I’ve never been able to pinpoint why the Yakuza series isn’t more popular in the West. It’s a crime-focused, open-world game that doesn’t go over the top with its graphic violence or lose the interest of the player with a mundane or boring story. However, even I am guilty of not playing through the entire series. Instead, I will dabble here and there then move on to something else.

Yagami kicking an enemy during a fight section of the game

But that changed for me with Judgment, a spin-off of the Yakuza series. Taking place in the same fictional district of Kamurocho, you’re in control of Takayuki Yagami. Yagami is a former lawyer turned detective who must figure out why members of a Yakuza clan are being killed, with their eyeballs being removed in the process. 

Focusing on both his present and parts of his past, the story is really engaging, offers plenty of twists and turns along the way, and never feels overly bloated or unnecessarily padded. Without going into too much detail, the game does a fine job of showing how his previous life as a lawyer and his current one as a detective blend together. Even though he’s not currently a lawyer, he still needs to use those same skills to do his detective work. There is a lot more to Yagami’s character but going into specifics would only spoil the strong storyline.

For the most part, Yagami is usually interacting with people, walking around the city fighting (or avoiding) goons, or solving various cases. While there are a lot of things to do in Kamurocho, the missions, specifically the side stuff, do get a bit repetitive. 

The main storyline is strong on its own. You can more-or-less stream through it without doing much of the side quests. However, building Yagami’s arsenal of attacks and improving his other skills does require you to do some of the side quests. You’ll probably want to do some of the tasks just to get more out of Kamurocho and to piece more of his connection to people in the district.

Yagami tracking a target in one of the game's following missions

There are three core gameplay mechanics in play. You might need to beat up thugs, gang members, or some other character; tailing or chasing after targets; or using your drone or camera to investigate crime scenes or to find people in a crowd. The fighting is fun but pretty straightforward. Like the earlier Yakuza games, Yagami has multiple fighting styles. Unfortunately, I tended to only really use one of them. Thankfully, the fighting is still a lot of fun, and using environmental objects offers some really fun to watch cut-scenes.

The “following” mission moments are pretty boring. If you’re tailing a person, you need to stay far enough away but still maintain a visual sight of them. They don’t really deviate from the standard formula of the target turning back every couple of meters and for you to duck away before they spot you. You will be hard-pressed to actually fail one of these kinds of missions. On the flip side, the chasing missions can be exciting as they incorporate Quick Time Events (QTEs). However, they too require a big slip up to actually fail them.

As for the investigation sections, those were interesting and offered the most challenge. Usually, in first person (except when flying a drone), you need to scan around an area in order to find key evidence. The game never lets you progress further without finding what you need. There is almost always a little bonus find that’s not pertinent to the case but still serves as a nice touch of added detail.

Yagami and his date playing darts.

Outside of that, you will have a few times where Yagami, using his previous skills as a lawyer come into play. In these sections, you need to address an audience and reveal something of importance. While I enjoyed these aspects I was kind of craving more of them.

Even with a limit on what Yagami does in the game, the open-world stuff is really solid. He can walk around Kamurocho and do many different activities including playing a version of Virtua Fighter 5 (a series I absolutely enjoy and wish the series would come back) in the Sega Arcade, eating so many different food items, hitting some balls in the batting cage or playing various Casino games. He can also help people complete tasks, go out on dates with up to four lovely ladies, and participate in drone races.

Another great aspect of Judgment is the characters. From Kaito, Yagami’s best friend and partner to the various other side characters you will encounter, there are plenty of memorable people. I often find that in open-world games that try to pack a lot of characters, most aren’t that memorable. But here, it’s the opposite. I was invested in the friendships Yagami was building because they actually served a purpose later on. Helping people around the city grants you perks including them helping you in fights or granting gifts to use in crafting items. 

I did want more on Yagami’s backstory. We get little bits and pieces along the way but there is still a lot of mystery. Yes, this is good in keeping the focus on the main story, but I really wanted to know more about certain aspects of his past

Yagami and Kaito being held at gunpoint

Judgment is a fantastic complement to the strong Yakuza series and could potentially become a series on its own. You don’t need to have any knowledge of any of the previous Yakuza series as none of the main characters of those games make an appearance. If you were ever interested in experiencing the Yakuza series, this is a good place to start. It’s different enough to stand on its own and the use of Kamurocho will help you if/when you decide to jump into any of the Yakuza games.