Judgment for Xbox review: A Yakuza spin-off that stands tall on its own

Judgment is a unique riff on the Yakuza games, but what makes it unique doesn't work all of the time.

Judgement Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

It was unusually warm as I left my tiny office and walked onto the brightly lit streets of Kamurocho. I had just taken an unusual case and was walking towards the café to meet my client when it happened. Something whisked over my shoulder, flying down the street at top speed. I thought it was trash at first, but then an extremely bald man in an Evel Keneval stunt suit appeared, tripping over his feet and twisting his ankle in the process. As we locked eyes, he begged me to pursue his wig, which he assured me was in fact, a hat.

Judgment is a serious crime drama, I promise you, but these moments of levity sandwiched between yakuza crime drama are what makes Yakuza, well, Yakuza, and Judgment, despite being a spin-off, is brimming with all of the series familiar trappings. Originally released in 2019 on the PlayStation 4, Judgment has received a next-gen upgrade for Xbox Series X, complete with refined visuals and 60 frames-per-second (FPS) gameplay. So how does it fair on Microsoft's shiny new console?

Judgment is great, exceeding as both a great action-adventure title and as a Yakuza title. It feels familiar in tone and themes but introduces enough unique gameplay elements that set it apart from other entries in the Yakuza series. However, not every new addition sticks the landing, and some of the detective segments are more of a drag than a draw.

Judgment for Xbox: An old friend in new clothes

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Judgment takes place in Kamurocho, the familiar locale where Yakuza games usually take place, but instead of having you play as a yakuza, you play as a lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami. Haunted by a case he oversaw three years prior, Yagami decides to take his investigative skills to the street as a private detective along with his friend, ex-yakuza Masaharu Kaito. When a string of yakuza turns up dead, Yagami is unwittingly pulled back into the yakuza underworld and uncovers revelations from his past that affect him and those around him.

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DeveloperRyu Ga Gotaku Studio
GenreAction Adventure
Xbox VersionXbox Series X
Game Size33 GB
Play Time25-30 hours
PlayersSingle player
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$40

It's an exciting story from start to finish, full of twists, turns, and a cast of compelling characters. It's a nice twist on the Yakuza formula to play as those upholding the law, rather than breaking it, though admittedly it did take some time for me to warm up to the game's protagonist. Dressed in blue skinny jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket, Yagami looked like he was plucked from an H&M poster circa 2007, but it's well in line with Yakuza's other woefully out of style protagonist.

With that being said, the characters are a delight and brought to life by an excellent English dub, and all of the dialogue has translated text for a myriad of different languages. And if you're a Yakuza purist, you'll be happy to know that the Japanese dub is also available. Both dubs are distinct in their own way, though the English dub is sometimes noticeably out of sync with the character's mouths.

The game runs smooth as butter on the Xbox Series X, and loading times were almost nonexistent.

The city of Kamurocho is a bit of a character itself and is full of people and places to interact with. Like Kiwami 2, Like a Dragon, and Yakuza 6: Song of Life, the game runs on the Dragon Engine, which means that you can start a fight pretty much anywhere and there's hardly any wait time between brawls. The game runs smooth as butter on the Xbox Series X, and loading times were almost nonexistent. The bump to 60 FPS also makes the game just feel so much smoother than its original PS4 incarnation.

The fighting in particular benefits greatly from the fps bump. Yagami is much nimbler than Kiryu and Ichiban ever was and uses two different forms of Kung Fu — crane and tiger style — to battle foes. As you level up Yagami, you'll unlock other insane EX moves that can be triggered under unique circumstances for different results. Street fights go from normal to over-the-top in a matter of seconds.

