lot more complex as Yagami’s strength grows.

The game also boasts a remarkable suite of side content, as expected for a Yakuza game. Kamurocho staples like the batting cages and mahjong return, but some pursuits like karaoke are sadly absent. There's a ton of entirely original new activities for Yagami to take part in which more than make up for this, however. Drone races are among the game’s more in-depth activities, letting you race highly customizable drones with the streets of Kamurocho. It’s an enjoyable novelty that’s great for at least a few races, but the enjoyment quickly wears thin. Judgment’s other major new side activity is a VR game that gives you money and other prizes, but this one is pretty weak as well.

While its new minigames aren’t the best, Judgment’s side stories are some of the best the series has ever seen. Side stories are split up into two categories: Friend Events and Side Cases. Side Cases are unique to Judgment, providing some well-paying detective work for Yagami on the side. They vary from deadly serious to ridiculously silly, and the series’ stellar side quest writing really shines here. Friend Events, on the other hand, are traditional Yakuza side quests unlocked by meeting people on the streets of Kamurocho and creating a bond with them, learning their stories as you meet them more often. Some women may even become Yagami’s girlfriend, however the dating mechanics feel tacked on. You can take these girls on dates and make an intimacy meter up by playing minigames and selecting the best dialogue options, but the entire process seems like a huge total waste of time.

Judgment looked and ran fine in its initial release, but the next-gen remaster is a much better experience. To get the Dragon Engine running on PS4, the game needed to run at 30 FPS, but now Judgment runs in a locked 60 FPS all the time. The game even looks better, Loading time are also dramatically improved because of the SSDs in next-gen consoles, which is always appreciated. After playing Just like a Dragon at 60 FPS, it had been going to be hard to return to 30 FPS for any Yakuza game, so it’s nice so that you can experience Yagami’s story at a smooth framerate.

The Yakuza series has been branching in new directions after bringing Kazuma Kiryu’s story to some close in Yakuza 6, and Judgment is proof the formula works despite a fresh group of faces. Just as Like a Dragon did this past year, Judgment shows that this series continues to have lots of new ideas up its sleeve despite all the mainline games maintaining an identical appearance at first glance. Although the story can drag a bit in the first half, Judgment’s colorful cast of characters makes the journey of great benefit. I am hoping we obtain to determine more of these characters in a sequel or future spinoff, particularly if the detective side content gets a a bit more love next time around.

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