Yakuza games are like buses; you wait years for them to arrive on Xbox, and then nine turn up in just over 12 months. Judgment though is a little different. Firstly, it is a spin-off from the main series, but it also isn’t releasing straight into Game Pass with most of the others. Instead, it is being remastered, and only launching for the Xbox Series X|S.
It might have taken nearly six months, but our shiny new consoles now have two – along with The Medium – generation specific games.
Whilst Judgment is a spin-off from the main Yakuza series, nothing has been compromised in terms of quality. There aren’t any characters crossing over into Judgment, but you still roam around the streets of Kamurocho, kicking and punching those who oppose you.
You play as Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer turned private detective. Three years prior to where the game starts, Yagami managed to get his client acquitted on a murder charge, something of a rarity. Not long after this though, the same client then murders his own girlfriend and sets her house on fire. Riddled with guilt, Yagami steps down as a lawyer and becomes a self-employed private detective.
He keeps in touch with his old law firm and accepts a case with them on the murder of a yakuza named Toshiro Kume, who appears in a back alley with his eyes gouged out. Unfortunately, he is the third victim to appear like this in recent months. The accused is a man named Kyohei Hamura, captain of the Matsugane yakuza family. Yagami helps prove his innocence, but suspects he has a bigger involvement in the murders than he is letting on and continues to pursue the case long after the initial trial has finished.
Of course, when a close acquaintance of Yagami turns up in the same way, sans eyes, the cases suddenly becomes a lot more personal. And in typical Yakuza fashion, the plot goes places you would least expect with many twists and turns along the way. Yagami will take on plenty of other cases to crack throughout the game – both main and side cases – but many of the main cases will tie back into the overarching investigation.
There are a lot of similarities between the Yakuza games and Judgment, but there are a lot of differences also. The tone is a lot darker for a start; Judgment plays out much like a film noir. Yagami will have to tail enemies, use lock picks, wear disguises and examine crime scenes. The detective side of the gameplay can be a bit basic in all honesty, but it provides fresh perspectives on the darker side of Kamurocho.
There are also the occasional sections in a courtroom itself where Yagami will need to show the right piece of evidence at the right moment. These are typically tense affairs, but it is a tricky balance not shoehorning them in all the time, dragging the player out of the free-roaming sections in Kamurocho. But Judgment gets the balance just right that they aren’t too frequent, or too few.
There are still the hundreds of blokes walking the streets that want to pick a fight with you, and Yagami is happy to dole out a beating or two on them. Judgment reverts back to some older Yakuza games such as Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami by giving Yagami two distinct fighting styles: Tiger style designed for one-on-one fights, and Crane style for groups of enemies. This dual style and having to choose the most appropriate one is a welcome addition and something that certain Yakuza games were missing.
Yagami can also perform EX Actions, which are essentially Heat moves from Yakuza; they aren’t as humorous as some of them can be in the main series but remain as brutal as ever.
Completely new to Judgment though are Mortal Wounds, that sound as dangerous as they are. Yagami has your standard health bar but if he is attacked by a weapon or a boss’ Deadly Attacks, a portion of his health bar will be temporarily blocked out. A regular healing item will not restore this. You will either need to visit the doctor – who hides out in the sewers of all places – or purchase expensive medical kits in order to restore your full health.
There aren’t many new areas of Kamurocho to explore in Judgment – you can still visit the SEGA arcades, the same bars and restaurants – but Yagami does have access to a drone that gives a whole new perspective of the city. Whether it be for racing, to inspect a crime scene or just to take for a spin, the drone is unlocked early on in the story and quickly becomes an essential mechanic. In Millennium Tower you will find the racing booth where you can sign up for a variety of challenges or upgrade your drone with over 150 options. You will find materials dotted throughout the city and with a bit of cash can design your drone however you see fit.
This being a remaster though, there are a few differences and improvements over the original PlayStation 4 release from back in 2019. Some minigames haven’t made the jump over to next-gen consoles; Pinball Parlor in Yagami’s office/studio apartment has gone – likely due to licensing issues – and replaced by OutRun, and Puyo Puyo has been replaced by Virtua Fighters II. There are mixed feelings about these substitutions on one hand, but on the other one of the first things I did was complete all the missions in the KamuroGo app (the game’s completion list) for OutRun.
Then there are the performance improvements, and the visual upgrades are astonishing considering the initial release wasn’t that long ago. Comparing the Xbox Series X version over the PlayStation 4 version running on a PlayStation 5 is night and day. Judgment remastered runs buttery smooth on the Series X with load times lasting a few seconds at best, before loading up eye-poppingly gorgeous 4K and 60FPS visuals. I said this with the release of Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6 both running on the Dragon Engine but seriously, Judgment is the best place to see the bright lights of Kamurocho.
Judgment on Xbox Series X|S is an incredible achievement. Whether this is your first foray into the wider Yakuza franchise, or you played it upon its original release, the graphical upgrades are very impressive. It is also helped by being a brilliant game, mixing more traditional Yakuza elements in with a detective film noir thriller. Don’t let the word spinoff put you off; this is still a full-length open world game and the best game right now that is playable solely on the Xbox Series X|S.
You can buy Judgement on Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store