For fans of Yakuza, Judgment was a breath of fresh air back in 2019. With the Kiwami series releasing Yakuza Kiwami 2 in late 2018 and Yakuza: Like A Dragon en route the following year, we were reinvigorated with the adventures of Takayuki Yagami and his quest for redemption on the mean streets of Kamurocho. Was he the next Kazuma Kiryu? Not exactly, but it was a good way to take a look at Kamurocho from the eyes of a non-Yakuza.
Fast forward two years later and we finally have the next-gen ports of the game as well as an entryway to the Ryu ga Gotoku series for the eager Xbox Series X|S and Stadia owners. With the timed launch of Yakuza Remastered Collection back in January and Yakuza 6: Song of Life last March for Xbox Series X|S users, it’s a great time to complete your collection with Judgment in tow.
For Playstation 5 users who already played the PS4 version, it feels a little off that not only don’t we not get a PS5 upgrade, but we have to repurchase the title at full price with the consolation of having all the level booster DLCs included (a $30 value!) at a reduced price tag. Is it even worth picking up a second time?
A Nice Facelift
The “Dragon Engine” introduced in Yakuza Kiwami 2 really stands out already when played during the PS4 days and with the PS5 version, playing Judgment on graphics mode really helps all the vibrant colors pop out. The textures of the game are better featured, and Kamurocho’s nightlife appears so much brighter when traversing through it for the first time from the point of view of Yagami dressed up as a vagrant.
The loading times are also better suited with the new next-gen hardware, giving almost instantaneous transitions between loading screens. While the PS4 backwards compatible version is just 5-10 seconds slower than the next-gen release, any improvement in loading times are greatly appreciated.
As for the Dualsense controller, sadly it has the same lazy emulation as many of the PS5 ports where the rumble is heavily featured with some sort of haptic feedback capability during the drone camera movements. It teases the adaptive triggers when taking photos or during the drone races when you start using the boost mode. Otherwise, it really doesn’t add much. A for effort though.
Just as a side note, I switched on the English dubbing a bit just for science and I have to say, it’s not bad. It’s a little generic, but it doesn’t grate the ears until they start to pronounce Japanese names and terms. Playing a Japanese game with Japanese voiceovers is really the only way to go, but if you prefer reading less by switching to English voices, know that the performances are quite decent and is a viable option.
Other than the obvious next-gen benefits, the release doesn’t really add too much to the experience. In fact, it’s practically just a direct port of the game, the same way Yakuza Remastered Collection didn’t add anything at all in the Xbox Series X|S ports just the same.
Everything just the way you left it
Yagami has two fight modes– the speedy Crane-style and the powerful Tiger-style. It is reminiscent of Kiryu’s Rush and Brawler styles, while Beast style has been relegated to your muscle companion, Kaito-san, who accompanies you during certain times as a non-playable NPC. Both of them make for a pretty good team, and it’s a breath of fresh air having these two characters back in your life again.
With everything that’s been brought back, the excellent main story is a big highlight of the game, especially how it starts out. Unfortunately, there’s so much filler and padding in the middle part of the story that, in reality, can be removed from the game and no one would probably notice. If the game was three chapters shorter, it would’ve been a taut, immersive thriller that would have really made Judgment shine.
The staple mini-games that define the Yakuza series are present, whether we like them or not. The VR quests are cool and the dating side quests aren’t as exciting as the first time I’ve played them, but if you enjoyed those side quests during your Yakuza run, expect the same scenarios in Judgment.
One change that was low hanging fruit for Sega was to improve on the gang radiant quests that involved defeating gang bosses in each Kamurocho quadrant, which feels more like busywork that become padding to your existing list of things to do after playing the countless Yakuza games out there.
Take note that these comments are for the game and not exclusive to the next-gen ports.
Kamurocho’s Greatest Detective
Judgment’s biggest shift from Yakuza is called Detective Mode, allowing you to collect and examine evidence and use it to catch a culprit. Follow mode is also pretty cool, which has you tail a person of interest, which would either lead you to Detective Move, photo mode, or a fight. The chase mode, which was an annoying mini-game in some of the latter Yakuza titles, is actually fun in this game, and adds more variety to the brawling aspects.
However, I felt that they could’ve improved more on this aspect because once the novelty wears off, it’s really just a Yakuza re-skin. Besides the follow-mode and some of the drone features, which mostly works best during the main quest line, the detective subquests feel like a normal subquest but you merely earn more money and PI rep rather than something that actually differentiates it from the Yakuza series.
What’s worse is besides the addition of Onomichio from Yakuza 6, there are no other characters from the old Yakuza series such as Akiyama, The Florist of Sai, or even Mister Shakedown to show that they are really part of a shared universe. In a way, it misses out on many opportunities that could’ve made the game so much better. I can understand that Kiryu isn’t present because of the events of Yakuza 6, but it doesn’t mean that the other characters that overlook Kamurocho get a break.
Without going into spoiler territory, I feel that the detective aspect of the game and even the lawyer aspect of game didn’t get any research. There are many inconsistencies and logic problems with the plot, and I feel that there are moments in the story where they could’ve expanded more on certain aspects while cutting back on the lawyer jargon because it really feels like the writers are pulling something out of their asses. They could’ve easily dropped Phoenix Wright into the game, and that would’ve made so much more sense than the hack job lawyer drama that they’ve pulled.
One thing though is that they’ve created a likeable new cast of characters from the lawyers in Genda law firm, Yagami and Kaito, to the small time Yakuza crew that they encounter. They feel better fleshed out than the Yakuza: Like A Dragon characters in my opinion.
What we liked:
- “Dragon Engine” blends well with the improved visuals.
- Better load times with the next-gen optimized version.
- Improved Ryu ga Gotoku modes in previous series such as chase sequences and detective mode.
What we didn’t like:
- Middle chapters are full of filler and padding leading to an unsatisfying conclusion.
- Uninspired detective side missions.
- It’s a glorified Yakuza re-skin featuring the same mechanics from old games.
- They did loyal fans dirty by not providing a PS5 upgrade.
Verdict: Wait for it
As a newcomer to the game, I feel like Judgment will have a lot of excitement and surprises going in and with a friendly price tag, it’s a great buy. However, as a long time Yakuza fan who’s already secured a previous copy of this game going back, I’d have to say wait for a deep sale. Even paying half price for a glorified PS5 upgrade is asking too much.
I really felt it could’ve been worth it if they added more extras to the game the same way Devil May Cry 5 or The Nioh Collection did for their series. The difference between the PS4 and the PS5 versions of Judgment are miniscule, not like Control Ultimate Edition where the graphical and performance improvements made it feel like a completely different game. The least they could’ve done for the PS4 loyalists was to give them a PS5 upgrade.
This is not the way to do a next-gen update, in my opinion. It feels more like a cash grab to take advantage of the fans rather than a service to keep them. If you really want to play Judgment and you have a PS5, revisit it on the PS4 version instead with the improved load times. It’s the best compromise you can have rather than having an “improved” version but not a lot in return for your loyalty.