Connect with us
Judgment Judgment

Review

Judgment Review — A Righteously Good Time

Published

 on

In a case of art mirroring life, the release of Judgment has been mired in controversy. Based in the Yakuza universe, which explores the seedy underbelly of the mythical Tokyo suburb of Kamurocho, storylines involving drug deals and gangs clashing are depicted within the title. Shortly after the Western release date of the game was announced, voice actor Pierre Taki, who voiced lead antagonist for the game, was arrested for possession of cocaine, resulting in Judgment being pulled from sale in Japan. Sega subsidiary Ryu Ga Gotoku, the developer of the title, decided to replace Taki’s performance in the game, bringing in a new voice actor and adjusting the physical likeness of the character. This change caused concern with the fanbase that the western release would be delayed. Thankfully, despite these setbacks, Judgment released on time and is a highly polished, enjoyable experience for both new and old fans alike.

Protagonist Takayuki Yagami has seen better days. Once a hot-shot lawyer at the top of his career, his world came crumbling down when a former client murdered their girlfriend in cold blood. Disillusioned with the court system, Yagami sets up a detective agency where he can use his investigative skills to dispense his own form of vigilante justice.

One day, Yagami is called by his old law firm for assistance on a case. Yakuza from the minor Kyorei clan are turning up dumped around Kamurocho with their eyes gouged out. The law firm is defending Kyohei Hamura, a rival Yakuza with an extremely unpleasant personality, but also a fairly strong alibi. What initially appears to be a turf war betweenYakuza clans twists and turns into something much more complicated, and Yagami will need to use all of his detective skills to find the true culprit.

Judgment_20190609135622

In true Yakuza style, Yagami will have to beat up many thugs and adversaries on his quest to find the truth. Combat is a slightly simplified version of the Yakuza formula, combo-based brawling with two styles to choose from: Crane for large groups, and Tiger for one-on-one battles. Beating up waves of thugs is immensely satisfying, with Yagami smoothly chaining one move to the next. Wandering street thugs will present little challenge to the player, but boss battles will require more finesse, as they are able to execute the same types of special moves as Yagami. Unlike previous titles in the series, fights can now spill inside buildings, with enemies smashing windows and swinging chairs much to the chagrin of the restaurant employees. The tutorial advises that the cops may be called if a fight carries on too long, but most battles will end well before that point.

Combat in general is easier in Judgment, and enemies with multiple health bars are much rarer than in the past Yakuza titles. This change is to the title’s benefit, as those damage sponges could get quite frustrating after a while. The occasional tough enemy will turn up over the course of the story, with the boss battles of the roaming Keihin gang in particular presenting a challenge, but for the most part the average player will get through the combat sections with ease. Judgment‘s difficulty can be adjusted at any time, so if one is missing the Yakuza grind, they can always crank up the difficulty to hard.

Judgment_20190605181410

New to the series is Yagami’s array of detective skills. In the pursuit of truth, he will tail people, chase down suspects, break into buildings, analyse evidence, and question witnesses. The first chapter does a really good job of displaying all the different skills on offer, using every ability in the attempt to prove Hamura’s alibi.

Tailing a suspect uses stealth mechanics, with Yagami following the target from a safe distance. Suspects often have a sixth sense about being followed, and will stop and turn or abruptly change direction. Yagami can hide behind cars or crowds of people to stay unnoticed.

Sometimes a suspect will try to evade Yagami. Chasing down a target uses quick-time prompts to dodge around crowds of people, with Yagami nimbly vaulting over fences and people’s heads.

Judgment_20190602221913

Breaking in involves either lockpicking or a thumb-screw turn, depending on the door. Straight lockpicking involves a fiddly Elder Scrolls-like system of carefully pushing up pins. The pins are very sensitive, and pushing one in too far will reset the lot. Thumb screws are considerably easier, with the player rotating the analogue sticks to specific angles. Either version usually has a generous time limit, allowing for some time to practise the mechanic.

Analysing evidence will be familiar to anyone who has played the courtroom-based Ace Attorney games. Yagami looks around an area for anything out of the ordinary—this might be to progress his current mission, such as codes to a safe with important information, or to contradict presented evidence; lack of blood stains on the ground means the body has been moved. This can prove surprisingly tricky, particularly in the scenes where Yagami uses his drone to look around: all of the three dimensional space leaves a lot of ground to cover.

While each detective mechanic by itself is simple, in combination with the others it builds a compelling gameplay loop. The investigation mechanics makes the player feel fully involved in the story, figuring out clues along with Yagami. As a jack-of-all-trades game, the player will not be solving anything as complex as a Danganronpa locked room, but the detective work is a refreshing twist on the Yakuza formula.

Judgment_20190531180446

The city of Kamurocho makes a return in Judgment, along with its bizarre inhabitants. Alongside the main story, Yagami can pick up side cases, which are his main source of income. In true Yakuza form, the requests Yagami gets are quite strange. He will use his detective skills to determine who stole the cake from the office fridge, check if an apartment is haunted, dress up like a vampire to help a pop star, chase down a flying toupee, and many more. In less skilled hands, this tonal dissonance with the main story would be problematic, but here it works: a light-hearted break from the serious themes of the game. The game has 50 side cases in total, with a further 50 smaller friendship side-stories to complete.

Kamurocho also features mini-games aplenty, with darts, mahjong, shogi, black jack, and a variety of Sega arcade games to play. While it still features an impressive amount of activities, the game has a smaller selection than previous Yakuza titles, with the noticeable absence of karaoke and dancing. A specialised mini-game for the title would have been a nice addition, like the hostess club or real estate market in Yakuza 0.

