“All Rise!” The Judge is in session to pass out judgement on Judgment!
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
- Publisher: SEGA
- Genre: Action JRPG
- Release Date: 25/6/19
- Platforms: PS4
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Judgment. Gosh, where to start! There is A LOT of game for your buck here in Judgment. I mean a heck of a lot. Many open-world games try to make things interesting for the player with collectables, side missions and other such distractions, to entice the gamer to spend time in the world the developers have created, but no one does a better job of drawing you into their world than Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios.
The obvious main part of the game is the story arc. This alone will set you back around 35 hours. Without giving any spoilers away, the narrative is outstanding. The new characters in a familiar world are fully developed, superbly acted, ridiculously watchable and enthralling to follow. The story sets out as a typical detective, murder mystery, but soon develops into something altogether more sinister. The underbelly of the Yakuza is being exposed and they certainly don’t want a PI nibbling around, but that is exactly what you do. As the story unfolds, so the tension wracks up, and the twists unfold.
To progress, Yagami will have different tasks to complete to move the situation forward. Those tasks range from conversation dialogue options, lock picking, drone flying, combat and many others besides.
The way the story is presented and has been done in such an elegant style, with excellently directed cut scenes, interesting camera angles, exciting action, is such that you feel at times you are watching the next big thing on Netflix rather than a video game story.
Being a huge fan of the Yakuza series, and despite being set in the exact same location, Kamurocho, I was concerned I would be hankering after Kiriu, Gojima and all the regulars of the past seven games, but not once did that happen. That is a testament to the brilliance of the believable world and new basis of the story here in Judgment.
Visually the graphics and artwork are outstanding. The world itself is superb, with many details and touches to bring life to what could have been a very boring setting. Kamurocho itself is nothing more than a city centre, full of buildings, tower blocks, and shops, with not much else. But despite this simplicity, the developers have injected such detail and life it’s sometimes necessary to pinch yourself by way of reminder that you’re not actually walking down a real high street.
During the day, the detail they have put into portraying the life and hubbub of work and the people who go around their daily business is breathtaking. Pedestrians walk on beautifully textured pavements, passing detailed shop windows that are full of colour and detail of what kind of store they are. It’s all easily visible. Menus display detailed images of the food they serve, host clubs have accurate pictures of beautiful women and handsome men. It’s all a bit eerily accurate! But it’s at night that Kamurocho and the graphics really come to life. Here the lighting effects are stunning.
Nightclubs with flashy neon signs draw you to them like a moth to the flame and even reflect off the wet tarmac streets. Massive electric billboards, displaying what looks like real adverts, draw the player’s gaze up above the crowds in wonder.
The way the fluid movements of your character effortlessly change from strolling to jogging, to running, at the control of your right stick and button press, is remarkable. The intense, up close and detailed cut scenes have some of the best character models and lifelike detail (complete with pitted skin) that I’ve seen to date.
Just as much of a draw is the excellent audio. The world you are in is brought to life with outstanding and realistic real-world sounds. The bustle of daily life carries on around you. The thumping muffled music of a nightclub you are passing, or indeed the excellent music tracks that follow the main story cut-scenes. People having conversations you can hear as you walk past, the movement of distant traffic, the clatter of signs falling over, and the sound of your own footfalls as they differ from paved slabs to wet puddles, draw you into this world even further for a deeper experience.
So what else is there?
Apart from the main story arc, players have many distractions. Most of these don’t actually open up until you have progressed the story to around the seven-hour mark. The designers ease you into the game before you can expand into being able to take part in the other activities the game has to offer.
As a PI, not only do you have the main mission to solve, but you also get other requests as side missions too. With the main story being quite heavy and serious, I found the side missions a superb way to escape for a while as they are very humorous indeed. The second mission I undertook was to track down and confront, a panty thief! He steals ladies underwear with the use of a drone. To set this up I had to buy a 10,000 yen pair of sexy, lacy, women’s knickers!
There are friend missions, where dotted around the map are icons of people you can become friends with by helping them. These missions range from giving feedback on the products they sell in their establishments like coffee or cake, to others that involve finding and photographing any stray cats you find. The benefits to these are that you then have allies for superb finishing moves, should you get involved in combat near where these friends of yours are based.
As well as this there are twenty mini-games. I say mini-games, but most are actually quite deep and meaningful. I have been guilty of spending an entire evening doing nothing more than messing around these so-called “mini” games. This being Japan, there are many Japanese themed board game locations to take part in, a casino that I personally can’t stop playing poker in, as well as blackjack, and other traditional things you’d normally find in a Yakuza game. Arcades where you can play full retro versions of classic SEGA coin-operated classics, dating women, a baseball batting cage, and, in Yagami’s office a playable pinball machine too. Again, I’ve spent far too much time on that already.
