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Judgment review: Treading the streets of Kamorucho again

I absolutely love Sega’s Yakuza games, a rich, slightly quirky crime series set in the fictional Japanese city of Kamurocho, so it’s no surprise that I have fallen head first into Sega’s Judgment (PS4 exclusive), a game not directly set in the Yakuza universe but there’s some elements that the two games share, nonetheless.

It’s hardly surprising there are similarities in game play, though: Judgment’s made by Ryu Ga Gotuku Studio (Ryu Ga Gotuku is actually Japanese for Yakuza), the same studio behind some of the latter Yakuza games, and while there’s no appearance of the Dragon of Dogma Kazuma Kiryu in Judgment, the setting is a familiar one for fans of the Yakuza series: Kamurocho, a fictional Japanese city modelled on the real-world Kabukich?, Tokyo’s most well-known “red-light” district.

I have to say, it’s great to be wandering the streets of Kamurocho again with it’s bright lights and streets layered with signs and craziness.

The lead character in Judgment is lawyer turned private eye Takayuki Yagami (the son of a murdered lawyer, raised by a yakuza patriarch), who is tasked with investigating a series of brutal murders, one of them pinned on aggressive Yakuza captain Kyohei Hamura, who is no fan of Yagami’s.

Those who have played a Yakuza game will feel comfortable with the combat system and dialogue system but in Judgment there are a few new mechanics to mix up the game play. At times, Yamagi has to examine crime scenes to gather evidence and it’s here where Judgment makes its first departure from the Yakuza format. When Yagami has to look for clues, the camera changes to the first person and you have to look around the scene until you uncover clues (the controller will vibrate slightly when you’re close), which will move the case forward. He’ll also have to pick locks and wear disguises to find the murderer.

Judgment also brings in some QTE (quick time event) action, mainly in the guise of on-rails chase sequences where you have to move the left stick in the right direction or press the right face button as Yagami chases a suspect or person of interest, and stealth sequences where Yagami must tail suspects without them seeing him. If he gets too close, he can hide behind signs, vehicles and (improbably) sign posts until the coast is clear. The stealth sequences are handled well and are short enough not to over stay their welcome – and aren’t as frustrating as those in the Assassin’s Creed series.

As you’d expect, you get all the wackiness in a game set in a Japanese red-light district, including a solid line up of off-the-wall side quests such as having to photograph feral street cats for the founder of a cat blog or having to find an underground doctor for a homeless man living in a city park.

As Yagami wanders the streets of Kamurocho, he’ll be attacked by random thugs, where he can put his two fighting styles to good use – crane style, which is good for one or two opponents, and tiger style, which is good for armed thugs – as well as pick up nearby bicycles, road cones and street signs to belt foes with; Pedestrians clap and take photos after he has mopped up thugs; the internal thoughts of pedestrians on the streets of Kamurocho float above their heads; and guitar riffs play as backing music as you speak to a Yakuza clan boss. It’s all very Yakuza and that’s probably why I love it so much. Then there is the Sega arcade parlours (which playable versions of Sega classics like Space Harrier, for example), convenience stores, restaurants and other random craziness.  The level of detail in Judgement is just insane.

Judgment’s strength is without a doubt its narrative and the performance by its Japanese actors, and while the crime scene investigating could definitely be a little deeper, it doesn’t detract from the game, and what will hopefully be the first in a series staring an interesting character in Takayuki Yagami. I can always dream, right?

Who knows, though? One day, maybe we’ll see a cross over game between the two universes where Yagami has to defend Kazuma Kiryu who has been framed for a terrible crime? Now, that would be a crossover I’d happily play.