Yakuza: Like a Dragon ushered in a new era for RGG Studio’s beloved franchise, swapping Kazuma Kiryu for Ichiban Kasuga, brawler combat for turn based role playing gameplay, and expanding and changing in other ways to completely reinvent itself. Before that, however, came Judgment, a game that was set in the same universe, but told a completely separate story with a completely separate cast of characters, and infused the classic Yakuza formula with investigations, detective work, and other new mechanics to go with the game’s legal trappings.
It went better than many would have thought it would. Judgment felt like the perfect mixture of old and new, simultaneously another excellent trek through the seedy underbelly of Kamurocho or longtime fans, and a great jumping-off point for those completely unacquainted with the series. It’s also a game that deserves a lot more attention- neither mainline Yakuza, nor a completely new IP, Judgment’s very nature has made it easy to overlook for many people out there. Anyone who’s played it would tell you that this right here is one of the best games in the Yakuza series, and now, with a touched-up remaster releasing for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Stadia, more people are going to get the chance to give it a go themselves.
"Anyone who’s played Judgment would tell you that this right here is one of the best games in the Yakuza series, and now, with a touched-up remaster releasing for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Stadia, more people are going to get the chance to give it a go themselves."
In Judgment, you play as Takayuki Yagami, or Tak to his friends. Once, he was a promising defence attorney, in high demand from potential clients owing to his surprisingly high acquittal rate, even in cases where acquittals seemed nearly impossible. One particular client of his that he managed to get acquitted, however, was arrested shortly afterward for the double whammy of murdering his girlfriend and then setting her house on fire- and suddenly, Yagami’s promising career was over. Three years later, the disgraced lawyer has turned into a private detective, and he’s just as comfortable tailing people and collecting evidence as he is cracking skulls and beating thugs with bicycles.
Owing to the fact that Judgment completely separates itself from the Yakuza games and comes with an entirely new cast of characters and a story that starts from scratch, you’d think that it would struggle to tell a tale as engaging as the series always does. That’s not the case at all, however. Yagami is an excellent protagonist, the characters surrounding him – both the good guys and the bad – are equally good (and even better, in some cases), and the story itself unfolds in a captivating manner, with unexpected alliances, unpredictable twists and reveals, and more coming together to weave a compelling tale.
On the gameplay front, Judgment succeeds in delivering another classic Yakuza experience- brawler combat, a wide variety of fun side activities, and excellent side quests combine to make Kamurocho an excellent place to exist in, whether this is your first time visiting or if you know its streets like the back of your hand. In these areas, Judgment borrows heavily from the series that spawned it, and it wisely enough decides that it doesn’t need to mess with a winning formula. When it comes to the mechanics and systems that are newly introduced in Judgment, however, things are a little more uneven.
"agami is an excellent protagonist, the characters surrounding him – both the good guys and the bad – are equally good (and even better, in some cases), and the story itself unfolds in a captivating manner, with unexpected alliances, unpredictable twists and reveals, and more coming together to weave a compelling tale."
Tailing missions, first person sections where you gather clues and evidence, lockpicking minigames, chase sequences full of QTEs, flying your drone, cross-examinations, and more are introduced to the Yakuza formula here, and though they do make contextual sense given Yagami’s background and the nature of the story itself, not all of them are as well implemented as they should be. Chase sequences and lockpicking are fun, and cross-examinations can be intriguing brain-teasers at times, but then there are the tailing missions and the first person sections, which just feel unnecessary and, honestly, a little bland. They break up the pacing of the action, and do put a bit of a dampener on the experience.
You’ll have noticed that in this review so far, I haven’t said much about what Judgment brings to the table with its remaster, and have instead mostly talked about the core experience itself. That’s because- well, there really isn’t a lot of new stuff to speak of. The visuals are sharper and have a bit more detail, but honestly, it doesn’t feel like a significant jump over the base game. The boost to the performance is much more noticeable, and combat and movement both feel significantly smoother and more enjoyable at 60 frames per second. The lightning quick load times are also appreciated, of course, while the remaster also includes all the post-launch DLC the original game received (which, honestly, wasn’t all that meaty).
As far as judging Judgment on its merits as a remaster goes, this feels like a pretty light upgrade. That’s made all the more disappointing when you consider the fact that for those who already own the game on the PS4, there’s no option to upgrade to the PS5 version for free. It helps that Judgment Remastered is being sold at a cheaper than normal price of $40- but it only helps a little.
"As far as judging Judgment on its merits as a remaster goes, this feels like a pretty light upgrade."
By and large, if you already have Judgment on the PS4, its remaster is hard to recommend. There isn’t much that’s new here, after all, and spending additional money on a nearly identical experience doesn’t make much sense. That said, if you’ve never played Judgment before, this is an extremely easy recommendation. It tells an excellent story, offers a ton of varied and enjoyable content, and delivers an extremely polished take on the classic Yakuza formula. All of which is to say, Judgment Remastered might not be worth the double dip, but it’s certainly the best way to play this underrated gem.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Excellent story and characters; Fun combat; Varied, engaging side quests and side activities; 60 FPS is a big boost; Looks great.
Some of the newly introduced mechanics aren't very well executed; Pretty light on upgrades as a remaster; No free PS4-PS5 upgrade option.