Project Judge: Our hands-on impressions with the Japanese demo

At PlayStation LineUp Japan 2018, SEGA announced the new project from Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi. Project Judge, seemingly taking place in the Yakuza universe, has you playing as an all-new protagonist who is a lawyer in the Japanese underworld. Of course, he’s also stupidly handsome and more than capable in a fight.

Trusted Reviews has compiled everything you need to know about Project Judge including all the latest news, gameplay, trailers and our hands-on preview.

Project Judge Gameplay Preview – What do we think?

There’s a lot of pressure on SEGA right now as it leaves behind the world of Yakuza and, perhaps more importantly, it’s hero: Kazuma Kiryu. Having helmed the series for almost two decades, he’s become an iconic face of heroism for fans who are understandably hesitant of his departure. Yakuza has been confirmed to continue, but for now, it’s time for something new.

While not a Yakuza title, Project Judge thrusts us into not only the same universe, but the same town we’ve explored many times before. The neon-lit streets of Kamurocho emit an atmosphere I’m all too familiar with. And yet, my time with Project Judge thus far teases an adventure which is anything but.

Project Judge abandons the Japanese underworld in favour of what is the polar opposite. You play as Takayuki Yagami, a young rebellious lawyer with a heart of gold. The game opens in an office, establishing a few key characters and their fantastic chemistry before immediately launching a conspiracy upon them.

A woman dear to Yagami has been brutally murdered. With her house burnt down, all evidence is now nothing but ashes. The perpetrator is in sight, and having believed him innocent in the past, our hero is left disgraced and out on the streets. This sets up a narrative where Yagami must prove his worth to the friends who’ve now left him behind, even if it means delving into the criminal underworld he once fought against.

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It’s worth nothing that I played the Japanese demo, so some of the more nuanced character elements and dialogue were lost on me. Despite this, it still does a stellar job establishing personalities and the way in which they tick. The dialogue pops with stylish flair, complemented by stellar performances that feel like a natural progression of the Dragon Engine introduced with Yakuza 6.

Speech also plays a larger role in Project Judge. As a lawyer, you’ll need to persuade citizens to find out what you need to know, achieved through selecting dialogue options that ensure you’re calm, collected and, most importantly, convincing. Yagami is a handsome fella, so chances are you’ll be taking advantage of all possible avenues of success, whether it means you end up flirting carelessly or laying the beatdown on some fools.

Speaking of violence, Project Judge takes the combat blueprint of Yakuza and puts its own spin on things. While hardly revolutionary, it’s a welcome improvement on Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2, which left Kiryu with only a single combat style. While packed with plentiful upgrades, you’d inevitable end up using a pool of combos that would almost always get the job done. Here, there seems to be more nuance at play. Yagami has two combat styles to choose from that you can switch between using the directional buttons.

If Kiryu is a heavyweight wrestler, Yagami most certainly falls into the cruiserweight category. He’s fast and kinetic, capable of springing around the battlefield with a flurry of boisterous punches and kicks. A press of the circle button will grab the nearest foe and, much like Yakuza, you can execute contextual Heat Actions with the press of triangle. These are wonderfully brutal, different depending on where in the environment you are and whether or not you’re wielding a weapon. I only saw a few in the demo, but all of them left a wide, satisfying grin on my face.

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It remains unclear how extensive the upgrade system in Project Judge will be, although I imagine it will work on a similar scale to Yakuza. This will also apply to Kamurocho. The fictional rendition of Tokyo’s Red Light District is back with a visual upgrade, and it appears all of the shops, buildings, and attractions you’re used to remain untouched.

Granted, I couldn’t enter many of them in the demo, but Club Sega, Millennium Tower and more are present and accounted for. There’s no doubt that this is the Yakuza universe, and I’m curious to see if there will be any crossover with the tropes we’ve come to love in the past decade. However, you’ll see much of Kamurocho in a different light this time around.

The primary mission in the Project Judge demo saw me identifying a suspect using a police sketch, switching to a first-person perspective and analysing a selection of suspects. Every little detail was scrutinised until I found my guy, and then it was time to tail him to his hideout. It doesn’t go to plan, and within seconds I’m chasing him down the street, dodging obstacles as I go, heralding the return of a mechanic that hasn’t surfaced since Yakuza 5.

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After a few quick time events and clumsily tripping over some rubbish bins, I’m brought into an ominously grim alleyway. In trademark Yakuza style, it’s time for a fight. Representing the early parts of the game, the demo introduces tutorials throughout by teaching you various movement and combat systems. Even with the language barrier, it was easy enough to decipher what was being asked of me and why.

First Impressions

After one final confrontation, it’s all over. I’m pulled into an opening cinematic that’s something straight out of an anime or live-action drama series with a catchy opening song to boot.

Once again, I’m left smiling at the screen due to sheer amount of beautifully executed melodrama in display. Project Judge encapsulates everything I love about Yakuza while teasing an exciting new direction.

It’s unfortunate to see Kamurocho once again as the central location, but Sega has proven once, and could do again, that the Red Light District has plenty of life in it yet.

What is Project Judge?

Developed by Ryu No Gotoku studio, the same minds behind Yakuza, Project Judge is a new action-adventure drama. Taking place in Kamurocho, Japan, you play as a man who finds himself solving cases, dealing with criminals and cracking an unfolding mystery.

We now have an English trailer, which reveals that Project Judge has the same amount of flair, style, and violence as the beloved Yakuza series. It’s a mixture of Phoenix Wright and Yakuza, we’re already sold.

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Project Judge release date – when is it coming out?

SEGA confirmed during the reveal that Project Judge will be launching in Japan during December 2018, with a demo now available to download now from the PlayStation Store. Whether it’s a PS4 exclusive or not remains unclear.

A western release has already been confirmed for 2019, so we’re bound to hear more details soon.

Project Judge trailer – how does it look?

You can check out the English announcement trailer below courtesy of SEGA America.

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The top that off, here’s 4 minutes of juicy gameplay:

Do you like the look of Project Judge? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @trustedreviews.