Generally speaking, there are two ways to do a spin off. Most go for the simple, take everyone you know and do something different approach, but the other type can be just as much, if not more, interesting to see. These take the things you love about the original and adapt them to a different character, setting or situation. Where Yakuza followed Kazuma Kiryu’s story from promising yakuza member to finding peace away from that life, Judgment introduces us to Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer turned detective. Given the success of Yakuza, will Judgment meet expectations or did they ruin the series focusing on someone new?
If you’ve played a Yakuza game in the past, you should know what to expect from Judgment. The core story is presented slowly through a bunch of world building events. It isn’t long before you learn who Takayuki Yagami is as a person and get an understanding of how he got to where he currently is. And, once you get an idea of the setting, it quickly builds to finding the serial killer.
Arguably the biggest similarity between the two series is how interactions go. Even if we’re no longer following Kiryu, the clans are still there and behave the ways you’d expect. The fact characters are fleshed out and have a fair amount of depth makes them easy to get into. No one is without some blood on their hands and Judgment isn’t afraid to show characters as being more than straight good or evil. It makes for a delightful ride, assuming you can get past the initial rockiness.
Gameplay does a good job of showing how Judgment and Yakuza are different series. Battles themselves play out the same way you’d expect. Yagami has two fighting styles, one for groups and another for individuals, with the ability to use finishing moves, jump off walls, grab enemies or objects to aid you and plenty more you can upgrade to do. Combos and flow are also pretty similar. As much as blindly attacking is fun, there needs to be some defense, either through dodging or blocking and plenty of ways to diversify situations.
Where they start to differ is how you go about things. One new thing is an investigation mode, which asks players to find certain things. Basically, you’re told what to look for and once you find someone who matches that description, check them out and it will either confirm or deny your suspicion. There is also a specific trailing mode.
Like most games that add stealth elements, it’s fairly rudimentary. Follow the person, wait for them to stop, use occasional cover and be smart. If you’re impatient like I am, the mode is fairly forgiving. Even if you’re seen you just need to find a place to find cover. Typically this will be a group of people and you’ll just pull out your phone until things progress. Even if it isn’t the best, it’s easy to understand why it would be included and is good for what it is.
To contrast trailing, there is also a chase. These are kind of a cross between quick time event (QTE) and running simulator. Basically, you chase a foe and input specific commands to overcome a variety of obstacles. Jump a fence, hop over a bike they throw at you, avoid groups of people and all that good stuff you’d expect. Even if they’re not particularly hard, it helps round out the overall experience.
Exploration and more feel like Yakuza. You can explore the familiar city, do optional tasks or simply interact with the world around you and plenty of other side things to do. Players have the choice to proceed in their adventure or just get loss in the fun around them. Whatever you choose to do, there is something to be excited for, even if it’s just waiting for random thugs to start fights.
Even if Judgment does a lot of things right, it does suffer from some performance issues. During fight transitions there are a few parts where you can see frames dropping and it doesn’t always handle scenes happening during more intense events. Even having a fair number of people in a side path is enough for a brief slowdown. Fighting also tends to be a little more on the floaty and brawling side. It still isn’t as precise as you’d expect from Platinum Games or another developer known for action games, though it, again, falls in line with what you’d expect given their previous work.
On a high note, Judgment is fairly nice to look at. Characters, settings and even formatting give a distinct impression of things. I found myself enjoying the subtle changes in facial expressions and way characters hold themselves, at least to the point where I was drawn into the world over simply giving it a once over.
For better or worse, Judgment is a lot like Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. Everything about it screams Yakuza, even if the finer points are a little different. I don’t mean this as a criticism, as the Yakuza series did a fantastic job, just don’t expect Judgment to be totally different. Now, if you want a new take on the franchise you love, this is something that will almost certainly delight. However, if you didn’t care for the Yakuza series, you likely won’t like this one either.
[Editor’s Note: Judgment was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]