SEGA’s and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Yakuza series had always had a niche following ever since its debut on the PS2 in 2005. Slowly and steadily, as the tale of Kazuma Kiryu expanded, so to did the series. Recently, just as with each game’s plot, the slow and methodical growth has hit a fever pitch. Yakuza, rebranded to its original Japanese moniker Like A Dragon, is as popular as its ever been.
With the success of 2019’s Yakuza: Like A Dragon, the series has seen a flurry of releases in the past few years. Just this year, Like A Dragon Ishin! released in February and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name will be released in November. The next mainline title, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, will hit store shelves in 2024. During the rise of this popularity was a spinoff title that flipped the series on its head: Judgment.
A Successful Spinoff
Known as Judge-Eyes in Japan, Judgment and its sequel Lost Judgment followed the trials and tribulations of a former defense attorney, detective, and overall badass Takayuki Yagami. Alongside his merry band of ex-Yakuza, lawyers, and mask-wearing parkour experts, Yagami and company parade around the fictional city of Kamurochō, beating up thugs, solving mysteries, and unraveling nationwide conspiracies.
Being on the opposite side of the law coupled with the same juxtaposition of zany and melodramatic the main series is known for proved to be a winning combination. Judgment sold well over 1 million copies and paved the way for a sequel in Lost Judgment. That sequel performed even better, with an increase in sales by a whopping 76%. The subseries is clearly popular both in and outside of Japan. But there’s a chance the series is in jeopardy.
Before Lost Judgment’s release in 2021, there were reports that only the second game in the series would be the last. RGG and Yagami’s actor, Takuya Kimura, were in a disagreement as to if the game were to ship on PC. The talent agency representing Kimura, Johny’s, had oddly believed a PC version of the game would negatively impact their client’s image. Initially, they got their way with the title hitting PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S in September of 2021.
With a pretty big cliffhanger at the end of the game, it would be a disappointment to not see any further adventures of the Yagami Detective Agency. While nothing is set in stone, PC ports of both titles did end up releasing in September of 2022. Even though a Judgment 3 wasn’t included in RGGs recent flurry of game announcements, there’s still a lot of potential for it. But with no official word as of yet from SEGA, there’s plenty of room to speculate.
Unlike the ending of the original title, Lost Judgment had many questions left unanswered when the credits rolled. Judgment tied most threads up into a neat bow. The main antagonists were either dead or behind bars and justice was served as unspoken truths were revealed to the public. In Lost Judgment, it’s a bit more complicated. While the party succeeds in bringing most of its opposition to justice, the main antagonist, Jin Kuwana, disappears into the shadows once again.
As he goes into hiding, Kuwana reveals the locations of his previous victims to the local authorities. Major players in Public Security (Japan’s version of the CIA) and the Ministry of Health are taken into custody. A case that started with a bullying problem at a local high school spiraled out of control into a desperate struggle for control over Japan’s pension fund. The world of the Judgment series is left much different than when it started.
That being said, there are plenty of avenues a third Judgment title could go. Considering both titles’ main mystery starts small but eventually balloons into involving government entities, it’d only make sense for this trend to continue. With Hidemi Bando, the head of Public Security, facing charges of conspiracy, a whole house of cards could come crumbling down. Bando alludes to this much at the end of Lost Judgment as he’s being charged.
The battle over Japan’s pension fund and the power vacuum the absence of Reiko Kusumoto would leave after also being arrested seems too big of a loose end to sweep under the rug in a sequel. Yagami and friends, by sheer association, could be pulled into something much larger than any game previous. And speaking of previous games…
Like A Dragon Universe
While the Judgment and Like A Dragon series exist in the same RGG universe, their stories and character have never intersected before. Besides small little nods like the Yagami Detective Agency office present in Yakuza: Like A Dragon, the two series are totally separate. This could potentially change with Judgment 3.
With Kiryu returning to play a bigger role in Infinite Wealth alongside new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, it most certainly opens the door for a crossover of some sort. Before the release of Lost Judgment, there were rumors that proposed Ichiban would serve as a foil to Yagami in some form for the upcoming game. While this didn’t come to fruition, the idea has a lot of potential and would be the perfect set-up for a hypothetical Judgment 3.
RGG takes about 3 years in between titles (remakes/remasters notwithstanding). Judgment came out in 2018 with Lost Judgment releasing in 2021. That puts Judgment 3 aiming for a 2024 release. Taking into account that SEGA would probably want the main series to have the year to itself and series fatigue might set in with a bombardment of new titles, it might be safe to say 2025 is a realistic date if Judgment 3 were to release.
While not much is known about the plot of Infinite Wealth, it has been confirmed that it’s at least a continuation of the events of Like A Dragon. If those events are large enough to land on Yagami’s radar, it could set up Judgment 3 with a rather interesting conundrum. Having the player as Yagami try to take down the Ichiban/Kiryu duo could be a very compelling and conflicting dynamic. While crossing Judgment and Like A Dragon together could stir up some criticism, it could be a great way to cross-promote each series.
