Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Genre: Action Adventure
What does it take to be a detective? Video games often explore this concept in either an overly realistic manner or a more light-hearted cartoonish presentation. Both ways work, but it all boils down to the characters and mystery that players get to experience. Somehow developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has found a happy medium by presenting their newest game Judgment in a realistic world with some arcade-like themes, but regardless of the visual presentation, this developer has delivered one of the greatest detective adventure games that I have ever experienced.
Judgment is a game that borrows many features and themes that are found in the Yakuza series. Fans of Yakuza will fill right at home with many of Judgments mechanics, but Judgment isn’t a copy-and-paste video game by any means. Where Judgment shines brightest is in its characters and story.
Players are introduced to protagonist Takayuki Yagami, a young lawyer who is at the end of celebrating a major win. However, the celebration doesn’t last long after it’s discovered that the one who Yagami saved from jail time was caught after committing a murder. The event sends Yagami through a spiral of emotions that he often has trouble dealing with that leads him to be an active detective.
Players catch up with Yagami three years after the event as he is on a case. Unrelated to his current mission, there has been a series of murders that all point to a gang war building up in the fictional world of Kamurocho. Yes, this is the same world from the Yakuza series, but with a few changes to make it stand out as a unique environment for the game to take place. Back to the murders, the victims have all been found without their eyes and the cops have no real leads on who is causing them.
Through a series of events, Yagami ends up being wrapped up in solving one of the murder cases to clear the name of the main suspect in the crime. To do this, Yagami must utilize a variety of detective skills to find his way to the truth. His goals revolve around clearing the name of his client and then possibly figuring out who is committing the murders.
I wanted to focus on the story for a little longer than I typically do in reviews because it is just so damn good. The game has so many characters, both main and supporting, who all deliver standout performances and make each scene as gripping as the last. A large portion of the game is spent watching event scenes that progress the game’s narrative. However, players aren’t expected to just sit back and watch.
Instead, the game has a choice system during dialog where players are expected to test their detective skills and ask the right questions. This ended up giving me the idea that the story and case were unique to me. That being said, the game is a linear adventure where mistakes do affect the points that player’s receive to use to level up skills.
While the main mission is something that players would want to focus on, side missions offer compelling gameplay moments. Side missions are accepted from around the neighborhood by the people that live in this town. While some of them can seem random at first, they do offer some great incentives that would otherwise be missed, such as earning new facial expressions to use during selfie mode.
This takes me to Judgement’s setting, Kamurocho. While this is the only map available in the game, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio did an amazing job to make it feel alive. While playing through the game, which is 40+ hours long, you begin to recognize people and landmarks. However, the developers didn’t just make memorable urban landscapes, they’ve also crafted some beautiful home decor environments as players head indoors.
Similar to the immense creative mix with the overall look and feel of the game, the gameplay has several modes which revolve around detective work. Whether this means following a target without being seen, sneaking into building in disguise, piloting a drone, running after a target, you get the idea. The variety of detective abilities at the player’s disposal offers a nice change of pace throughout the game, but I never really enjoyed the following missions as some of them just went on far too long. The parts that give the best detective-like offering are definitely the moments where Yagami must question a suspect and show them pictures and evidence to support his claims. However, some missions have a lack of direction which causes some confusion when trying to figure out what to do in order to progress.
One thing that players will need to get used to is that Yagami does a lot of fighting while he makes his way around town. Fights get him points to upgrade skills, but ultimately by the end of the game, I was over the street fights and just wanted to reach the conclusion. Still, Yakuza fans will easily feel comfortable with the Judgement‘s fighting systems that include a nice arcade-like brawling system that has Yagami beating the living hell out of enemies. That said, he can’t wield firearms or blades, he is still acting under the law, but other enemies can. Higher difficulties will add a nice challenge to the fighting in the game, but getting hit by a deadly weapon can critically damage Yagami, which will require him to patch it up.
It’s definitely a surprise that anyone can get through this game because there is just so much to do on your way to missions. Aside from side missions, players can participate in mini-games that range from batting practice to classic Sega arcade games such as Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter. Getting distracted in Judgment is half the fun as it sometimes leads to a string of side missions that introduce more unique characters.
Voice over work is outstanding in Judgment. The English cast of characters delivered an amazing performance as they kept the intensity of the scenes high and made every moment believable. Throughout the story’s many twists and turns, I was completely on board thanks to what these voice actors were able to pull off. Speaking highly of the game’s script and execution comes so easily because it is this adventure’s shining star.
Judgment delivered more than I could have ever expected from a detective game. It has raised the bar of the genre with its excellent cast of characters who fuel this adventure for its entire runtime. Every system in the game complements the other and makes this a must play detective adventure. The linear nature of the game is easily looked over when player choice and investigating crime scenes do so well at making a playthrough feel unique (I have played through the Japanese version, too.)
Judgment is a game that anyone will love playing through from the beginning to the end. I was completely immersed in Judgement’s world and could easily spend more time running through the streets and hanging out with the friends I’ve made along the way. Kamurocho serves as the perfect setting for this game to take place, and Yagami happens to be the perfect person to follow throughout this story. I cannot wait for the next adventure by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio because Judgment has left me in awe.
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