SEGA dropped into Loading Bar Shepherds Bush to put on an event filled with Ryu Ga Gotoku studio fun, fittingly titled “Judgement Day”. During the evening, we got some hands-on time with their upcoming new title Judgement – see our thoughts on what we saw below.
For those of you who are unaware, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is the SEGA development team responsible for the long-running, cult favourite Yakuza series. Whilst that series focuses on letting players take on a role within the criminal underbelly of Tokyo, their latest offering plants you directly on the opposite side of the battle lines. Being released in Europe on June 25th, Judgement will let you step into the shoes of Takayuki Yagami – former defense lawyer, turned detective. How will the switch from playing as a member of the criminal fraternity to someone of the side of justice sit with long-time fans of the series?
Firstly, it should be said that fans of the Yakuza series will feel immediately at home when playing Judgement. The game is still set in the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho – a pretty realistic re-interpretation of the real-life Shinjuku red light district of Kabukicho. Thankfully the game is built upon the latest version of the Dragon Engine, which allows the open world experience to flow seamlessly with fewer loading screens and transisitons as you pass in and out of the many restaurants, businesses and entertainment establishments found in the district. There have been some clear visual refinements and polish added for this latest title, with colours, shadows and even the smallest details all popping like never before.
The trademark frequent and hard-hitting street fights also remain reassuringly familiar, whilst having some new additions. The basics of punching, kicking and slamming your opponents with any nearby item you can find are as satisfying as ever, with special finishing moves available when you build up your power bar – as if the normal attacks weren’t over-the-top enough. But in a call back to earlier Yakuza titles, Judgement sees the return of different fighting styles for your protagonist – something that was dropped from Yakuza 6. Yagami can adopt the Tiger style, for one-on-one hard hitting moves that will deal great damage. On the other hand, on occasions where he is surrounded by a group and needs to employ some crowd control, the Crane style is more useful for keeping enemies at arms reach.
Players are also treated to lots of popular returning mini-games from the past, as well as a selection of all-new ones. Local arcades are packed with classic SEGA titles like Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter, but one of the new additions is the most interesting. “Kamuro of the Dead” is an obvious nod to classic lightgun shooter House of the Dead, although you sadly have to make do with analog sticks rather than a plastic gun. Not all mini-games were unlocked in the section we played, so it will be fun to see what other distractions are packed into the teeming entertainment district.
Where Judgement really differs from the Yakuza titles, and where I think it will really flourish, is the new investigation sections that marry with the background of the new main character perfectly. In order to get through certain sections of the game, and to solve certain mysteries, you must employ your private detective skills. This includes, but is not limited to, tailing suspicious locals whilst trying to remain out of view, using a drone to spy on people from hard-to-reach vantage points and interrogating suspects to get to the truth. You’ll have to pick locks, run through the streets in QTE-laden chases and make use of disguises in order to get all of the evidence you need to bring down the hammer of justice.
Judgement is shaping up to be a really different take on the Yakuza formula, whilst retaining most of the aspects that kept fans coming back for seven main-story games and 3 spin-off titles – not to mention a host of re-releases and re-mastered versions. A fresh angle is probably due though, especially after the epic story of Kazuma Kiryu came to a satisfying conclusion in Yakuza 6, and playing on the other side of the law looks like it is going to provide a lot of new and fun gameplay mechanics and opportunities for Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to show off their somewhat wacky sense of black humour. Luckily we won’t have to wait long to see how the final game comes together, with the full release due in less than a month. We’ll reserve our final judgement until then.