Yakuza spin-offs Judgment and Lost Judgment have arrived on Steam! This means you can mete out justice with your fists and do some important detective work... and do some drone racing... and participate in some robot wars. It's Yakuza with a murder-mystery twist that's well worth your while even if you're not actually that big on Kiryu or Ichiban's antics. I'd even go so far as to say it might be the perfect side entrance into the Yakuza series as a whole.
”Where should I start my Yakuza journey?” is something I see so often from folks who want to know what it feels like to rip off your suit in one swift motion atop a skyscraper as rain lashes down on your dragon tattoo and your fist clatters into the chin of a 60-year-old chairman whose abs are harder than an overturned ice cube tray. My answer is Yakuza 0; always has been, always will be. Start with the origin story (and arguably, the best game in the series), sink into the Japanese criminal underworld chronologically and you’ll carry the full weight of the story on your broad shoulders.
Over the course of a few years, I worked my way through all the Yakuza games available to us in the West. This meant I was able to squeal with delight at Like A Dragon: Ishin’s reveal trailer the other week, which was the equivalent of a feudal Royal Rumble, as all-stars from across the series slid into view: KUZEEEE! SAWANO?! Hot damn, it’s good to see Akiyama back, BABY.
Thing is, “Over the course of a few years” isn’t realistic for most folks. Hence why many turn to Yakuza: Like A Dragon's story to bypass much of the game's history and enjoy a standalone romp around Yokohama. Still, if you want to feel the full impact of the Yakuza: LAD's plot, it's in your best interest to leaf through the game's archives and to have lived through Kiryu and Majima's hardships. Like that time you hired a chicken to manage your real estate company, or that time where you donned your snakeskin jacket and dubbed yourself "The Mad Dog".
Judgment doesn't require any homework. The game is its own self-contained capsule of goodness, where you play as a detective lawyer Takayuki Yagami and solve a mysterious murder. While it's still set in Yakuza's stomping ground of Kamurocho, you don't ever bump into characters from the Yakuza series, nor are there any explicit references to past events. Simply put – it's an ass-kicking murder mystery that's more compelling to most.
Seriously, I can attest to Judgment's (specifically its sequel Lost Judgment) seductive powers as I forced its sequel upon my mates during a recent two-week break down in Cornwall. Having never been into Yakuza, really, aside from finding its side stories quite amusing, their reaction to Judgment was everything I could've wished for. They mentioned how they could finally follow events because the story wasn't entangled in some web of chairmen and vice presidents of a bazillion different clans. And being a murder mystery, it appealed to that basic human instinct; they wanted to know who dunnit.
But it went further than that. Thanks to that no-Yakuza-strings-attached mindset, they also started expressing more of an interest in Judgment's world and its kooky side cases, almost as if that clean slate made them feel more comfortable embracing the Yakuza-isms presented to them in the past. They started to 'get' the whiplash experienced when snapping between the story's melodrama and the outrageous side stories where you're fending off a teacher who's become so angry at a group of students for pissing on his flowers that he's lost all control. Seriously, the balance of serious and silly here is some of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios' finest work.
Whether you’re looking at Judgment or Lost Judgment, you're in for a ride that spirals into something much more complex, but is far, far easier to keep track of than Yakuza. You're recapped on key events at the beginning of each chapter and there's an extensive series of case files you can turn to at any time to get yourself caught up to speed on things. It may sound like a tedious thing to highlight but it's something I wish had been a mainstay in past Yakuza games, because hoo boy do they become difficult to keep up with.
While both Judgment games branch out from Yakuza in its story and present an alternate timeline, they still borrow from the series' best bits. Presentation is spot on, with Kamurocho's neon streets and Yokohama's parks wonderfully realised whether you're chasing down a wig that's caught in the breeze or landing a kickflip illuminated by a multi-coloured ferris wheel. You get the lavish cutscenes, this time with intense court room drama and big twists as another piece of the puzzle slots into place. You get a weird dude who goes by the name Ass Catchem (yes, really). You get the ability to piledrive him into the dirt. Most importantly, you develop a real warmth for all of your crew.
Not to knock the cast of Yakuza, as I love them all dearly, but they're largely a stoic bunch of gruff voices and testosterone. But in Judgment you play as Yagami, a cool dude who's not afraid to take the piss or smirk at some lowly thugs who think they can pick a fight with a kung-fu god. He's a perfect marriage of slick, brainy, and unafraid to get his skinny jeans scuffed in a back alley. And he's surrounded by a colourful cast of characters who are a bit tropey, sure, but they're a fun bunch of the burly, the straight-talking and the nonchalant who balance out your evidence collection with the right energies. Kaito is your beefcake bud whose rash decisions and simple musings force Yagami to act or lead to glints of clarity, while Saeko is a shy, brooding lawyer with a razor sharp eye and surprising cunning.
But what does Judgment have to offer fans of Yakuza? Well, a chance to spend more time with much of the trappings of Yakuza, but with more than enough to help it feel totally distinct. Right now, in Lost Judgment I'm going undercover in a high school dance club and teaching them kung-fu dance moves in order to unearth a mystery about sugar babies. Meanwhile, a man has literally been murdered, which I'm getting to as well, I promise. It's familiar and equally refreshing to partake in the silliness and approach the baddies with a more analytical eye.
So, if you're considering The Judgment Collection I reckon it's a no-brainer for Yakuza fans. For those of you who like the idea of getting into Yakuza without having to spend years doing so, this may just be your perfect side entrance into the series.