Judgment Review: Ace Attorney
For years, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has been dancing around an issue that most folks working in fiction face: their most notable protagonist is aging. The studio's flagship series, Yakuza, has already come full circle, from the stunning prequel Yakuza 0 to the end of Kazuma Kiryu's story in Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life.
Though they've softened the blow somewhat by re-releasing older games in the Yakuza series, the question remained: what is the studio's next step? After all, fans weren't ready to leave the world of Kamurocho behind.
The answer, apparently, was to throw Phoenix Wright, Law & Order, and Yakuza in a blender to create something new, fresh, and insanely ambitious.
Raising The Bar
True to the developers' words, Judgment features a storyline that is completely distinct from the Yakuza series. You play as the incredibly dreamy lawyer-slash-detective-slash-face-puncher-slash-parkour-master Takayuki Yagami as he takes on odd jobs, unravels mysteries, tails criminals, and uncovers gigantic conspiracies.
For veterans of the Yakuza series, a lot of this will be at least somewhat familiar. The gameplay loop is relatively unchanged from previous games set in Kamurocho. You still run around to convenience stores to get health recovery items, get drunk to charge your EX meter in order to pull off hilariously violent super moves, and waste time playing minigames in between missions.
That's not to say that everything is the same, however. There are a bunch of quality of life upgrades this time around that make the game run a whole lot smoother.
First of all, Takayuki is more in-shape than Kiryu, and doesn't require any upgrades to sprint indefinitely, a huge help when you're trying to get to the next mission without being ambushed by enemies.
Second, load times are down even from Yakuza 6. Loading screens only appear during scene transitions into or out of cutscenes. Stepping into a store or an elevator is seamless, which really adds to the immersion of the game.
Third, and most importantly, this game comes equipped with dual audio, and features major English voice talent like Mr. High Noon himself, Matthew Mercer. This is the first time a game set in the Yakuza universe has featured English audio, and the actors do admirably in their roles.
With the exception of a few typos I came across in the subtitles, this is by far the most polished game to ever come from Ryu Ga Gotoku, which is appropriate since Judgment makes no attempt to hide its police-procedural-TV-show influences, from flashy credit sequences to "Previously on Judgment" story recaps that serve as transitions between chapters.
Where the Yakuza series was always an attempt to make a video game version of a gangster movie, Judgment attempts to do the same thing with legal and police procedurals.
Bad news first: Takayuki only has two combat styles, and they don't really feel as distinct as combat styles in previous games by the studio. The good news is that combat feels decidedly different in Judgment thanks to its focus on movement. Unlike the powerhouse Kiryu, Takayuki is more of a speedster, relying on flashy acrobatics to take down opponents. Stringing together wall jump attacks, then leapfrogging over an enemy to suplex them never gets old.
The unfortunate thing is that a lot of these skills are locked behind weird requirements, whether it's befriending somebody around town, finding a secret QR code, or (yes, really) funding someone's Kickstarter campaign. It takes a little bit of time for the combat system to open up.
This is actually an issue that extends past combat. If you take your time playing the game, doing friend missions, taking on side cases, and traversing the game's completely unnecessary crafting mechanics, it can take between 20 and 30 hours before all of the game's content is made available to you. In particular, the casinos, Paradise VR, and the Quickstarter app don't show up until you're well on your way through the story. It's a shame, because there doesn't seem to be any real reasoning behind locking certain parts of the game's world away like that.
The flip side of that is the side content that is on display here is pretty great. The batting center makes another appearance, as do darts, but the clear standouts here are the drone races and the Paradise VR board game that is best described as "cyberpunk Mario Party except it's also Yakuza."
Karaoke is a glaring omission here, but since the drone races are so fun, I'm willing to let it slide.
Laying Down The Law
- The tone of the game is just right; it really feels like a legal procedural TV show
- Drone racing is the best minigame I've ever played in Kamurocho
- The story is sweeping, full of all of the twists and turns you'd expect from a great detective story
- No karaoke :(
- Crafting mechanics feel tacked on and unnecessary
Judgment adds a few twists to standard Yakuza games by incorporating tailing missions, chase sequences, investigations, and dialogue trees in ways that previous games haven't. These sequences are very well-choreographed (especially the chases) and, with a few exceptions, are welcome.
Tailing a target isn't nearly as frustrating as it can be in certain other games, and though there are certain times at which you'll be tearing your hair out hunting for a specific piece of evidence, the game does a good job of dressing up investigation locations in ways that naturally draw your eyes to relevant information.
Though this game was compared to Phoenix Wright prior to its release, I don't find it an apt comparison since the player doesn't actually solve the logic puzzles behind the crimes on their own; the truth behind cases is usually revealed to the player through cutscenes. That said, the game does a great job of rewarding the player for remembering pertinent information, or putting two and two together through dialogue puzzles.
You still feel like you're unraveling the case yourself, but since the story is so deep and intertwined with itself, you miss a few of those "I knew the killer all along!" moments.
Having said that, as a video game adaptation of a crime procedural, I can find very little on which to fault Judgment. It's packed with content, adding 50 "Friend Events" to the requisite 50 side missions, insanely stylish, and a promising start to Ryu Ga Gotoku's future without Kazuma Kiryu.
[Note: A copy of Judgment was provided by SEGA for the purpose of this review.]