Judgment Review – A slow but solid experiment

I’ve played everything that has been released in the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series from RGG Studio and enjoyed each one of them. There were amazing games like Yakuza 0, weaker games like Yakuza 3, and different games like Yakuza: Like A Dragon (the most confusingly named one).

Judgment isn’t technically part of that franchise, but it is from RGG Studio and is counted as a “Yakuza game” by most fans. It’s the same universe, same city, and has similar interactions with the same Tojo Clan, even if only a side story character crosses over between the two games. The engine the games run on and the style of the games is very similar.

In Judgment, you control Yagami, a former lawyer who is now a private investigator. A simple early case, which involves you trying to assist in the defense of a Tojo Yakuza Captain named Hamura, pulls Yagami into a series of events at the core of the story. Judgment’s main focus is telling a complex and intricate narrative that evolves throughout the story, though since unraveling is such a central part of the game, I’ll avoid mentioning much more about it.

What I can say though is while the story in Judgment is interesting and unique, with satisfying moments, it doesn’t feel as tight as previous Yakuza games and ultimately feels bloated. It’s a fifteen-hour story told over twenty hours or more. What’s worse is that the same is often true for the side cases. Interesting and unique stories, like all side stories in these games, but told slowly.

A lot of the game feels bogged down by dialogue or a need to remind people of the narrative, it’s unfortunate because it gets in the way of its own momentum, and rather than giving high-action moments, it draws out scenes or shows entirely too much detail when brevity could be better.

That’s not to say it harms the story, but it does feel long-winded, and perhaps that’s also due to how Judgment is intended to be a detective story and so the game is mostly talking. There are major moments to the story, but in the Yakuza series most chapters end with a major boss battle, in Judgment, there’s no major reason for the chapter changes, only a few chapters have a big boss battle. It’s understandable as the enemies aren’t major Yakuza, but the pace makes the experience feel like more of a slog than it should be.

The gameplay of Judgment works though. With Yagami being a detective there are a few new mechanics at play. Hunting through locations for clues in a first-person view is an interesting and unique idea that if anything is underutilized, as they’re some of the best moments of detective work. On the other hand, the tailing missions where Yagami tails suspects are almost never fun, but that’s to be expected. The good thing is those don’t happen too often, but they probably aren’t going to excite many people.

The combat of Judgment is similar to the rest of the series as well, though with Yagami fighting with more of a Shaolin style with two different forms, one for large groups, and one for single enemies, but with enough upgrades it’s easy to use the latter for every battle. The early hours make Yagami feel rather slow and weak, but a few skill point upgrades and Yagami will be able to take on almost every enemy without a challenge.

There is one change to the combat that definitely stands out. Yagami can take “Mortal Wounds”, which means the parts of his health bar are taken off. This only happens when he’s shot or takes major damage from one of the “boss” characters. This damage can’t be healed by eating and instead requires Yagami to get healed by a doctor or use a med kit. The issue is there is just one location to heal up that I found, and the medkits, and fixing these wounds are decently expensive. But as a mechanic, it just means players will have to go find the doctor, and once the money stops being a major issue in the game, it is simply a time-wasting chore, rather than an interesting gameplay mechanic.

Take that damage when you’re in one of the few battles where players can’t just free roam, and suddenly it changes a major story moment to a painful experience where players will have to struggle with a tiny life bar.

Of course, the Mortal Wounds can be mitigated with a few features, but rather than getting deep into it, it’s the most important part of the combat system, but also the one that never feels as good as the rest, and one that luckily was removed before the sequel, and hopefully will not return.

There’s more to be said, with a lot of it being potentially spoilers, but at the end of the day, it’s a game where players should discover the story, side quests, missions, and experiences, and rest for themselves.

One other issue comes up in that there are a few DLC parts to Judgment. I’m not sure if everyone gets those or if they were only for the initial launch, but these DLC bonuses range from pointless (An extra Staminan X?) to overpowered (an essence that lets you instantly kill almost every enemy or cause massive damage for bosses).

I’m not sure why DLC exist in Judgment, but it’s a shame because they unbalance the game and are no longer optional additions, they’ll sit in your mailbox outside your apartment but different parts of the game will leave bonuses in that mailbox so you’ll likely add them to your inventory at some point.

The DLC isn’t a massive negative but definitely one that stands out and it’s something that RGG tends to do for all their games (DLC that unbalances the game). I just wish they had a way to lock it away for an authentic play-through because otherwise, it clutters up your inventory.

Ultimately Judgment is another Yakuza game, with a different protagonist. It has all the various Yakuza trapping with large side stories and interesting dialogue. The story is solid but is told poorly at times, and the experience is long but still one I enjoyed. After thirty-five hours I have to confess, they must have done something right, even if I was bored during a few chapters.

Judgment is a slow burn but still one worth playing. Though with that being said I don’t know if I would ever return to Judgment for a second playthrough due to the length of the story.

Still, if you’re a fan of the work of the RGG Studio, I’d recommend checking this out at least for completion’s sake and to learn more about the world of the Yakuza.


If you enjoyed this review, consider checking out my Youtube channel where I review games youtube.com/@kinglink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s