The game was developed and published by SEGA as a spin-off to the Yakuza series. While the combat system of the game borrows heavily from the mainline Yakuza games (prior to the turn-based Yakuza: Like a Dragon), the storyline of the game is different as the main character's background is that of a private detective, and not a current/former yakuza member.
On May 7th 2021, the game's sequel, named Lost Judgment, was announced for a worldwide release in September 2021.
The main story of Judgment begins in December 2018. The game features an open world set in the universe established by the Yakuza series. It primarily focuses on the red-light district of Kamurocho, Tokyo, a fictionalized version of Kabukicho, Tokyo.
Chapter 1: Three Blind Mice
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 1
Disgraced ex-lawyer Takayuki Yagami works as a private detective alongside his best friend Masaharu Kaito, an ex-Matsugane Family yakuza. Around Kamurocho, three murders have taken place where the victims - Kyorei Clan yakuza - have their eyes mysteriously gouged out. Matsugane Captain Kyohei Hamura is arrested for the third murder, and Patriarch Matsugane wants Yagami to bail him out. Though he is successful in proving Hamura innocent, the identity of the true killer - "the Mole" - remains a mystery.
Chapter 2: Beneath the Surface
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 2
The Yagami Detective Agency investigates the murders with the help of corrupt cop Kazuya Ayabe. Hamura is annoyed by Yagami's insistence, and repeatedly warns him to back off. Yagami attempts to have Matsugane rein in his Captain, but Hamura is the one with full control over the family. Having had enough, Hamura instructs his men to dispose of Yagami, but the detective is saved in the nick of time by Jester, the mysterious leader of a burglary ring.
Chapter 3: The Stick-Up
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 3
Kaito asks Yagami to help him investigate the robbery that led to his expulsion: One year prior, a sole gunman had broken into the Family's office while Kaito was the only one present, held him at gunpoint and stole 10 million yen from the office safe. Their investigation leads to a confrontation with Kaito's old subordinate Toru Higashi, who reveals Hamura hired the gunman to remove Kaito, the only man stopping him from being in complete control of the Matsugane Family.
Chapter 4: Skeletons in the Closet
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 4
Hamura goes into hiding following an assassination attempt on him by the Kyorei Clan. The detectives seek Masamichi Shintani - Hamura's defense attorney and Yagami's former colleague - for leads. Though Shintani blurts out something suspicious, he refuses to elaborate. They spy on the Kyorei Clan, but are caught and saved by Jester, who reveals himself to be Fumiya Sugiura and suggests joining forces. Yagami returns to his office and is met with a gruesome warning: Shintani's corpse in his office closet.
Chapter 5: Days Gone By
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 5
Yagami looks into his only lead: Shintani's call to the ADDC - a research center funded by the Ministry of Health looking into a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, and an old haunt for Yagami, as the case that destroyed his reputation took place there. Issei Hoshino joins Yagami's investigation and they learn from Director Kido that Shintani wanted to speak with Shono, but he had been unavailable.
Chapter 6: Collusion
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 6
Sugiura discovers that the Kyorei's front company, the Kajihira Group, had originally bribed Health Minister Kazami into shutting down the ADDC and selling them the land, a deal which fell through when the miracle drug AD-9 was announced. Kyorei thugs attempt to kidnap Mafuyu, but Yagami and Kaito save her. In retaliation, Yagami, Kaito and Sugiura attack the Kyorei base, where they are approached by the Kajihira Group's Chairman, Shigeru Kajihira, who has an offer for them which he did not want them to turn down.
Chapter 7: The Limelight
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 7
The Kyorei Clan had a saboteur within the ADDC to help ensure the place would be shut down: its Vice-Director, Toru Hashiki. Kajihira wants Yagami and his team to look into Hashiki's death. They learn form a hostess club Hashiki visited with Shono that Hashiki had drunkenly claimed he had proof of the data behind the AD-9 research being fabricated. Yagami meets with the prosecutors to tell them he is not responsible for murdering Shintani, but they reveal their suspicion of him was a front to arrest their real suspect, Ayabe.
Chapter 8: A Broken Bond
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 8
With no leads on who framed Ayabe, Yagami and Kaito decide to track down Hamura, the only person they know who knows who the Mole is. Matsugane attempts to stop them, fearing for their lives, but the duo is undeterred. They find Hamura at a gambling hall and interrogate him, but he refuses to give answers. Based on Hamura's behavior, they suspect the real mastermind behind the Mole is Shono, but before they can get any more information out of him, Hamura is saved by his other thugs, who attack Yagami and Kaito before fleeing with the Captain.
Chapter 9: The Miracle Drug
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 9
AD-9 made remarkable progress, but has not moved into human trials. At least, not legally, as Yagami theorizes the Mole's victims were AD-9 test subjects. After Shinpei Okubo, the man whose murder trials ended Yagami's law career, still claims his innocence, Yagami and Sugiura head to the ADDC to confront Shono. From what info Shono slipped, Yagami deduces that not only had the researcher killed Koichi Waku - he had also killed Emi Terasawa to throw off a trail leading back to him; Okubo was framed both times.
Chapter 10: Chumming the Water
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 10
Pressed for time, Yagami and Kaito decide to question Hamura once more. They try to lure him out, but are lured into a trap instead, where Hamura shoots Kaito in the gut. Sugiura is able to save Yagami and they flee while Kaito is taken by Hamura and his men. The two are able to track him down in an abandoned building, where Yagami defeats Hamura and takes him to the Kyorei Clan's base for questioning after sending Kaito to the hospital.
