Judgment is an action-adventure game that is a spin-off of developer Ryū ga Gotoku Studio's Yakuza series. It has the fighting and open-world exploring of Yakuza as well as investigation and detective mechanics similar to Ace Attorney Investigations. Although it leans in very close to its Yakuza heritage, the investigation mechanics give it a feeling of freshness that's been lacking in the franchise since the first Yakuza game came out almost fifteen years ago.
The game follows Takayuki Yagami, a former attorney who lives in Kamurocho, Ryo ga Gotaku Studio's fictionalized version of Tokyo's Kabukichō district. He was formerly his firm's golden boy, getting to handle almost all of the firm's clients after he got a man acquitted of murder charges in a country that has a conviction rate of over 99 percent. However, when the man kills his girlfriend and sets fire to her apartment, Yagami leaves his firm and becomes a private investigator.
One of the investigation techniques he uses as a private investigator is called active search mode, which is used for investigating crime scenes, searching for evidence, or verifying information such as eyewitness sketches with the facial features and clothing of a suspect. Yagami also employs the tried and true method of tailing a suspect. While doing so, he sometimes has to hide behind items or blend in with a crowd to avoid being seen. It has to be said that this isn't realistic in the least, as the suspects turn straight around and begin craning their head and turning sharply left and right looking for someone who is trailing them. With these exaggerated head movements, there would not be ample time to hide in reality. However, in a franchise that is known for, and thrives on, exaggeration this actually fits right into the atmosphere of the game once you get used to it.
The most novel, and topical, of these investigation techniques is a flying drone named the pigeon. It is used to spy on targets below and those that are inside of buildings by looking in through the window. There is also a drone race mini-game that can be played, and the drone can be upgraded to better compete in these races.
This being the Yakuza universe, drone racing isn't the only way to pass the time. There are many other mini-games that can be played around Kamurocho. These include Sega arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 5, Fighting Vipers, and Puyo Puyo. There is also a unique Kamurocho-themed House of the Dead-style shooting game titled Kamurocho of the Dead. Throughout the city, there are also areas where you can play darts, western gambling games like poker and blackjack, and Japanese gambling games like koi-koi and oichu-kabu. Those who have played Yakuza 6 will find the layout of Kamurocho familiar, as it uses the same map, with some changes. The most obvious of these is that the bowling alley area now has a mini-game inside that is said to be a virtual reality board game of Kamurocho. Here, you roll dice and traverse around a game board. The spaces you land on could lead to several mini-games, from lockpicking or thumb turn bypass (using a thin wire to open a lock), fighting several enemies, or shooting using a drone. There are also spaces that add dice rolls or take them away, and spaces that simply give you a gift. Winning any of the minigames in these spaces will give you a prize, and they will be converted to cash upon successful completion of the board. Any extra dice at the end will also give you a cash prize. Because of this, it's one of the easiest ways to earn a lot of money, as long as you have enough game passes to play. These game passes can be found in gambling centers, or won from simply winning street fights when thugs around Kamurocho jump you.
The voice acting and motion capture in this game is excellent. The highlight is definitely Takuya Kimura as Takayuki Yagami. I enjoyed Yakuza's protagonist Kazama Kiryu as much as everyone else, but Kimura gave Yagami a much more emotional performance that was a nice change from the stoic performance of Takaya Kuroda as Kiryu. Another highlight was one of the game's main antagonists, Kyohei Hamura. There was a lot of press given to the fact that Pierre Taki was replaced in the role by Miou Tanaka after Taki was caught by police in possession of cocaine. Hamura's face was altered to no longer resemble Taki, but the motion performance is still there, and it is excellent. Throughout the story, Hamura almost becomes a sympathetic character, and a lot of that is down to the emotion given when the entire plot is revealed. That is a testament both to Tanaka's voice performance and Taki's motion-capture performance. In this game, unlike most games in the Yakuza universe, there is both a Japanese voice option and an English one. The excellent thing about this is that the English dub has an entirely new translation from the Japanese one. This makes it flow more naturally when spoken in English, preventing the game from having stilted dialogue as was the case with the Shenmue series or the original Yakuza on PlayStation 2. The English voice actors are equally as impressive, with the highlights once again being Yagami's voice actor Greg Chun and Fred Tatasciore as Hamura. Another standout in both English and Japanese versions is Yagami's best friend, former Yakuza Masaharu Kaito, performed by Shinshu Fuji in Japanese, and voiced by Crispin Freeman in English. I would love to see a game with Kaito as a playable character.
The game's art style is excellent, as is the case with all Yakuza titles. Kamurocho, the Yakuza universe's fictionalized version of the Kabukichō district of Tokyo, is almost a character all of its own. It is brimming with life, with recreations of famous Kabukichō landmarks and buildings as well as buildings unique to Kamurocho. The game pays tribute to Shenmue in many ways, more so than most Yakuza titles, with capsule toys that can be sold or displayed in Yagami's office, and quick-time event chase scenes. The quick-time events are never as punishing as Shenmue however, as you are given ample time to press the button, and failing to do so won't result in failure, just a reduction of the amount of time that Yagami has to catch the suspect. The latter is not a problem either, as Yagami is given ample time to catch up. Many of these scenes make the quick-time events worth it, as there are a lot of references to famous film action scenes, including everything from Jackie Chan films to Back to the Future.
The musical score is also top-notch, and while many themes should be familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, there are some standouts that are new to this game. There are also five vinyl records that can be collected throughout Kamurocho containing music that can be played in Yagami's office. These include everything from the traditional Irish tune "Londonderry Air" (commonly known with lyrics as "Danny Boy", although this game includes the song with no lyrics), to a song performed by one of Yagami's love interests in the game.
Judgment is an exceptional game. It has both Yakuza and Ace Attorney Investigations gameplay styles that work exceptionally well together, and the game's cast of characters are well voiced in both Japanese and English. The separate translation for the English dub is also a welcome change from previous efforts to translate games in the Yakuza franchise, resulting in dialogue that sounds natural when spoken in English. The game's fictionalized Tokyo district, Kamurocho, is bustling with life and energy, and there is much to do around the district as well. This game is one that I heartily recommend to anyone, whether you are a fan of the Yakuza series or not.
5 out of 5