Project Judge


EDGE - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Sega (Yakuza Stu­dio) PS4 Ja­pan De­cem­ber 13 (Ja­pan), 2019 (world­wide)

A ny suc­cess­ful fran­chise is a dou­bleedged sword for a de­vel­oper. Se­quels all but guar­an­tee money in the bank, but can be cre­atively sti­fling. So it’s no great shock to learn that Toshi­hiro Nagoshi has been plan­ning to do some­thing dif­fer­ent for a while. “I did as­pire to propose a new type of game even dur­ing the var­i­ous Yakuza ti­tle re­leases,” he ad­mits. And yet there’s no deny­ing that Nagoshi’s new game isn’t a ma­jor de­par­ture. For the de­vel­op­ment team, com­prised pri­mar­ily of the main staff be­hind

Yakuza 0 (which, as that series’ peak, is a promis­ing sign), Project Judge must seem like some­thing of a bus­man’s hol­i­day.

Within sec­onds of its open­ing cutscene, we know ex­actly where we are, as the cam­era glides down a bustling street, past a Poppo store sign and through the win­dow of a sec­ond-floor of­fice. Our first ob­jec­tive, mean­while, asks us to walk up Nakamichi Street, make a right be­fore Smile Burger, and head down Nakamichi Al­ley to­wards Pink Street. The way­point would be sur­plus to re­quire­ments if we weren’t play­ing in Ja­panese. The Yakuza series’ star – no, not Kazuma Kiryu – is back.

Sur­pris­ingly, that wasn’t the ini­tial plan. “For a time we were con­sid­er­ing not us­ing Ka­muro­cho,” says Nagoshi. “How­ever, the goal here was to dras­ti­cally change the game con­tent from the Yakuza series, and we wanted to avoid ex­haust­ing our bud­get on a brand-new map. I also felt con­fi­dent that we could cre­ate com­pelling new game­play even with­out a new map.”

It’s odd to hear Nagoshi talk­ing about bud­gets when he’s been re­spon­si­ble for some of Sega’s big­gest hits of re­cent years, but you can prob­a­bly blame Bi­nary Do­main – or, more ac­cu­rately, Bi­nary Do­main’s sales fig­ures, for the pub­lisher’s cau­tious ap­proach with a game that doesn’t bear a recog­nis­able brand name. Be­sides, it’s clear Nagoshi sees the fa­mil­iar set­ting as a pos­i­tive. “You can’t help that it’s aes­thet­i­cally very sim­i­lar to the Yakuza series. How­ever, if any­thing, I think play­ers will be re­as­sured that there will be a strong, dra­matic story that they’ve come to ex­pect from the

Ryu Ga Go­toku team. Fur­ther­more, the over­all feel of the plot and the game­play is very dif­fer­ent from that of Yakuza’s.”

You could be for­given for think­ing oth­er­wise from those first ten min­utes, which in­volve a brawl be­tween pro­tag­o­nist Takayuki Yagami and a group of bray­ing thugs. He’s slightly lighter and faster than Kiryu – his kick-heavy fight­ing style feels closer to Shun Akiyama in Yakuza 4, and his moveset in­volves kick­ing off walls to smash op­po­nents in the face. You can switch be­tween two fight­ing styles via the D-pad, and there are

It’s clear that Project Judge will re­tain Yakuza’s more out­landish el­e­ments

Heat moves and fin­ish­ers be­sides. If you’ve played a Yakuza game be­fore, the tu­to­rial is barely needed.

That goal is ev­i­dent when the fight ends, and Yagami finds him­self on the trail of a flat­capped sus­pect, whose like­ness has been cap­tured in a re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate pen­cil sketch. Out­side Ka­muro­cho Asian Beauty Show you’ll be asked to iden­tify him from a range of pedes­tri­ans. It’s a sim­ple process of lock­ing onto them and hav­ing a check­list of fea­tures con­firmed. Once iden­ti­fied, you need to fol­low them from a safe dis­tance to their des­ti­na­tion, an al­ley­way in the Cham­pion District, in a se­quence that plays out like My First Tail­ing Mis­sion. Glow­ing blue mark­ers be­hind signs and cars (and a con­ve­niently-po­si­tioned group of salary­men) show you ex­actly where you need to hide when your tar­get turns around, lest their sus­pi­cion me­ter fill up en­tirely, re­sult­ing in a game over.

