Grizzly murders. A ridiculously smart hero haunted by his past. A shady group of individuals who will do anything, it seems, to cover up their terrible deeds. These are the hallmarks of a great detective story, and Judgment, the latest video game from Japanese developer Ryu ga Gotoku (RGG) Studio, has all of them.
Take the central hero, Takayuki Yagami. He used to be a lawyer with slick-back hair and a well-fitted suit. As an employee of the fictional Genda Law Firm, he successfully defended a man accused of murdering a hospital patient. Japan is famous for its 99.9 percent conviction rate, so Yagami's work both in and outside the courtroom was considered miraculous. But then disaster struck.
Players take control of Yagami roughly three years after the case. He's no longer a lawyer and works instead as a private investigator with his ex-Yakuza best friend, Kaito Masaharu. The private investigator, nicknamed Tak, works in white sneakers, skinny jeans and a leather jacket that wouldn't look out of place in a pop music video. He's perpetually broke and sleeps in his office, a poky room with a recorder player, pinball machine and sink full of dirty dishes. "Now my lawyer's badge is... just for decoration," he explains wistfully during the game's prologue.
Tak is a flawed but lovable hero. The kind that could star in a best-selling series of Scandinavian crime novels, or a HBO-made miniseries. He smokes, makes quips and will take almost any job that doesn't betray his deep-rooted sense of justice. He's a modern Sherlock Holmes voiced by Takuya Kimura, a well-known actor, singer and radio presenter in Japan.
And then there are the murders. Seemingly random Yakuza mobsters have started turning up with their eyes gouged out. It's a gruesome and, more importantly, intriguing calling card that Tak is forced to investigate. He calls his nemesis "the mole," an apparent assassin that claws at its enemies and then burrows back into the darkness.
He calls his nemesis 'the mole,' an apparent assassin that claws at its enemies and then burrows back into the darkness.
RGG Studio's long-running Yakuza game franchise has dabbled with mysteries and conspiracies. In those games, though, series protagonist Kiryu Kazama -- a martial arts expert with a heart of gold -- solves most problems with his fists. Judgment, admittedly, has plenty of bare-knuckle brawling, too. A surprising amount, actually, considering the game is a distinct spin-off with its own name and exuberant cast of characters.
The game balances these moments, though, with a fair amount of non-violent detective work. Tak will often tail suspects, for instance, to find a particular place or contact. You have to keep your distance and duck behind cover to ensure your target doesn't realize what's happening. Losing the target will also trigger a tense countdown timer that can only be dismissed by re-establishing line of sight. On the flip-side, suspects will occasionally flee and force Tak to give chase. These play out like an endless runner -- the detective sprints automatically and it's on you to avoid pedestrians and street clutter with perfectly timed Quick Time Events.