Judgment Review - I Fought The Law(yer)
Updated: Jul 7
Judgment is the beginning of the Yakuza series' move away from that name and its focus on, well, the yakuza. You play as a private detective/lawyer who is not and has never been an actual yakuza member, but who still has close ties with one particular family. The story and gameplay similarly sit somewhere between being about and not about the yakuza - they play a major role in the plot and much of the gameplay revolves around beating them up, but at the same time you can play for hours just doing detective tasks and dealing with civilians.
The two main shakeups to the gameplay are the addition of various detective-y activities and a bunch of new minigames. The detective stuff consists of activities like tailing suspects, looking for clues in the environment, and dialogue-based interrogations. None of this stuff is ever very hard, and it honestly probably wouldn't have been interesting at all if not for the series' trademark bonkers writing constantly intervening to surprise you. The minigames, meanwhile, are a very eclectic bunch. Drone racing and a VR Mario Party-esque games are the main ones, and the latter is meant to be your main source of income since there's no business minigame. I found both of these a bit tedious because of slow movement in VR and excessive grinding for crafting resources with drones, but they're fun for a bit. Most of my time with minigames was with the batting cages, darts, and Outrun! cabinet.
Outside of those changes, you'd be hard pressed to notice that this wasn't another normal Yakuza game just from watching gameplay. Most of your time will be spent on crazy sidequests that almost always end in combat or in street encounters against the bizarrely combative denizens of Kamurocho. The sidequests are nearly all fun, but several of them are frustratingly locked behind completing grindy NPC quests that require finding random resources or grinding casino chips to buy paintings. Combat is similarly fun when it’s new, but random events that spawn Keihin Gang leaders all over the map happen maddeningly frequently in the later stages of the game. Beating up those leaders is fun the first few times, but it's a lot less entertaining when you're fighting the same guy for the 30th time.
It'd get a lot easier to differentiate the games if a cutscene starts playing, though. Most of the major characters in Judgment are either lawyers at the Genda Law Office or prosecutors working opposite you on a case, and typically your immediate concern is collecting evidence to exonerate your client on a case. The result is something that's half Phoenix Wright and half Yakuza. It's definitely not realistic, but it is thoroughly entertaining.
Judgment isn't about to take the crown as my favorite Yakuza game since neither its story nor its cast can get all that close to the highs of Like a Dragon, but it's still a solid experience. It tries a lot of new tricks and lands most of them. Could most of those use some more fleshing out? Sure. But even a less-than-fully refined Yakuza game is a lot better than most series can manage. As long as you don't mind catching frequent glimpses of systems and ideas that will likely need another game or two to reach their full potential, this is easily worth your time.
Time to beat: 50 hours to do everything I was interested in, about 66% completion.
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