Every month you can watch reviews and read our thoughts on the games we've been playing, old and new. This month marks the debut review from Alison!
The year is 2008. At a long marble table, a group of beautiful executives consider their options. Their objective? To reinvigorate one of the biggest brands in the world. To do something that will potentially change the world. From the shadows, a deep voice rumbles: “Why don’t we call it…Pasta Hut?”. Someone gasps. They know the game has changed forever.
It’s kind of what Sega have done with Judgment; they’ve taken the core of an existing brand and tried to pivot to get a new audience, but ultimately may have actually lost some of their more casual customers. Which is a shame, because except for a few missteps, Judgment is one of the best games I’ve played this year.
First up, this isn’t your Da’s Yakuza. Judgment follows Takayuki Yagami, former lawyer and current private detective, as he unravels the mystery behind a series of serial killings in Kamurocho. After a troubled childhood and a brief flirtation with the Tojo Clan, Yagami is a character who has seen the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and is ready to help those in need. His noble spirit is the mirror of series goliath Kazuma Kiryu, but his motivation and his methods are different; Kazuma is a hammer, Yagami is a scalpel.
This change in attitude extends across the whole game; while there is a lot of fighting to be done, Yagami’s main tool is his investigative mindset. While hunting for the serial killer, nicknamed The Mole, or chasing down a serial groper, Yagami will deploy various skills to find clues and reach the solution. Taking the form of minigames, the game does a reasonably good job in mixing up the activities, varying from following a suspect from a distance, doing a close examination of a crime scene or even using a drone to take sneaky wee pictures of canoodling adulterers. The simplicity of each activity might frustrate those looking for more depth, but I found them to be fun little distractions and a nice break from the constant fighting of the main series.
Talking about the combat, I think this might be where you’ll either jump for joy because the fighting feels fresh and new or you’ll pine for the days of big old face stomps and upgradable weapons. Yagami has two forms to rely on; Crane-style for taking on big groups and Tiger-style for one on one fights and you can easily swap between the two as you fight. While Yagami isn’t exactly a weakling, his strength relies in his speed and acrobatics.
You’ll be jumping off walls and leaping over thugs constantly, turning fights into big, fast messy affairs reminiscent of your Da in bed. There’s little delay in the fights starting, so sprinting into a big group of bad lads and delivering a big kick feels practically seamless.
To begin with, the encounters feel quite rare, so it can take a while to really get a feel for both styles, but as you progress and piss off more people, the number of enemies increases, and some tough punks will start trying to ruin your day.
Personally, I prefer fighting using the Tiger-style; it hits hard and fast and as you upgrade your moves, you don’t feel like you’re at a disadvantage against groups. You can find manuals and QR codes throughout the game that’ll help you increase your range of moves, but until you unlock the ability to find them using your phone in chapter six, you’re best off consulting a guide for them as I’d found two of approximately fifty in about 20 plus hours. Some of the guides can only be unlocked by making pals though in a great expansion of the system last seen in Yakuza Zero.
In our previous reviews and in practically every recorded discussion we’ve had about the Yakuza games, we’ve always raved about Kamurocho, the Metroplex to Kazuma’s Optimus Prime. It’s felt like a living, breathing city, changing slowly over the series; businesses open and close, some areas get renovated while others fall into decay. Judgment moves Kamurocho forward while focusing on the people of the area; now going into a restaurant can lead to friendship, side cases and a full belly, which is win-win in my book.
Friends can help you learn new moves or skills and can assist while fighting, if you’re close enough to their wee area. Some of your pals even wander about Kamurocho and can help boost your heat gauge while saying Hi. It’s a nice little system and just another wee step forward for one of my favourite places in any video game.
I think your mileage with the game is really going to come down to what you’re looking for and what brings you to the Yakuza series as a whole; if you’re all about the fighting and the ongoing struggles of the Tojo Clan, then you’re probably going to be a little disappointed.
The game takes a little while to get going and it does seem to heap misery upon misery on its lead character, from his tragic backstory to the event that causes him to quit his job as a lawyer. The story is pretty heavy at times and even the side cases, usually a space for more levity, can lead to some unpleasant situations. Yagami lives within a very grey world compared to the fairly black and white world of Kazuma, where money can dictate your next steps more than an unerring sense of morality.
Now, I’m not saying that the game isn’t fun, because it really is, but just don’t expect Majima levels of amusement. In fact, Judgment might have the best selection of distractions yet, from playing arcade versions of Virtua Fighter V and Fighting Vipers to a very realistic pinball table and the brilliant and weird Kamuro of the Dead, a gentle piss-take of Yakuza Dead Souls. The VR game, unlocked in chapter four, is amazing too, a genuine surprise alongside the usual darts and batting cages.
Sadly, there’s no bowling or karaoke this time around, but there’s so much to do that they’re barely missed.
Judgment stands as a great palate cleanser for those of us who’ve been playing all the Yakuza games as they’ve been released in the West. I mean, if you include Fist of the North Star, we’ve had five Yakuza games released over here in the space of two years. That’s a lot of face-stomping.
