Take Yakuza, slap some Ace Attorney onto it, give it a bit of a more mature spin, and you get something like Judgment – the Yakuza spin-off that is now the studio’s go-to for action-based combat, leaving future games in the main Yakuza series for turn-based combat.

Alright, so Judgment is a bit of a big boy game. It’s a spin-off of the hugely popular Yakuza series and focuses on lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami. It takes place in the same Kamurocho district and the gameplay consists of a variety of combat, investigation, exploration, mini-games, and a mountain of other side content.

The core to the game though is the combat, because that is ultimately what is going to separate it from future Yakuza games (which are going turn-based). Judgment’s combat is played in real-time and allows you to switch between two fighting forms: crane-style and tiger-style. Yagami adds a bit of his own flare by incorporating parkour into these styles, including jumping over enemies and using a variety of wall attacks. Both styles have their pros and cons (particularly with the size of the group you are fighting), but both feel good to use. The base combat is fluid, hits have a nice sense of weight to them, and it strikes a nice balance between being easy to use and not being overly magnetic.

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The skill system only adds to this. You get the basics like increased health, increased damage, and increased combo speed, but then entirely new stuff too. There’s a leapfrog ability, dash attacks, quickstep attacks, a bunch of different combo finishers, and over a dozen different EX attacks (which consume meter upon use). The base combat is already fun enough, but these add some much-needed variety to it, especially later on when the game throws large groups of enemies at you.

It prevents the experience from growing too stale, but I won’t deny – the game could have used more variety with regards to its enemies. It’s often the same old street thugs or yakuza members that all attack in the same way. This becomes more noticeable later on as you infiltrate more hideouts and such. Again, it’s not too bad, but just something I would like to see improved in the sequel.

Where the real variety is at is with the boss fights, some of which are just brawlers, but some of which wield a gun or a katana, or have some other characteristic setting them apart. Whatever it may be, they are some good stuff and really test the core combat here – often requiring you to make proper use of dodging, blocking, and the skills you’ve unlocked up to that point. This is in comparison to regular enemies where most of the time you can just spam to win.

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Of course, this can be remedied a bit if you play on a harder difficulty. I played on the default “normal” difficulty and, while the balance was mostly okay there, I would recommend starting on hard if you’re familiar with these types of games. You have access to so many healing items that it’s easy to lose that sense of challenge – at least, outside of the bosses.

That said, combat is just a small part of what Judgment is – there’s also this whole detective side to the game, kinda like Ace Attorney. Both the main story and side cases will have you investigating areas for clues, staking out for potential suspects, and compiling a case record with all of your evidence to use later on. This aspect of the game I liked overall, but it could definitely use some improvements.

For example, hunting around for evidence in first-person can be fun, but I want to be able to use this evidence later on when trying to prove something. Judgment has you do this a few times (more so towards the beginning), but for the most part, the presenting of evidence is on-rails and the investigating is just to advance the case.

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That and the trailing sections are just straight-up boring. You just simply follow a target and hide behind stuff along the way – it’s not very interactive and they drag on for far too long. I can’t think of a single game that does fun trailing missions and Judgment has A LOT of them. Sometimes, the target you are following is not even doing anything suspicious and has no reason to believe they are being followed, yet still has to check behind them every 20 seconds or so just to drag out the mission longer. I’m glad this is something the devs have stated will be improved in the sequel, but honestly, I don’t think there is much to do to make this kind of content fun.

Outside of that, I did enjoy the other detective stuff. Being able to disguise yourself, pick locks, use a drone to gather evidence, and pursue fleeing suspects in chase scenes are all good for the most part. Some of these are underutilized for sure, but it gives the whole detective side to the game the weight it needs to be more than just some story gimmick.

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And on the topic of that story – Judgment does a pretty good job. Yeah, the plot is not anything too unique, but it works well with what it has and the execution is good. It basically follows Yagami and his buddies investigating a series of murders in which the corpses have had their eyes gouged out. Starts off like any other serial murder case, but – as usual with these stories – you quickly find out that there is much more to it and all of these characters you are meeting tie into this complex web that gets only gets more so as the story progresses.

The overall progression is decent. You get little hints dropped here and there to maintain interest and build suspense and the story does a good job unraveling these in a timely, yet not-rushed manner. The game as a whole is a bit slow, but I found the pacing to be fine for a more serious story like this, even if the last few chapters may have been a bit too slow. The biggest issues, at least for me, is just the amount of stuff you are expected to remember. The numerous names, events, dates – it can be a bit much, so I was grateful for the case file screen where you can check up on past evidence and character info at any time.

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The characters are actually one of the strong points here, particularly in the case of the protagonist Yagami. I’m so used to playing these big JRPGs and VNs with one-dimensional protagonists, so having a mature and “human” protagonist here was some really good stuff. You get to look into his past, learn more about why he acts the way he does, and see him change over the course of the story. He has a good amount of development, progression, and is just an all-around likeable guy.

