Being a late comer to the world of Yakuza, I’ve been working my way from Yakuza 0, Kiwami and Kiwami 2.  But now I’m finished with the second Kiwami game, I’m been impatiently waiting for the 3rd, 4th and 5th entries to release over on our shores as remasters, like they had in Japan last year.  So when Judgement was announced (Judge Eyes in Japan), I had a degree of excitement for its release, knowing that I would soon be getting my Yakuza fix in the form of this spin-off.  Upon playing Judgement, especially with it being set in a modern day Kamurocho, it took me a good few hours to get over the fact that Judgement was a game living in the shadow of Yakuza.  So when I got over that realisation, it became plain to see that despite being a spin-off, Judgement has all the ingredients of standing alone in its own right and moments of brilliance.

In Judgement, you play as Takayuki Yagami (or Taki as short), a very talented lawyer, turned private detective, following a successful court defence that set free a cold-hearted killer.  Vowing to never defend the guilty again, Taki while a successful private eye, he’s no longer as financially secure as he once was and as a result, he may take on some cases that blur the line of morality, even in a city as corrupt and controlled by the Yakuza, such as Kamurocho.  Taki soon finds himself investigating a case of a serial killer terrorising the streets, dubbed as the “Mole”.  The prime suspect is a chief Yakuza, Kyohei Hamura.  Despite Taki and Hamura having ill-feeling towards one another, Taki feels that Hamura is innocent of these murders and with the help of his old law firm, he clears Hamura of any wrong doing.  However, after the court case is over, Taki suspects that Hamura knows far more than what he is letting on and against the threat of the Yakuza, he now vows to find the true culprit of these brutal murders, even at the potential cost of his very own life.

Now if you’ve played any of the Yakuza games, Judgement will be very familiar to you.  As already mentioned, it’s set in the same city; so much of its locations will be more then recognisable.  However, there are some buildings that you can enter in Judgement, that you could not in Yakuza and vice versa, and there’s some back-street areas and alleyways that weren’t present or accessible in the main series.  But as always, there’s so much to do in Kamurocho, from eating out, having a drink, meeting intriguing and sometimes crazy NPC’s that will likely result in an equally wacky side-mission and of course, there are some brilliant mini-games.  From arcade classics such as Space Harrier, Fighting Vipers and Fantasy Zone.  Right on through to more modern games such as Virtua Fighter 5 and puzzler Puyo Puyo.

There’s also a fantastic zombie shooter akin to the likes of House of the Dead called Kamurocho of the Dead.  And that’s not even accounting other mini-games such as Drone Racing and a fun VR board game that will have you rolling dice in the city streets earning in-game rewards and more.  Oh and something that Shenmue fans might appreciate, somewhere located in the city is a vending machine that sell Toy Capsules, so when you find it, expect to burn through your much needed and hard-worked Yen like you have a hole in your pocket.

But enough of the great mini-games that Judgement has to offer, so let’s talk about how Judgement plays.  At his core, Taki will walk and run very similar to the much loved protagonist of the Yakuza series, Kazuma Kiryu and even his fighting styles will be quite similar.  However, Taki does have a few new moves up his sleeve, such as running up walls, springing from them mid-air to unleash powerful punches and kicks to your enemies faces.  He can also interact more with his environment to finish off opponents, perhaps more so then Kiryu himself and as you progress earning XP (or SP as it’s known in Judgement); you will unlock more devastating and killer moves.

Taki has two fighting styles to switch between, Crane which is perhaps better suited when facing against multiple enemies and Tiger, for when you go one on one.  When in combat, something else that is new to Judgement is the fatal damage that some enemies can inflict upon you with gunshot or stab wounds.  When recipient of fatal damage, your maximum health gauge will be lowered and the only way to max it back out, would be to apply a medikit or by visiting a not so conventional doctor that you will meet quite early on in the story, who lives in the sewers.

Naturally, being a private eye, Taki will approach much of Kamurocho differently to that of Kiryu, something that helps most of all for Judgement to separate itself a little from Yakuza.    Sometimes during main cases or side-missions, Taki will be required to follow certain individuals around the streets, to see if they’re really up to no good.  You’ll have to tail them at a safe distance to avoid arousing suspicion, otherwise the metre gauge will quickly rise, which will result in a game over screen and a checkpoint restart.

To help avoid being seen, you can hide behind walls, cars and sometimes blend into crowds, similar to what you might see in the Assassin’s Creed series.  Some cases will require you to simply follow and report back, take photographic evidence, lock-pick a door or even require you to use your drone for some added espionage.  You’ll even have to go in disguise from time to time, which is quite humorous, because you can barely call them disguises at times, which only adds to the humour of the game.

Once you have gathered enough evidence, you may then present findings to the suspect or your client and if evidence such as photo’s or even if you asked questions in the right order, not only will you have a successful case on your hands, but you’ll also earn some bonus XP too.  There are times when it appears that you’ll have multiple choice questioning or answers, but it sadly doesn’t seem to alter the story all that much, as you’ll often always have the same questions or answers to choose from, it’s just down to the order in which you select them.  Still, all these investigation ingredients give Judgement a distinct identity that Yakuza does not have in that respect, which can only be a plus in my book.

One of the great aspects of storytelling from the Yakuza series was not only the fantastic story being told, but also the talented voice-actors that brought these charismatic characters to life.  For me personally, while we had no English dialogue, only English subtitles in the Yakuza series, I can understand why this might put some off from relying on reading the on-screen text to keep up with the story.  However in Judgement, the developers have gone the extra mile to cater for as many languages as possible.

So now not only can you have Japanese dialogue with English subtitles, but you can how play the game with English voice-actors and better still, slang language will also differ from English and Japanese.  So while the storylines might have the same meaning, the English and Japanese language will have slightly different ways of explaining things.  So I really do applaud the developers for their efforts, so that fans have more ways to experience this game, regardless of their region.  As well as English and Japanese, Judgement also supports the French, German, Italian and Spanish languages, and you never know, they might very well add more languages in future.

All in all, while it’s near impossible to not draw comparisons between Yakuza and Judgement for obvious reasons, Judgement has more of an identity that I ever thought it would.  Yes there are a lot of similarities, but there’s also a lot going with Judgement that Yakuza does not have, such as our lead protagonist Takayuki Yagami is a strong lead character that is very distinct to the likes of Kazuma Kiryu, not to mention Judgements interesting supporting cast of characters, like Taki’s close friend and expelled Yakuza, Kaito and an enthralling antagonist in Hamura.  It may take Yakuza fans a few hours to distinct Judgement away from its main series, but thankfully when that feeling has passed, it will soon become apparent that Judgement is fun, filled with suspense, drama and humour, and more then stands-up alone in its own right as a great alternative to the Yakuza series.