The devil in the details

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While Judgment borrows from other Yakuza games, it is very much its own beast. Judgment introduces a few new gameplay features in line with Yagami's profession. The investigation sections see players explore a scene from a first-person perspective to locate clues, and you can also pilot a drone to do the same if the situation calls. At times, Yagami may have to don a disguise to avoid detection and progress through a mission, and even trail behind a suspect, bobbing and weaving out of the way to not get caught by his suspicious prey. It makes Judgment feel distinct and just different enough so it doesn't feel like Yakuza DLC.

I particularly liked the dialogue prompts that appear during cutscenes. I like that the game rewards the player for actually paying attention to facts of the case, and I felt like I was solving the crime along with Yagami. For those who don't follow too closely, however, a wrong answer only prompts an awkward response and not a game over. At times, Judgment felt like a more mature Phoneix Wright, with less emphasis on courtroom shenanigans and more focus on beating people up for answers.

While Judgment borrows from other Yakuza games, it is very much its own beast.

But while its gameplay loop might stray from the tried-and-true Yakuza formula, the side missions, or Side Cases as they're called here, are just as absurd as they are in other games. Some of the cases included stopping a pervert who gets powers up by sniffing woman's underwear, taking photos of missing cats, and even doing some ghostbusting. You can make friends with the various NPCs you come across, and they'll occasionally help you out if you activate an EX move in their presence, once you've earned their trust.

You'll find plenty to do otherwise, including playing a wide range of arcade classics and VR board games to play, drones to race, girls to text, plenty of blackjack and poker, and even best an old man in a game of Shogi — Judgment has got plenty of things to do. However, there's no karaoke, an omission worth cutting a pinky off for. Still, there are at least a hundred hours of content waiting to be uncovered, and you'll quickly get lost in Kamurocho's playground.

Judgment for Xbox: Lots of busy work in between

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While Judgment feels distinct thanks to its investigative segments, they aren't very deep and range from mindless to annoying. The investigation segments, for example, are novel at first, but there were times when I was at a loss of what to focus on. Upgrading the related skill helps a bit, but I found myself just moving back and forth, waiting for my controller to vibrate to get on to the next section of the story. Drone flying is also clunky, and gets old fast, though those segments don't show up as often as the investigations do.

What was an absolute chore were the trailing segments, which were infuriatingly slow at times. They bring the game to a halt, and the slow-moving NPCs are just a pain to follow. Whenever I had to follow someone, I rolled my eyes and hoped I could get through it as fast as possible.

Judgment doesn't feel as bold or as fresh as Like a Dragon

None of these sections are particularly difficult, and can definitely be improved upon if the Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio ever decides to pursue a sequel. Judgment stands on its own, separate from mainline Yakuza titles, and I respect the team's commitment to mixing up its own tropes to keep entries in the long-running series fresh. While Judgment doesn't feel as bold or as fresh as Like a Dragon, it doesn't feel stale either. But if you remove the detective bits, you're left with just another Yakuza game.

And there's also the issue of Judgments graphics. Since the remaster's initial debut, the debate has raged on about whether Judgment looks better or worse than its PS4 counterpart. Personally, I think it looks great — character models are more detailed and the lighting is different, doing away with the yellowish filter that hung over the PS4 version. Some fans might be quick to write off the game because of the slight change in style, but it's your call. I think the game looks better than it ever has on the Xbox Series X.

Judgment for Xbox: Is it worth buying?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In the end, I recommend Judgment to both long-time Yakuza fans and new fans who may have first experienced the Yakuza games thanks to Xbox Game Pass. Judgment's detective story feels unique and compelling and is a stand-alone entry (as of now, anyway), so anyone who might be intimidated by Kiryu's epic seven-game saga or Like a Dragon's turn-based combat might find Judgment to be the right entry point into the series.

Judgment retains the spirit and gameplay of the Yakuza games while adding its own spin on things. The only downside is that those new gameplay changes are not as refined as other parts of the game. While it's not available on Xbox Game Pass, Judgment is still worth the full price of admission, and is one of the best Xbox Series X games in the genre. Judgment, like every other Yakuza game, is well worth your time.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.