His partner in crime Kaito is similar – not having as much development, but still ending up as one of my favorite characters due to how fun he was to interact with. He’s a former Yakuza too, so it provides for an interesting dynamic with the protagonist – a former lawyer. The other characters are okay for the most part, but there are some that are more hit or miss. Mafuyu, a public prosecutor and key character, is often shoehorned into the “damsel in distress” role in place of actually interesting writing, for example.

Despite these hiccups though, I did enjoy the overall story. It’s engaging enough to keep you playing and offers a nice balance between the dark and serious stuff and the more comedic stuff that the Yakuza series is often known for. It’s like Ace Attorney in this way, although with a much more mature spin.

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And of course, this is a Yakuza spin-off, so it isn’t just the main story here. In fact, the main story is a mere fraction of the experience. I mean that literally, as despite having fully completed it AND doing a good chunk of side stuff along the way, I did not even reach 25% total completion – and this was after 30-something hours of gameplay. So yeah, this is a bit of a big boy game – the type that may take 30 hours to clear, but WAY more than that to 100%.

The game is packed to the brim with side content, a lot of which is just as engaging – if not more so – than the main content. Whether that be tracking down and disarming bombs while hunting down the man who made them or helping a TV superhero actor recover his wig that magically flies away, the side cases are a good variety of serious stuff, comedic stuff, story stuff, action stuff, and everything in-between. What’s even better is that none of them are missable – you unlock them as you play through the main story and still have access to them after that is completed.

There’s also a friendship mechanic that highlights certain NPCs on the map and allows you to learn more about them while getting rewards at the same time. This one is a bit more iffy, as some of the NPCs are just boring, but it’s a neat addition regardless and another one I hope to see expanded upon in the sequel. If anything, it just brings more life to the world map – already one of my favorite parts to the game even without this mechanic.

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Then there’s the mini-games. Batting cage, crane games, drone races, darts – there are a lot of them and they serve as a nice distraction from the main story. There’s even a fully-fledged Mario Party-style game, one that can easily turn into a nice source of cash if you want to use it as such. And yes, there is also a dating system. As you complete certain side quests, you’ll become involved with a handful of characters that you can then text, bring on dates, and improve relationship levels with through conversation and gifts. It is nothing too complex, but again, a cool addition that can serve as a much-needed break from the heavier main story.

Really, it’s the side content like this that elevate the whole experience. Yeah, the main story is fun and all, but it isn’t really a Yakuza game without a city full of secrets, characters, and stories to uncover on your own time and Judgment does a fantastic job in that regard.

And I may say that, but there is one major downside here – that being that some of the side content is forced into the main story. You’ll be uncovering some major plot point only for a required side case to pop up and completely interrupt the flow of that main story. It’s 100% noticeable because the dialogue during these scenes is not voiced and, a lot of the time, the content simply isn’t interesting – I found the regular side content to be more enjoyable.

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As for graphics – again, this is another positive for the game, especially on the new PS5 version. On PS4, the framerate was locked to 30 and even struggled to maintain that, but the PS5 version has no problem maintaining that solid 60, all while looking better in the process. Improved shadows, loading times, textures, reflections, lighting – it’s got all the usual upgrades and I honestly don’t have any complaints there. It looks great and runs well without any bugs – that’s all I really need.

Music-wise, I would say it is just okay. I liked the combat’s more rock/dubstep focus (kinda aligns with the nightlife city setting if you think about it), but the story and detective themes are just generic and feel like short loops that just keep repeating. Some of them are just straight-up ambient tracks. A bit disappointing, but at least we got a top-tier opening theme to kinda balance it out.

And then there’s the voice acting. Or rather, the English dub. The Yakuza series usually does not have a dub, so I opted to go with English voices for this one and I couldn’t be more satisfied. They did a great job, particularly with Yagami and Kaito, making the story scenes that much more engaging. This was all likely done to make the game more accessible to newcomers, but it was done so well that I would have no problems recommending it as an alternative to the Japanese voices (which are also really good, so it just depends on what you prefer).

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Judgment is a solid take on the Yakuza base, with an interesting cast of characters, an engaging mystery storyline, fun combat, and a mountain of side content to match. The improved graphics and framerate courtesy of the new PS5 hardware make it even more so of an easy recommendation. It may have its faults – the plot isn’t all that unique and the detective stuff can be a bit shallow – but I really enjoyed my time with it and would recommend it. It serves as a great entry into the series for newcomers as well.

Score: 8/10

Quote: Judgment is a solid take on the Yakuza base, with an engaging storyline, fun combat, and a mountain of side content to match. The PS5 upgrade on top of that makes it an even easier recommendation.

Judgment retails for $40 USD on the PlayStation Store. It is also available on Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and Stadia.

I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.