To compare Judgment, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s newest romp through the streets of Kamurocho, to the Yakuza series is totally unfair. It’s also 100% totally fair. Gone are the days of Kazuma Kiryu, the lead of Yakuza series. In his place we take control of Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer turned private investigator. Can Tak fill the gigantic alligator skinned shoes left behind by Kiryu? Well no, because those shoes were huge. No worries though, he does just fine in his off brand sneakers.
The heart of the game, as it’s been through the Yakuza series, is its combat. Not much has changed since the previous games but there are a few minor tweaks to the system. Sometimes it’s different fighting styles and other times it’s merely how you level up your skill set. Judgment takes a relative simple approach focusing on two different styles and fewer skill choices than previous games of the genre. It all works well however and will feel very familiar to Yakuza veterans. For those new to the series, it makes it very approachable and easy to pick up.
Kamurocho is like slipping into that old, comfy bed with a fresh new pair of sheets. I’ve always thought that the city was one of the unsung heroes of these games; always bustling with life and flashy neon signs. Judgment ups the ante though. It allows you to build friendships with various people around the city. From restaurant owners to random citizens, each one has a unique, small quest that builds relationships with them. This will, in turn, up your reputation in the city. You’ll start unlocking different side missions as your level increases. You never know what to expect, as relationships can manifest in the middle of missions (one might even throw you a bottle of hot sauce mid-fight to help you out!). While not required, it’s the only way to unlock those side cases which really make the game stand out from the Yakuza series.
In the Yakuza series, your stories are more intertwined with the seedy Japanese crime syndicate. While they still play a large role in Judgment, the main story focuses on solving different parts of a much larger case. With this change comes some new gameplay mechanics. Searching for clues, chasing down criminals, and tailing people to find out what they’re up to all come into play. While mostly enjoyable, they could all use some work. Most of them are either on rails or so repetitive that they get boring rather quickly. Even a new mechanic that allows you to gain more experience by making consecutive correct dialogue choices is really unnecessary and uninspiring. A little bit more effort in these areas would have gone miles into separating this game from its predecessors. As they stand, they’re just minor inconveniences instead of a fresh addition to the base game.
Listen, I love the Yakuza series. I loved Judgment. But are they really that different? Yakuza, to me, is like watching a very long episode of a well written crime drama. It had a very strong protagonist that everything revolved around. It broke up the monotony by introducing weird, sometimes disturbing, side quests for you to keep things fresh. Judgment, to me, is basically the same thing. It’s the CSI: Miami to Yakuza’s original CSI. I don’t know a better metaphor for it. It’s the same, but different. It is its own game, but also could be Yakuza 7. While I enjoyed my time back in Kamurocho and loved playing as Tak, I couldn’t help but think I’ve been there before, but in the best of ways. If this is the direction Ryu Ga Gotoku is heading, then sign me up. As long as we’re stopping by Wild Jackson’s along the way.