Judgment_20190531182001

Yagami earns skill points with almost every action he performs, from eating a burger to beating up a street thug to playing a round of Puyo Puyo. The points are spent on a wide variety of abilities, from the expected combat upgrades to the more unusual social skills like being able to hold more liquor or craft a flirty text. Tying skill points into exploring Kamurocho is a wonderful idea, as players will easily get side tracked and spend hours at the arcade or drone racing—this way, even the most distracted gamer is still making progress each time they play.

Navigating the world of Kamurocho’s labyrinthine streets has never been easier, with an improved map system and running set on a toggle rather than holding the button down. The player can search for a location on the map by name, and can set a marker on a place they want to go. Yagami can catch a taxi at each end of the map, but with the large quantity of side content, running through the city and seeing what pops up is often a better mood.

Judgment

The visuals are somewhat inconsistent in Judgment, with bleeding edge beautiful story cutscenes, but stiff in-game models. The textures on the character models are incredibly detailed, which may be why the limited animation is so noticeable. This issue is due in part to the uncanny valley effect—the closer something looks to real life, the more one notices the tiny details missing, such as the subtle movement of facial muscles. The characters still look nice, and lack the dead-eyed appearance that hyper-realistic models can possess. Kamurocho has also never been so crowded, with many more NPCs and moveable objects than in previous titles. Particularly crowded scenes can cause some stuttering, but thankfully no such issues were encountered during main story sequences.

For the first time since the original game in the Yakuza series, Judgment offers an English voiceover alongside the Japanese track. The voice work is excellent across the board, and players will get a great performance with either option.

Judgment

That Judgment drops the Yakuza moniker from the title is surprising, as the game feels like a Yakuza game through and through, with the signature sprawling open world of Kamurocho, combo-based brawling combat, and kooky sidequests. Yagami’s new detective abilities add some enjoyable variety into the mix, but the title would have comfortably fit into the main franchise. That being said, Judgment stands out as one of the very best in the series and serves as a perfect entry point for anyone curious about the Yakuza games.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Continue Reading
Comments

Review

Etherborn Review — A Brief, Beautiful Defiance of Gravity

Published

 on

Etherborn

Indie developers in 2019 truly have the freedom to create the games they want. When Fig-funded game Etherborn reached its funding target, developer Altered Matter set out to craft a gravity-shifting puzzle platformer. Players sold on this concept have a lot to look forward to as Altered Matter has delivered on its promise. The mind-bending mechanics of Etherborn force players to approach the world from a new perspective amidst some stunning visual landscapes. 

In Etherborn, the player takes control of a voiceless, newly-born being who follows a bodiless voice in search of meaning. Such a philosophical premise promises an experience that will answer key questions regarding self-identity and the quest for meaning. The answer plays into the age old cliche that we are born to create our own destiny. The game’s narrative discussions around these topics are disappointing, though they do demonstrate that the narrative is less important than the themes behind them. 

Etherborn

One of the biggest frustrations with the story is that the language used complicated the simple message the developer was trying to tell. The soothing yet commanding tone of the omniscient voice would have been enough to carry along a more refined script that served the themes with clarity. Instead, Altered Matter opted to write something poetic by using lots of really big words that sound like they have lots of meaning, which instead detract from the actual meaning. 

Etherborn has a linear structure that takes place across five distinct levels. The levels are completed by solving gravity-defying puzzles to collect light orbs that open the pathway forward. Once all levels are completed, a new game+ mode is unlocked, creating replayability through the additional challenge of new, well-hidden light orb locations. Including this game mode offers players a chance to enjoy a more difficult experience without an additional learning curve. 

What sets Etherborn apart is the unique mechanic that underpins the gameplay. To traverse the landscape, players must jump and use ramps to change their perspective, turning walls into floors to move through the level. The opening level does an exceptional job of introducing the player to how this concept will be manipulated throughout the game. Controls in Etherborn are simple and intuitive, allowing for an experience that focuses the challenge purely within the design. Despite being able to run, the movement speed of the character seems sluggish for the most part, yet can be too fast for easy maneuverability in levels that require finesse to execute. 

Etherborn is deeply beautiful. The soft hues and subtle colour palette create a truly ethereal experience that carries through until the final level where the tone shifts into something somewhat dark, yet utterly breathtaking. Skeletal bodies, frozen in time, dwarf the character to create a visual masterpiece that captivates the viewer. Accompanying the divine art direction is killer sound design that makes the world feel complete. The ambient music creates an atmosphere that indulges in the landscape it calls home in a way that elevates the experience. 

The short length of Etherborn leaves players wanting more. In OnlySP’s preview of the game in 2018, the Alpha build contained the same five levels that are seen in the final game. Having spent so much time on these levels has meant the final product is highly polished yet disappointingly short. The gravity bending puzzles at play are so clever, well designed, and satisfying to complete that a lack of experimentation through more level designs to satiate the player’s hunger for more is disappointing.  

The challenging gameplay, gorgeous sound design, and stunning aesthetics all make Etherborn a worthwhile experience, even for those not fond of puzzle-platformers. Every level demonstrates a craftsmanship that encourages the curiosity to think and engage with the world. Completing puzzles is satisfying, even if the length of the game is not. Some minor issues may crop up along the way, but Etherborn is still a clever, fun game that challenges players and their perspective of the world. 

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Continue Reading