Chapter 11: Curtain Call
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 11
Hamura tells Yagami how he came to be involved with the Mole, but not their identity. During the interrogation, the Matsugane Family burns the base down in search of its Captain. In the chaos, the Mole arrives with their identity hidden and attempts to silence Hamura, but Matsugane takes the bullets for him. In his dying breath, he forgives Hamura for his betrayal. Matsugane's sacrifice moves Hamura, and he finally tells Yagami the Mole's identity: Detective Mitsuru Kuroiwa.
Chapter 12: Behind Closed Doors
- Main article: Judgment/Chapter 12
ADDC Director Kido is a potential source of info on the conspiracy, and Saori Shirosaki lures him into a honey trap for footage to blackmail him with. He tells the detectives what he knows and has Ishimatsu unknowingly lead them to Shono's secret lab. There, Sugiura reveals he is in actuality Emi's younger brother and wants revenge, but Chief Prosecutor Morita stops them and reveals himself to be part of the conspiracy. Fellow prosecutors Mafuyu and Izumida are repulsed by Morita's corruption and agree to help Yagami.
Final Chapter: Down Came the Rain
- Main article: Judgment/Final Chapter
Yagami, a remorseful Hamura, and a disillusioned Kido reveal the guilt of Vice Minister of Health Ichinose in the AD-9 conspiracy during Ayabe's trial, causing Ichinose to order a hit on Kuroiwa for silence, Morita having been arrested beforehand. Kuroiwa flees to the ADDC, and the detectives give chase. After a showdown between Yagami and Kuroiwa, Shono administers AD-9 to himself to prove its success, but dies from its toxins, revealing the side effect of dyeing the victim's eyes blue for all to see. With Okubo's name cleared, Yagami elects to remain a detective and he and Kaito begin a new case.
Judgment was made in the Dragon Engine and thus plays similarly to Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2 before it, albeit with 2 new fighting styles for the protagonist, Takayuki Yagami, that he can switch between at will using down on the d-pad. Generally, Tiger is better for single enemies while Crane is better against multiple enemies, though frequent switching is encouraged due to the rather long recovery on some of his Finishing Blows. Improved on the previous Dragon Engine games is the ability to string longer combos on enemies due to mid-air juggling being made possible again, like in older Yakuza titles. Yagami also does not automatically run in combat scenarios; like in the first two Yakuza games, he must be holding R1 to dodge, as the X button also functions as the run button. This is due to various other actions being available to Yagami in combat while running, such as leapfrogging his opponents and performing wall jumps for a plethora of attacks. When at least one of 6 sections of his EX Gauge is filled, Yagami has access to EX Boost (a variant of Kazuma Kiryu's previous Extreme Heat Mode) with R2, which makes him less likely to flinch and attack faster, causes all damage taken to go the EX Gauge instead, allows for instant style switches, and gives him access to more EX Actions and overall techniques.
Yagami's skill tree is somewhat unique in that many of the skills he can unlock are locked behind skill books and 2D codes that he needs to find in certain places. Some of these unlock previously featured skills such as Double Quickstep and Tiger Drop. There are also no upgrades solely for the Crane style, as they tend to benefit both or Tiger only.
While many bosses borrow movesets from previous Yakuza games, most of them have an additional Deadly Attack while they are glowing (typically at half health) that will cause a Mortal Wound if he is struck by it; these are only treatable with a Medical Kit or a doctor in Kamurocho. These attacks, when used, cause the boss's aura to intensify. Deadly Attacks are also unblockable, so they must be dodged, wall jumped away from, or absorbed with EX Boost. Certain attacks like gunshots and knife stabs will also cause Mortal Wounds, though they are generally not as severe.
Town exploration is somewhat easier as Yagami; he can run indefinitely and can also vault over cars and various other obstacles that previous Yakuza protagonists could not. However, he does not use any of the soda machines scattered across Kamurocho, and fight encounters occur almost instantly when they get close to him. As the game progresses, Yagami will eventually run into the Keihin Gang and its leaders, which start comprising more of the enemies he encounters. Yagami also has a City Reputation that he can build up by making friends with certain NPCs indicated on the minimap and doing favors for them; having a higher reputation opens up more Side Cases and is required to complete all of them.
The menu is slightly altered for Yagami as well; players can add item shortcuts to the other directions of the d-pad (as he cannot carry weapons unlike previous protagonists) to use them during combat. The new extracts that Yagami can create essentially replace the previous soda drinks, as they temporarily supplement Yagami's combat in various ways.
At times, Yagami will have to stealthily tail his subjects and occasionally run after them, the latter returning from Yakuza 5. He and his partner, Masaharu Kaito, also have a drone they can use both for reconnaissance and for drone races.
Completely new to Judgment is an investigation mode where the player (locked to a first person view) has to find clues or objects in crime scenes or other places of interest. Throughout the game, Yagami will also have to present the evidence he finds, in court or otherwise. Presenting the evidence, asking the right questions, or doing specific actions in the correct order the first time rewards the player with extra SP or a trophy.
- Following the release of the Japanese version, controversy arose when actor Pierre Taki, who portrayed Kyohei Hamura in the game, was arrested for cocaine use. The localization of Judgment was still in progress at the time, and work was quickly done to recast Hamura's role with Miou Tanaka, who re-recorded all of the character's lines. Hamura's face was also altered to remove resemblance to Taki.
- Asahi replaces Suntory as the main beverage brand for the series, various Asahi brand drinks such as Nikka and Brown Forman subsidiary brands replace many popular brands from Suntory (see Product Placement).
- If the controller speaker is enabled, the phone sounds will come through both the main speakers and the controller.
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