Judgment is a spinoff that spins back on

Best Action Game
Best Localization
Best Actor Performance
Best Minigame Collection

When we first played Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Judgment, we appreciated what it did, but there was a little nagging thought in the back of our minds: that, for a spinoff of the Yakuza series, it sure does hew close to the source material.

Something has happened in the time since that makes it much less of an issue.

Judgment is essentially a Yakuza game without the callbacks. Most releases in the franchise include some hit-or-miss new gameplay elements combined with the tried-and-true ones that worked before, and Judgment‘s position means that there’s way more of the new stuff and not a lot that’s recycled. Sure, you’ve punched and kicked through this neighborhood before, but you don’t see return trips to managing cabarets or squad fight management. Its positioning as a fresh start within the same gameplay framework could only make sense in the core series with a flashback game like Yakuza 0, and you can’t pull that trick too many times or do it and keep the game set in the present. The result is a Yakuza game in all but name that is simply missing some of your favorite familiar faces.

As more and more is shown of the next release in the core Yakuza series, it’s clear that a lot more is changing than just the protagonist and core cast. It’s a reinvention of the fundamental systems of the game, most notably swapping its action for a turn-based JRPG-like combat scheme. This choice detaches the play from reality more clearly and more often than before, embracing the nonsense at the expense of the narrative grit. It could be interesting in its own right (and we’re intrigued!), but it’s not what people know and love.

In many ways, this positions Yakuza 7 as the spinoff and Judgment as the existing branch. The retitling has let it reposition itself for what Ryu Ga Gotoku had become, a franchise of mystery and investigation supported by its muscle rather than driven by it. We may have gotten used to the weird situations Kiryu found himself managing, but an investigator like Yagami is a much more natural fit. The shift in cast also lets things drift back down to street-level matters, focusing on the moment-to-moment strengths of the world-building without the pressure to one-up all that has come before.

If we’re lucky, it means that we’ll have two distinct series that each play to their strengths: the meat-and-potatoes Judgment that focuses on nuanced storytelling and the over-the-top Yakuza that’s more than happy to throw you into high-stakes crises with little justification.

But yeah, we’ll miss Kiryu in both of them.

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