'Judgment' Makes an Appealing Case for a Kiryu-Free Kamurocho

8.5/10 - PS4

The latest action-adventure brawler from Sega's Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Judgment follows a disgraced lawyer, Takayuki Yagami, who becomes a private investigator after a high-profile murder case takes a brutal left turn. Like the studio's Yakuza games, Judgment takes place in the fictional Tokyo vice district known as Kamurocho, an intricate rabbit warren spread across several blocks, bursting with bars, criminal thugs, junk food and arcades.

While Yagami's story starts slow, and it would have been nice to explore an environment other than Kamurocho, there's still plenty here to satisfy hardcore Yakuza stans. It also manages to be a great entry point for those who've heard about the series, but are daunted by the prospect of jumping into a seven-game franchise.

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Takayuki Yagami is a disgraced lawyer turned detective in Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's latest, 'Judgment.' Sega

Judgment retains many of the signature elements of the Yakuza series, most obviously the high-octane combat. Yagami can switch freely between two fighting styles: Tiger and Crane. Tiger's better suited to one-on-one brawls (i.e., boss fights), while Crane is for crowd control. For those who have played Yakuza 0, Yagami will feel more like Majima, fast and nimble on his feet (though sadly he's no breakdancing expert.). Even so, Yagami feels noticeably different from the protagonist of any previous RGG game, thanks to his ability to spring off the sides of tight Kamurocho alleyways while fighting. Yagami's balletic brawling style keeps the action fast and fresh, even though I admittedly never got a perfect grasp of it and made quite a few spectacular leaps to nowhere.

Mortal wounds are another small, but significant, tweak in Judgment. If someone lands a few shots on Yagami with a deadly weapon, like a sword or knife, he won't be able to restore his full health unless he visits a doctor or uses an expensive medical kit. It's a welcome touch of realism: no more chugging instant ramen and rice balls to recover from multiple gunshot wounds.

Other aspects of the game share common ground with the Yakuza series and Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. As you advance through the story, defeat foes and complete sidequests, you'll gain skill points that can be used to unlock new combat moves, boost your stats, and add quality of life enhancements (like increasing your alcohol tolerance or making Yagami smoother with the ladies). While there's no karaoke this time around, the inclusion of the insanely addictive zombie shooter Kamuro of the Dead (a Yakuza-themed riff on House of the Dead) in the Club Sega arcade is a fantastic addition to RGG's formidable minigame stable.

Judgment's investigative focus means you'll spend a good chunk of time exploring Kamurocho. Using Yagami's drone to hunt for clues and tail suspects is one of the most enjoyable new gameplay changes, and the vertical experience lends Kamurocho greater depth than in its previous incarnations, underscoring the refinements the team has made on the Dragon Engine since the release of Yakuza 6. Still, as naughty fun as Kamurocho is, it would have been nice to take Yagami for a day trip outside of Tokyo for a chapter or two.

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Kamurocho, Tokyo's vice district, will be a familiar wretched hive of scum and villainy to those familiar with the 'Yakuza' series. The latest game from RGG Studio, 'Judgment,' lets you get more of a bird's eye perspective on the city. Sega

Other new elements, like the lockpicking minigame, can become fiddly and annoying. It isn't likely to impede your progress for any serious length of time, but I was never particularly thrilled to come across it. I was also ambivalent about tailing sequences; some were quite fun and moved in unexpected directions. But others felt like arbitrary memorization puzzles designed to force you into a do-over grind.

While Judgment never quite manages to hit the high-water marks set by Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 2, it's an intensely engaging detective story. We're still waiting for a Mad Dog of Shimano spinoff, but it seems the Dragon of Dojima has left Kamurocho in good hands.