It’s ex­tremely hard to fail, but the melo­dra­matic mu­sic and a few un­ex­pected stops – your tar­get takes a de­tour to get a can from a vend­ing ma­chine, then pauses briefly for a smoke – keep you amused, while hint­ing to­wards more chal­leng­ing pur­suits. The same goes for a QTE-cen­tric chase se­quence that fol­lows. Again, it’s straight­for­ward stuff, giv­ing you plenty of time to press the ap­pro­pri­ate but­ton. But it’s fast-paced and heartily silly in the best Yakuza tra­di­tion: af­ter swerv­ing one group of pedes­tri­ans, Yagami grabs an­other by the shoul­der be­fore vault­ing over his head.

De­spite the seem­ingly grit­tier, darker tone of the plot – Yagami’s shift from hot­shot lawyer to pri­vate de­tec­tive comes af­ter one of his clients bru­tally mur­ders his girl­friend – it’s clear that Project Judge will re­tain Yakuza’s more out­landish el­e­ments. “It takes a while to get to the end­ing in this kind of TV-dra­maesque ac­tion ad­ven­ture game, so we’re con­scious of keep­ing the game in­ter­est­ing the whole way through to avoid the player get­ting bored,” Nagoshi says. “I would ar­gue that those traits aren’t solely Yakuza, but are an em­bod­i­ment of Ryu Ga Go­toku Stu­dio’s stance on pro­duc­ing en­ter­tain­ment.” If you re­call a cer­tain scarf-wear­ing ro­bot and a set-piece in­volv­ing a toi­let visit, Nagoshi’s ex­pla­na­tion checks out.

Hap­pily, Yagami will get to do some proper de­tec­tive work as the game pro­gresses. Rather than sim­ply fol­low­ing sus­pects and wit­nesses, you’ll some­times need to take photos as ev­i­dence, ful­fill­ing con­di­tions de­ter­mined by your client. “For in­stance, a photo can be eval­u­ated on cri­te­ria such as, ‘Does it show the lo­ca­tion clearly?’ or, ‘Is it a clear shot of the per­son’s face?’” Nagoshi says. “The photo will be re­jected if the ba­sic con­di­tions are not met. On the other hand, if you’re able to take clean, close-up shots that sat­isfy all the re­quire­ments, you’ll re­ceive bonus ex­pe­ri­ence points.” Yagami can also use a drone, con­trolled via his mo­bile phone, to take snaps, or surveil sus­pects when tail­ing them on foot proves im­pos­si­ble. There’s a lock-pick­ing aside about which Nagoshi seems par­tic­u­larly en­thused, and se­cret rooms to lo­cate by de­cod­ing clues.

It seems, then, that this is more of a step away from Yakuza than first im­pres­sions would sug­gest. Be­yond the pres­ence of the rul­ing gangs – Yagami’s part­ner Kaito is a for­mer yakuza ex­pelled from the Tojo Clan – you shouldn’t ex­pect to see many fa­mil­iar faces. “Of course, some of the team felt strongly about in­clud­ing them,” Nagoshi says. “But in the end, we felt that do­ing so would cre­ate mis­con­cep­tions about the ti­tle, so ul­ti­mately, we de­cided to cut them out.”

In­deed, while Nagoshi con­ceived Yakuza with an au­di­ence of Ja­panese men in mind, he’s con­fi­dent his lat­est game will at­tract more than just the series’ big­gest fans. “Of course, the pro­tag­o­nist is a male and the game is full of ex­cit­ing, in­tense drama, but this ti­tle ex­plores the themes of hu­man­ity much more than mas­culin­ity,” he says. “In that sense, I be­lieve this game is tack­ling a wider spec­trum of themes. Re­gard­less of those dif­fer­ences, we as a stu­dio are con­fi­dent in cre­at­ing videogame nar­ra­tives based on hu­man ex­pe­ri­ences. We hope our fans trust us to de­liver on that and en­joy the game.”

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