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Judgment Review: High-definition detecting

A current-gen release gives us the perfect chance to review an existing title.

Before beginning a whole new Yakuza era in 2020 with Like A Dragon, the fine folks at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio took a break from Kiryu Kazuma’s six-game-long adventure with a spinoff title that twisted the formula of the franchise in 2019.

Still set in the series mainstay location of Kamurocho, Judgment focused on a whole new protagonist – a former lawyer turned private detective doing his best to make a living, and make the streets of his city just a little better for its inhabitants. The game was a personal favourite, and after the smash-hit of Yakuza: Like A Dragon brought a whole new slew of players to the franchise across both last- and new-gen consoles, Judgment has also received a PS5 and Xbox Series X glow-up. 

Set in 2018, Judgment follows protagonist Takayuki Yagami (modelled on Japanese singer and actor Takuya Kimura, who also voiced the character for the Japanese audio), a promising young defense attorney. A major misstep during a case leads to tragedy, and Yagami gives up his career to instead become a private investigator. As the story opens, a third yakuza member has been found murdered with their eyes removed, and Yagami’s former legal office tasks him with helping to investigate what could be a serial killer on the streets of Kamurocho.

In the course of this investigation, many new gameplay mechanics are introduced the set Judgment apart from the core Yakuza games. While Yagami is no stranger to solving problems with his fists, much more focus is put on fact-finding and planning compared to Kiryu’s “punch first, ask questions never” approach.

Across both the game’s core story and various side-stories, Yagami employs many tools of the investigator’s trade: interviewing witnesses and suspects, investigating key locations for clues, picking locks, tailing persons of interest and taking damning photographs to help his case. While some of these are used in the main series’ games, they are put to much more use here. Yagami also has access to a remote-controlled drone to search the city from a whole new angle – and it wouldn’t be a true Yakuza spin-off unless that also meant an entirely optional drone racing minigame.

While Like A Dragon moved to a turn-based battle system, Judgment is the final appearance of the traditional action combat the series was traditionally known for. Moving around the city, you’ll find yourself regularly accosted by thugs and yakuza who need a good decking to show them who’s the boss.

Switching between two fighting styles – the first tailored to one-on-one combat, while the other caters to crowd control – Yagami can lay the beatdown on his foes with a selection of upgradeable combos, environmental special attacks and impressively brutal finishing moves. For players who don’t feel the need to learn the more in-depth controls of this offensive arsenal, the “Simple” difficulty mode allows you to experience the full range of attacks on offer with a single button – instead of having to learn specific combos to see the detective’s higher-tier attacks.

As you meet the denizens of the city and befriend them, you’ll also gain access to special moves when in the vicinity of your friends – for instance, your buddy who works at the convenience store might throw you a meat skewer fresh off the grill so you can use it to flick hot oil at your opponents. It’s goofy, but is a nice way to hearken back to the various sidequests and errands you’ve run for characters all over the city.

With this new-gen upgrade for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X nothing major has been changed in the game, but the experience has been refined and tweaked (much like the upgraded version of Like A Dragon earlier this year). Some character models, including Yagami’s, have been improved with greater depth of detail. Where the game’s lead previously had quite a yellow tone to his skin, this has been adjusted in the remastered version to look more natural and react better to the game’s improved lighting.

The city of Kamurocho is vibrant as ever, with the extra power of the new consoles letting the neon lights and rain-slick streets draw you in more than ever. While the original release ran at a totally playable 30 frames per second, seeing that same world at a buttery-smooth 60fps – and in 4K, no less – really makes the grimy streets of the city pop. Running the game directly from my PS5’s hard drive the loading times are also negligible, which is always appreciated as the game loves to shift back and forth between locations and time periods during story cutscenes. 

If you never got the chance to play this underappreciated gem, it’s well worth checking it out on new-gen consoles. Prior knowledge of the Yakuza series is not needed, as the game stands on its own narratively. The game’s core mystery is enthralling to unravel, and there’s almost too much else going on around the city to enjoy while you derail the plot. Crack out your case book, crack your knuckles and get going.

Judgment was released on PS4 back in June 2019 and heads to PS5, Xbox Series S & X and Stadia from today, 23 April.

8 out of 10

The good

  • Intriguing core mystery.
  • Smoother-looking than ever on new-gen consoles.

The bad

  • No new content for returning players from last gen.

Judgment was reviewed using a promotional code on PS5, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.

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About the author

Matt Gosper

aka Ponk – a Melburnian gay gamer who works with snail mail. Enthusiastically keeping a finger in every pie of the games industry. I'll beat you at Mario Kart, and lose to you in any shooter you can name.