This week, Yahtzee reviews Judgment for Zero Punctuation.
The Yakuza series is officially over, and Kazuma Kiryu has disco-stomped his last jawbone into rice pudding. But how could the adventure ever truly be over in Kamurocho, the city whose most famous local dish is the knuckle sandwich, whose streets are covered with so many shards of broken teeth the district is frequently mistaken for a zen garden? Judgment is the new Yakuza spin-off with all-new characters and an all-new shitty title, and look, Sega, speaking as someone who dry-heaves when they see unnecessary colons, in this case, no one would've minded if you'd called it "Yakuza: Judgment", what with it playing exactly like most Yakuza games: a bizarre mix of sightseeing, restaurant patronage, and massively overblown bicycle-fencing contests over the slightest miscommunication.
I worry that most casual Yakuza fans wouldn't even realize that it's the new Yakuza game just from looking at the title, although they might have a little argument over whether or not you're supposed to spell it with an "E". "Oh, but we couldn't have called it "Yahtzu", Yakazee, I mean, "Yakuza", Yahtzee; we're telling an all-new story with all-new characters, and the protagonist isn't a Yakuza at all!" True, but in fairness, his best pal is a Yakuza, and so is one of his father figures, and he spends most of his time hanging around Yakuza and can't walk fifty yards without having to beat up another clutch of the fuckers. I'm guessing this is what they call a "gradual weaning process".
It's true, though; the main character, Takayuki Yagami, is not a Yakuza. He doesn't even wear a disco suit; he wears a leather jacket and the world's least comfortable-looking jeans. But I'm pretty sure that the only reason he isn't a Yakuza is because he couldn't fit it in alongside his sixteen other jobs; he's a private detective, right, who is also a lawyer, and at various other times, works as a bodyguard, a locksmith, and a food critic, that last one because most of the side content revolves around making friends with as many random people around Kamurocho as you can, and Kamurocho seems to be almost exclusively populated by restaurant employees. Oh yes, and he's also a kung fu master, but that's not really worth mentioning; in Kamurocho, if you can't kick with the force of a pneumatic hammer, you're officially qualified to use the disabled parking spaces. So, yeah, probably wasn't possible to squeeze Yakuza duties in-between his nineteen community college courses.
The emphasis is on "private detective"; Yagami's leaning into that stereotype like an inflatable tube man in a strong wind. He's forever short on cash, lives in his back-alley office, and walks the mean streets monologuing to himself, although this is still a Yakuza game, so instead of being seduced by mysterious hotties, he takes giggly teenagers to the arcade to play on the UFO catchers. And in his capacity as a detective, he gets drawn into a larger intrigue by a series of mysterious murders that appear to be targeting the Yakuza, although it could be a coincidence, 'cos this is Kamurocho and you can't fucking turn around without scuffing up a Yakuza's trouser leg and subsequently getting your internal organs punched out your mouth.
Yagami's backstory involves carrying around a big pile of guilt for getting someone off a murder charge who later did murder for realsies, but apparently, it wasn't the murdering in itself that shocked him, going by the way he does combat. Yes, it's the familiar delirious union of face and convenient nearby solid objects that you've come to expect from Yakuza combat, just as high-energy and blatantly unsurvivable as ever, so those people at Sega who said the gameplay was going to be different now were talking out of their implied second buttholes. I mean, it's even got the switcher between different fighting styles from Yakuza 0, but only two instead of three, and any mathematician will tell you that one fewer than zero goes into negatives, but I guess they didn't mean combat when they said "all-new gameplay".
Yakuza combat is more like a convenient fun dispenser that games keep around for when it thinks you're getting too bored with the talky bits; the actual new gameplay is the various private detective minigames. So there's tailing people, in which our 6' bad hair-having detective hero dressed like he tried to put on his kid's costume for the school production of Grease gets to try to go unnoticed, and there's a thing where we track our gaze across a crime scene looking for pieces of evidence, and a thing where we have to pick the right bit of evidence to prove whatever point we're trying to make. It's all very Phoenix Wright-inspired in that neither property has the slightest idea how legal defense actually works, and there's even a couple of bits where Judgment directly references Phoenix Wright, possibly in an attempt to play the "It's a homage, not a ripoff" card.
I already said Judgment sells itself short with its title, but Yakuza games always sell themselves short. I enjoy sticking a gumball machine up a well-dressed man's nose, but my live-in gimp doesn't; they enjoy completionist side-questing and dating simulators, and might've enjoyed those parts of Judgment if it weren't for the gumball machine nasal surgery getting in the way. And while the bizarre mix of tones and gameplay styles is part of the quirky identity of the Yakuza series, it also means that none of the individual mechanics have room to grow.
The detective mechanics just don't have enough depth for my liking. Tailing? Yeah, you just duck behind something every time your target stops. Get the fuck out of here with this Assassin's Creed III shit; I'm an expert! And as for the Phoenix Wright stuff, it only seems to happen once in a blue moon, and when they do, they don't make me feel clever the way detective-y bits should. "Hmm, which of these pieces of evidence indicates that the victim was felt up by Noel Edmonds in a lift?" Yagami asks himself. "And there's only three choices: a receipt, a photo of a surprised dog, and a piece of paper saying 'I felt up the victim in a lift. Signed, Noel Edmonds.'"
Maybe it gets deeper towards the end of the game. I wouldn't know; I kind of stopped before then. The side stuff had distracted me even more than it usually does in Yakuza games because I just wasn't that interested in the main plot; played one Yakuza main plot, played 'em all. I'm going to assume that the innocent young person we're defending for the sake of justice will turn out to be the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by a very smug older man, but it won't be the kind of villainy that can't eventually be sorted out with a massive great fistfight on the Millennium Tower.
I think what I'm finding in this post-Kazuma Kiryu world is that Yakuza kind of needs him, or somebody like him; someone who can be effortlessly cool just by standing there with his retro suit and his face like the front of a parked Securicor van. He was the anchor that a game like Yakuza needs, with all its insane combat, twisting plot, or wacky side content; he stood in the middle of it like a brick wall in a raging stream, one that's not above occasionally prancing around with a ukulele in a karaoke video to amuse the children. In contrast, Yagami feels inconsistent and too much like he's trying too hard to project an image of coolness that a middle-aged dad pictures in their mind's eye as they walk around a consumer electronics shop.
- Creature of the night: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- What the fuck's an Izakaya? Oh, it's a sort of informal pub. THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY INFORMAL PUB? IS THIS THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OR WHAT?
- Just according to keikaku