It’s time to dive back into the underworld of SEGA’s Yakuza, but Judgment changes things up for a dose of Phoenix Wright-influenced sleuthing revolving around three dead Yakuza – with missing eyes. The localisation producer for the project, Scott Strichart, had no objections to telling us more.

Judgment was released in Japan as Judge Eyes, then pulled from sale due to a much-publicised drug arrest involving one of its voice stars. With a whole new English-speaking cast, we’re luckily not affected. But why the name change? ‘Judge Eyes’ sounds cool!

“We love it too!” agrees Strichart. “But considering the entirely new cast, the multiple language subtitles and the English dub, we’ve done our best to ensure this game could act as an entry point to the universe of Yakuza, so we wanted to make sure the name of the game didn’t put up a barrier. It was of course still important to respect the title’s meaning and theme, though, so Judgment is obviously what we settled on.”

The Yakuza games take their violence seriously, but still have a slick sense of emotional depth that ranges from pathos to humour. It’s good to hear that we can expect the same vibe in Judgment.

“The writing is always trying to evoke a wide range of emotions in the player.”

“The humour is a really key element of the development team’s philosophy, so of course it’s here too,” states Strichart. “But the writing is always trying to evoke a wide range of emotions in the player depending on the situation, whether that be laughter, shock, fear, sadness or joy, and I think this game runs the gamut of all of those, just as the Yakuza games have before it.”

One big change is that players will need to get to know a new protagonist, in Takayuki Yagami.

“It’s tough to let go of Kiryu and Majima,” says Strichart, “but I hope people give Yagami a chance to grow on them. He’s very much his own person – super smart, a razor-sharp wit, and a guy who harbours his own flaws, too. Players who decide to branch out from the main story are going to have a lot of fun getting to know him.”

A favourite feature of the Yakuza games is diversions such as playable classic SEGA arcade games, cards and fishing. Fans will be delighted to know that this trend continues in Judgment, with some new additions.

“As ever, Kamurocho changes with the times,” Strichart tells us, “and now there’s a VR (not actually VR) playground that Yagami can enter, and you can take to the air above the streets in drone racing. There’s a pinball machine in Yagami’s office and, in the arcade, we’ve got some classics, with the addition of Moto Raid and Kamuro of the Dead.”

What, no karaoke?

“Not this time!” Strichart informs us. “We’re all crying about this, believe me. But I hope fans can appreciate that absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Despite the focus on sleuthing in Judgment, there’s still a bunch of combat to look forward to – it’s just a bit different. Strichart elaborates: “Not only can you now literally leap off the walls, but Yagami has two distinct combat styles: Crane, which uses a lot of kicks as a means of crowd control, and Tiger, which is better at zeroing in on a single target for maximum damage. Most players are going to find more than a few sweet combos, but advanced players are going to find that changing styles, even mid combo, really maximises the damage output. Plus, the EX Actions (you may know them better as ‘Heat’ actions) really bring home the humour and uh, violence.”

It’s all shaping up to be a great experience, and also one that cat lovers are sure to dig. For some reason, feline friends make for collectibles in Judgment. We had to ask: ‘What’s with all the cats?’

“I don’t actually know what’s with all the cats,” laughs Strichart, “but I’m not complaining, as a cat guy myself. You can find them in secret spots in just about every investigation, and some of them are pretty well hidden. Not to mention side cases about cats, the return of a certain cat cafe… Yagami is clearly haunted by cats!”

Judgment releases for PS4 on June 25.

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