If you know anything about me, you know this world is a far better and sexier place with me around. But that’s not super relevant to this post. You might also know that I’m a big Yakuza fan. Like, the series, not the organized crime bastards. I love the games. The extreme manly drama, the pitting of the romanticized noble criminal ideal against the wicked pragmatic crimelords that exist in the same sphere, the excellent and fast-paced action, the city district we’ve gotten to know so well that it’s almost a character in itself, the placing of dark story beats right alongside impossible to take serious goofiness, it fills a very warm place in my cold, dark heart.
However, the series is in a place of big transition right now. Yakuza 6 broke the mold in a lot of ways. The biggest, after 20 some years in meat-time and with us watching through Kiryu’s eyes over an in-universe time period from the late 80s up until the end of the new 10s, and the developers decided it was time to close the book on him. They closed the book in a way that they can and almost certainly will open it up again, but for the time being, the developers are serious that whatever Kiryu’s future involvement, he’s not going to be the center of the story anymore. Which, honestly, has been a long time coming. With the series kind of trying to hold onto at least something of a realistic sense in its conflicts, they’ve long had troubles with managing Kiryu’s in-universe power level. Yakuza 1 started with him being feared, and saw him, with some complicating factors on his side, just rampage through the strongest yakuza family in his area. Yakuza 2 had him as an absolute legend, and saw him as the muscle of a small group that conquered like four crime families. Yakuza 3 had to have an absolutely ridiculous plot bringing in the CIA just to up the stakes enough to where his power standings at this point was. Yakuzas 4 and 5 had to sidestep the issues by having Kiryu as the member of a team of player characters with the least direct involvement in the plot just to keep things feeling threatening, and even then 5 still had Kiryu end a gang war single-handedly take on every single member of another crime family. At the same time. And win. At the end of the first act. So yeah, his power level was a big in-story issue, and there was only so long they could stave it off with prequels and side games. So it makes sense that they’d see him retire from his main character role at the end of 6.
But we still need our Yakuza fix. And sure, there’s Yakuza 7 coming out, but what if that’s not good enough for you? What if you want a completely new perspective of the Yakuza series? What if you were really curious about what a Yakuza game would be like as seen through the lens of Phoenix Wright?
Judgement is a Yakuza game through and through. And it manages to be something different at the same time. The gameplay is familiar. The setting, which has been so integral to the series, is familiar. The spirit behind the game is familiar. But now, we’re looking at it through a new lens, and in a game that’s willing to break the traditional franchise rules. Let’s jump into that.