Judgment shows that the Yakuza team can pivot into a new genre with more confidence and polish than ever before and that they don’t need to rely on old Uncle Kazuma anymore. It bodes very well for Shin Yakuza that the team are so willing to refresh the format while also acknowledging and building on the foundation that we’ve come to love.
At the start of this review, I said that Judgment was like Pasta Hut, but that’s pretty unfair and also blatantly untrue. Dead Souls was fucking Pasta Hut, no doubt about it. Judgment is more of a semi-successful offshoot of an already brilliant product. It’s the Fiery Irn-Bru of video games; it didn’t make you forget about original Bru and it certainly didn’t replace it in your affections, but it was a pleasant change that didn’t leave a nasty taste in your mouth. Unless you hated ginger, in which case, this was all for nothing.
Dragon Quest Builders 2
I love building games. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a game in a long time. I played its predecessor non-stop in the last few weeks leading up to the birth of my daughter so I was feeling pretty nostalgic for those days before I had to plan my free time. I LOVE being a parent but gone are the days of getting totally lost in a game and forgetting to check the clock. An hour of The Sims could easily turn into four or five. I can barely even switch on my laptop now since it’ll usually be bedtime by the time it loads…
So, I’ve been a bit nervous about reviewing Dragon Quest Builders 2 since I don’t have a great deal of time to spare. But I’ve now put in about 25 hours and always find it hard to call it a day. It’s addicting. If you’ve played the first one, the familiarity of the design and the charming soundtrack means you’ll settle right back in. If not, then there’s a casual tutorial at the beginning which covers all the basics.
Based sometime after Dragon Quest II, The Children of Hargon are intent on ensuring that nothing new is built in the world, and they’re out to destroy anything or anyone who gets in the way. You, a builder, find yourself captured on their ship. The tutorial takes place here, before you manage to make your escape and find yourself washed up on The Isle of Awakening.
I found the tutorial a little long winded; not only was I impatient to get building, it also has a pretty tight grip of your hand as it leads you round the basic controls. If you’re a little too eager and try to jump ahead, you’ll end up having to repeat yourself and you can end up speaking to the same folk over and over. This does, however, provide you with plenty of dialogue to set the scene for your onward adventures.
Speaking of dialogue, I do have a minor issue with how much there is. The characters have a tendency to waffle on a bit and, even though I enjoy their sense of humour, I find myself often wanting to politely excuse myself and get on with whatever task they’re trying to set for me. Yes, I understand that you want me to build you a toilet. But no, you really don’t need to describe to me how you intend to use it. Really. But thanks.
What I do love is how supportive all your friends in the game are. As your wee team grows and you learn more recipes, it’s really gratifying when they start applauding something that you’ve built. Or when you defeat a monster and your companion, Malroth, jumps up and high fives you. Thanks pals! This support will grow even more as you progress, but I won’t spoil it for you!
It’s not just the building that I love though. Exploring the different areas and seeking out new materials is really rewarding. Although just be mindful that you’re not meant to find certain areas until you’re specifically sent there on a quest. The maps are well designed and don’t seem quite as vast as the previous game either, with the fast travel function making it easier to get around.
I spent so many long nights hiding in dug out caves because I forgot to bring materials to build a hut and something to sleep on! So far, I haven’t had this problem… You can easily warp back to base if night falls, and be back in no time, after a snooze and some Seared Scallywinkle for breakfast.
This game isn’t just about aimless exploring and building whatever you feel like (although there’s enough freedom to do that too). You’re given a nice balance of long term goals and more immediate chapter specific quests. The game presents you with these chapters, in the form of different islands, much like its predecessor.
What I love though is that everything you learn can be taken back to your central island, The Isle of Awakening. Here you can start to build and grow to your heart’s content but with more purpose than simply a sandbox mode would allow, thanks to additional goals.
Doesn’t this all sound lovely? I’ve been enjoying myself so much that I keep forgetting about the bad guys. Sure, they’re there and you have to fight them off every now and again. But it’s more of a minor inconvenience than a panic. The fights enhance an already pretty solid game, without being the main focus.
I feel like Dragon Quest Builders 2 has a lot more in store for me and I’m itching to get stuck back in at every opportunity. My two year old has been watching me play and loves to ask about her favourite characters and where I built the bathroom or where I am going for a wander. I think this bonus gratification has made me love it even more. Even so, it has all the elements I love in a game, exploring, collecting things and, of course, building. What’s not to love?
A gorgeous look, an intriguing story and hard but fun combat, The Banner Saga is an absolute peach. Hoping to complete the trilogy in the next few months and I’ll do a wee write up when I’m done.
No, we didn’t play it at the live show… While Daytona USA and Ridge Racer have had plenty of time in the sun over the years, Virtua Racing has always had a bit of a raw deal when it comes to console ports. Not anymore; this is the real deal, and it’s brilliant. Especially in 8-player.
SHenmue 1 & 2
Look, Shenmue 3 is almost out, alright? And while I’ve finished these games a million times each, I thought I may as well do a run through where I max out Ryo’s moves as much as possible. Except for the throw moves; that’s just a bit too much work for me.
I truly believe that Dreams will change video game development forever, and I’ve only played the tutorials for about half an hour. It’s unbelievable how fully-featured it is, but still user-friendly and whimsical without being kitschy and annoying. Big video next month.