RGG is incredibly efficient with their assets. Whether it be character models, battle systems, or environments, many RGG titles share similarities in one department or another. This goes for Judgment and Like A Dragon. Judgment took place in the main city of Kamurochō where most of the Like A Dragon series has. With the 7th installment of the series, players and Ichiban found themselves in a new locale, Isezaki Ijincho, a Yokohama district.
Being as efficient as ever, RGG also set Lost Judgment in Ijincho for the majority of its run time as players bounced between the new district and Kamurochō. If this trend continues, Judgment 3 could take Yagami and friends to some new areas. The most recent trailer for Infinite Wealth revealed a new locale in the form of what’s speculated to be Hawaii. If this new location is developed and utilized in a significant way, RGG wouldn’t want all that work to go to waste.
Alternatively, several areas from previous Yakuza/Like A Dragon titles could be traversable in Judgment 3. Areas like Sotenbori which were showcased prominently in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 2 or Okinawa from Yakuza 3 through Yakuza 6. Besides a few temporary locations, the Judgment series apes most of its environments from previous RGG titles. Judgment 3 could also potentially break that mold.
As Like A Dragon before it, a third Judgment entry could have Yagami explore an entirely new city. RGG could keep their same environmental philosophy and create a whole new locale for Judgment 3 that can be reused for future Like A Dragon titles to come. No matter which direction RGG takes, a third Judgment title will almost certainly see Yagami in a few new fighting arenas.
Fists of Fury
One of the main draws of RGG titles, besides the soap opera/crime drama style plot, is the hectic combat. Following in previous titles’ footsteps, Judgment and its sequel employ several real-time fighting techniques. Switching between styles on the fly depending on the fight while racking up combos and performing flashy EX attacks makes Like A Dragon combat as fun as it is brutal.
With Yakuza: Like A Dragon, RGG wanted to shake things up across the board. Along with a new protagonist, tone, and locale, a new turn-based combat system was implemented. While weary at first, fans and critics alike fell in love with the new direction of the franchise. With writer Masayoshi Yokoyama helming RGG after Toshihiro Nagoshi stepped down in 2021, it was confirmed the main series would continue in this new direction.
That doesn’t mean the RGG universe will be entirely turn-based. Along with Judgment and Lost Judgment, the upcoming Gaiden retains the real-time combat fans love. This means, for now at least, spin-off titles will remain untouched in that regard. The same should go for a third Judgment game. With the change in overall tone for Like A Dragon, the more eccentric style of combat meshed well. For Judgment though, the tone is much more dour and serious.
Sticking with action-focused combat would be the ideal move. Potentially improving the three fighting styles from Lost Judgment and adding a 4th would make the combat feel deeper. Considering Lost Judgment added gear and equipment from the main series, RGG could also add weapons as well. Although, that might be a step too far when taking into account what makes each series unique.
Besides a thrilling narrative with twists and turns and intense combat, the Judgment series sets itself apart from Yakuza/Like A Dragon with its detective elements. Every so often, Yagami can investigate crime scenes or places of interest, ask probing questions and put together timelines of events to solve a mystery. While these mechanics make the Judgment series stand on its own, they certainly aren’t as fleshed out as they could be. L.A. Noire these games are not.
Judgment 3 should do its best to lean harder into these elements, expanding on some of the mechanics to make them feel less like an afterthought and more integral to the overall experience. Giving players more opportunities to ask questions during conversations, more scenes to dissect and investigate, and more chances to use evidence gathered throughout the game.
Lost Judgment pushed these elements more into the Side Cases rather than the main story. Replacing them were new mechanics such as Uncharted-esc Parkour and lite stealth mechanics. These faired similarly to the previously mentioned mechanics. They’re a nice way of pacing out the game but are as deep as a puddle. Judgment 3 should either bite the bullet and remove these mechanics or RGG should flesh them out more to make them worthwhile.
RGG has been at it for close to 20 years now so they know what they’re doing. They’re more than capable of iterating on all these moving parts while pacing them in between story beats and beatdowns. Lost Judgment is an improvement overall on the original title gameplay wise and there’s no doubt if RGG gets a chance to make a third entry that that trend will continue.
The Judgment series started off with a bang and has been a successful venture so far for SEGA and RGG. Both games have sold well and have been received the same by fans and critics. Coupled with the momentum of the Like A Dragon series at large makes a hypothetical Judgment 3 a no-brainer. From cliffhangers to untapped potential in its combat, investigation mechanics, and world-building, it would be a shame to see it not continue.
Especially over something as silly as talent agency disputes. But with the Judgment series making its way to PC last year, there is a glimmer of hope. All the gaming public needs is confirmation that Tak will be back. With RGG being at Gamescom, Pax West, and Tokyo Game Show all within the next month, that confirmation could be closer than ever.