Sega’s Yakuza series has hit a beautiful cult-status here in the States and that was proven by its spin-off getting some fast praise upon its release. Judgment, called Judge Eyes overseas, takes the streets you’ve come to know and love and ages it up into a modern day thriller that Jessica Fletcher would die for.
As someone who came into Sega’s Yakuza series towards the last couple games in the series, I instantly felt hit with that moment of “Have I been missing out on this all along!?” that happens when you get into a game series late. I felt that way about Persona (Don’t kill me, but Persona didn’t grab me until its fifth installment) and I’ve felt that way about a few series. Sometimes, as games age up with us, we find something to step in with and we end up loving these series from fresh eyes. That’s how Yakuza felt, so when I initially saw the trailer for Judgment and I took note that it was the same Yakuza team and it was meant to be an off-chute of the series, I was pretty enamored.
I plucked it up and it started much like the Japanese and Korean dramas that I watch with my kid. Taking on a far more serious and less intensive action route, I was wondering how Judgment would fit into the Yakuza series if I wouldn’t be fighting non-stop. Then again, Yakuza was very much a title that let you choose your own level of fight and if you wanted to just keep it chill, you could. Judgment, if you can believe it, keeps it even more chill than Yakuza has ever done. In fact, in Judgment, you play Takayuki Yagami who was a lawyer disgraced with himself after he helped let a serial killer go who ended up taking another life. This lead him away from the law and into private investigation, feeling that if he utilized his skills of deduction more then he would’ve been more capable of seeing just who his client truly was. Pretty deep stuff, right?
Yagami is not so clean of the Yakuza lifestyle himself and actually has connections within one of the families, as does his close friend and partner who works with him at his agency. While people wish he would step back into being an attorney and reclaim his spot as one of the best in the city, he has his own demons to work through to make sure he never falls prey to ignorance again. This isn’t as simple a story as Yakuza could be at times, taking a rather deep storyline and interlacing it with the fun and frivolity that can come from living in the city like only Sega can do with their Yakuza series. I rather love that, to be fair, because I see so many games take themselves so intensely serious that I end up getting fatigued from it all and need to pull back.
It hurt my hands, my knuckles and even my heart to set the controller down. That’s how much I loved playing Judgment.
Moments in the game can sometimes make you feel like you’re doing very little but listening to everyone’s side of every story and it borderlines on visual novel in those beats. However, it’s that kind of pacing that actually ends up making sense when you’re then set off into the world, after listening and taking notes, to go find the evidence and clues that are left between the lines of every person you encounter. Think something is just a throw-away behavior or sentence? Think again, because even the way a waiter shifts their feet and watches the door while handing you a menu could be the difference between having clues or spinning your wheels.
The action still exists in-between what feels vaguely Sherlock-ian at times, because you are living and working in some legit Yakuza territory and it can get rough. Thankfully, you’re armed with fighting styles to help most situations and leveling up those skills makes the fights push through with a visual edge and beauty that almost make you hope to see another one sidle up to you. I know after I would level some fighting skills up, I’d be waiting to see little red arrows dictate some enemies, a handful of ding-dongs that wanted to start some crap, moving my way. Making friends and having good relationships with the people in the neighborhood means they’ll come and help you out when you need it too, but lets be honest — you’re not going to need that too much if you’re keeping the streets clean.
Just like in Yakuza, Judgment hosts a series of places and events that bring the city to life aside from the many characters you can befriend and engage with. Arcades are lit up and awaiting for you to win prizes when not playing typical Sega titles that play pretty tightly despite being emulated within the game. Win some items, save them for your possible romantic entanglements or adorn your office with them. Make sure to always eat some snacks, check the mailbox to see if the Landlord lady left you some onigiri and then maybe head on over to a cafe to get yourself a tea.
Judgment wants you to live the life of Yagami in the way that the story sees fit but also in the way that you organically choose to live it. You’re guided but not forced and its in that gameplay, like Yakuza, that makes the character connect to you on a more humane level. You want to see Yagami get to the bottom of these cases because you’ve already spent so much time shopping, playing baseball and having dinner with him that he feels less like coding and closer to real. It’s a genius way of telling the story if you involve your reader/viewer/player with the mundane in order to prepare them for the extraordinary.
Besides, I look forward to halting my clue searching if it means I can spot that mewling kitty. That’s all life is. Stopping your onward progression to pay attention to the furry creatures now and again. Judgment is a stellar action-mystery title with a heart and soul that feels so authentic that you can feel the neon lights in your eyes and the exhaustion in your feet after walking the city. If you’ve got a decent chunk of time to devote to these investigations of both the Yakuza and the inner-workings of a redemption story, you should snatch up this title asap. I’ll catch you guys after I platinum this one, but man… it’s going to be awhile!