Judgment, out now for Playstation 4, is the latest game from the makers of Yakuza, and it thrusts players into the shoes of a stylish private detective trying to solve a violent murder. One of Judgment’s greatest strengths is how much it leans into its television influences in order to craft a mood worthy of a Netflix series.
In Judgment, players follow the story of Takayuki Yagami, a once-successful lawyer turned detective. Yagami tags along on an investigation in the neon-lit district of Kamurocho as a major yakuza boss is accused of a violent murder.
Judgment devotes a small portion of its opening to establishing the characters and sneaking in a few fights and detective moments to give players a sense of what’s to come. The real star is a television-worthy opening song that helps set a clear tone. It’s modern, it’s got some pop bite, and it’s done in the style of a midday soap opera or procedural.
The opening sequence features each character, with both their English and Japanese voice actors credited, passing through a white void before fading into smoke. This is interspersed with ominous cuts to syringes, masks, and scales. You know, because justice.
The song, Arpeggio, is a mixture of moody guitar and triumphant pop energy. The Yakuza series has always felt a bit like gaming’s soap opera, with grand betrayals and broad character arcs. Judgment takes place in the same fictional city, and leans even further into television drama moodiness. Be it casting famous Japanese icon Takuya Kimura as Yagami or starting each new chapter with a reprise of ‘Arpeggio,’ Judgment wears its influences on its sleeve.
This is an incredibly smart decision. While many games chase after film language and technique, Judgment would rather capture the feel of television. The result is a much more digestible game than your average 50-hour AAA epic.
It’s easier to break Judgment down into parts, treating each encounter like a single episode of an overarching season-long plot. This is the episode where Yagami interrogates the yakuza boss Hamura; this is the one where he sneaks into a crime organisation’s office complex. Here’s the episode where he meets his love interest again. Judgment hits the feels of slightly overproduced television drama, and the result is a game that’s more approachable than many of its peers.
Judgment’s stylish opening and episodic nature also makes it easier to embrace some of the more absurd side-quests and world activities. The main plot might be focused on Yagami and his murder mystery, but this is a story about a place.
The fictional district that Judgment takes place in, Kamurocho, takes a prominent role. Characters come and go, fading in and out of the player’s vision like the cast that bursts into smoke during the musical opening.
You can play Judgment like an RPG to marathon or even as an open world game to explore, but Ryu ga Gatoku’s poured tons of pulpy network charm that makes it easy to approach episodically. Yakuza is a fusion of crime film and dramatic stage operatics.
Judgment is Phoenix Wright by way of Days of Our Lives.