New to Judgment though, are lock picking, trailing and drone sequences, and a VR centre too. However, the star of the “mini” games is a full-blown drone racing scene, complete with 10 different tracks, customisation of drones to improve their flight capabilities and looks, online time trials, and single-player grand prix season. This section alone is almost a full game within the game. At first, I thought the drone racing would be gimmicky, but as the handling models of the drones differ with full flight controls, height elevations, banking and turning, taking place around interesting and challenging courses, it really grew on me in a big way.
It’s fun to race these drones as not only is it about speed and handling, it’s also about durability too, as the other drones can damage yours, as well as if you fly into objects. You race around courses set up around Kamurocho, and these courses also have power-ups as well as elevation to reach them. The online aspect is not a full-blown online lobby (more’s the pity) but the fastest lap you record for each track can be uploaded to a server. Other users can then download this ghost to race against in a bid for victory. You can also download other users ghosts to race against them to try and beat them too.
There truly is a wealth of activities to dive into in Kamurocho, but the best I’ve saved to last, the combat.
The combat in Judgment is hand to hand, kung fu, beat ‘em up. The system is easy to pick up, with two types of basic attacks, guard, lock-on, combos etc, all that you would expect. However, there are two styles to play with, one for crowd control, and one for concentrating on one enemy at a time that is more useful in boss fights.
In addition, you can pick up random items lying around whichever areas you are fighting in, to use as weapons. This can range from dropped baseball bats to traffic cones, or even milk crates. One of the other things that really makes fight sequences exciting, is that when you slam enemies into objects, the resulting impact causes whatever the enemy has been thrown into, to explode in a shower of debris. Smash thugs into bookshelves, the bookshelf falls over and the books fly everywhere. Kick someone into a window, it cracks and smashes. The environments aren’t just there for show, they get involved!
The real fun comes through from the finishing moves. Build up enough hits on a meter and a stylish, over the top finishing cut-scene develops, sometimes using those random items you picked up. Yagami, for example, could throw into the air a street sign he’s using as a weapon and then jump up to kick it back down with over the top force into someone’s face. You could grab someone and smash their head into a wall, or wall jump with a flying knee to the face. Even being a veteran of Yakuza games, I thought I’d seen it all in the combat, but there were so many times I watched a finisher cut-scene only to cry out loud “Oooooooohhhhhhh that had to hurt” in appreciation of the stylish way a foe had just met their end! It’s voyeuristic, brutal, hilarious fun. Smashing people’s faces in never should be this entertaining, but by heck, it is here!
Completing missions and doing activities awards you with points you can use to unlock combat buffs, be that more health, more power, better finishing moves etc, so even the most basic of action in the game does result in some form of reward for you.
Are there any negatives? Only a couple. I have on occasion suffered incredibly long loading times that have even skipped a line of two of cutscene dialogues before it’s recovered. On occasion, I’ve also suffered from immense pop-ins and pauses mid-game while it figures itself out. When going to play the arcade game Fantasy Zone in one of the in-game SEGA arcade machines, it’s crashed me out of the game back to the home screen of my console. I repeated the process when I loaded the game back up and it did it again! Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much that this has happened, as it’s only a small occasional bump on an otherwise smooth playing experience.
(Update, the games first patch 1.05 has been released and it fixed the bug causing the game to crash, as detailed above.)
Another negative comes from the angle of a seasoned Yakuza veteran, being that some of my favourite mini-games aren’t here in Judgment. An additional gripe is that it would have been nice to have set this world up in a new city other than the well-trodden path of Kamurocho. Stomping around the same old haunts I already have seven games over hasn’t got boring yet, but, a new setting would have been a nice touch. If these are the only negatives I can find, then, if you’re new to the developer, you wouldn’t know what you’re missing anyway.
This is one of the best detective games ever made. Nothing gets my blood pumping more than a secret agent, sleuth/spy experience, and just when I thought I’d seen it all, along comes Judgment to trump everything. Following the case was an epic ride of thrills, excitement, and joy. You gently pick locks, sneak into buildings, tail a suspect, gather evidence, smash faces in, follow the trail, and get involved with a gripping, well-acted story. When you’ve done a bit of that and fancy something different, the game has you covered there too. You can dick around in glorious fashion in the multitude of other activities, or you can simply just go shopping, or eat in your favourite restaurant and make friends. It’s a complete gaming experience.
Ryu Ga Gotoku studios have pulled off what I didn’t think they could. They made a game so exciting in so many ways that it made me forget about playing a Yakuza game, even though it’s set in the same district! It is certainly my favourite game so far of 2019, and a GOTY contender? I’ll pass Judgment on that, and the verdict is most definitely guilty!