It’s been nearly a year since I first played Judgment.
And it’s AMAZING that after having played it to completion multiple times by now, I STILL notice new things about this simple yet VERY effective opening!
So I’m just gonna gush about it here, and go into detail of WHY I love it so much.
At first this opening might seem pretty standard. It’s a bunch of characters of the game appearing one after another while J-Pop plays.
No big deal, right?
Well, some context might be needed.
You’ve gotta keep in mind that though the gameplay is batshit insane with it’s EX Actions…
The game ACTUALLY starts with a prologue that introduces the main characters.
TALKING! Exciting start to a video game, amiright?
The game’s STORY is a murder mystery where you have to understand the world of Japanese law. Yagami’s an (ex)lawyer, after all. And this prologue is basically one big establishment of what world you’re entering in this game.
But then the big “WHOA!” moment comes. Right after talking about how much of a miracle it is how Yagami beat the odds off 99.9% of courtcases ending in convictions in Japan by getting a guy named Okubo acquitted… they get a call that this Okubo has been accused of KILLING HIS GIRLFRIEND and SETTING THEIR HOUSE ON FIRE!
And thus we get some of the most memorable visuals of a “Crime Scene” that I’ve ever seen. The house on fire, a bloody knife close the corpse of Emi (Okubo’s girlfriend), a bloodied framed picture of Okubo and Emi happy together contrasted with a very disheveled Okubo being carried out by the police, ending with the picture falling down in slow-motion and breaking in front of Emi’s face.
The peaceful beginning dialogues being contrasted with such Edgar Allen Poe-esque violence at the end pretty much ensures that you are NOT gonna forget this event. And the game itself is gonna constantly remind you of this event the same way it will constantly haunt Yagami himself.
But hey, let’s not have the prologue be a TOTAL downer!
We skip 3 years later, Yagami has quit being a lawyer and has become a private investigator along with his new boyfrie-… I MEAN, “partner”… Kaito.
This is where we finally get some gameplay as we get introduced to the world, combat system, detective vision, tailing section and chase sequence.
THEN we get the opening at the start of this blog.
Now, with all that context, you might realize there’s more of a significance to the “smoke” motif. Yeah, obligatory Thanos Snapping jokes aside, it’s not only a cool visual, it’s also relevant to the event that haunts Yagami, the fire from Okubo and Emi’s house.
But think about it, smoke comes AFTER the fire. And we’re seeing characters that have yet to be introduced.
If this opening is meant to represent the entirety of the game (which makes sense since it shows off visuals that will gain more significance as the story goes on), then basically it’s saying that the ENTIRE GAME is an aftermath of that ONE event!
You WON’T forget that fire, because BESIDES the visual reminders you get of it through flashbacks it’s that SMOKE motif that’s going to stay throughout the entire game since chapters will get that exact same smoke effect.
So, with the opening representing the game’s story as one big aftermath of the prologue’s events, there’s a theme of the characters reacting to the past.
With all of that in mind, note how each of the characters look towards the camera when their name appears.
Yes, but look at HOW they look towards the camera.
Yagami has his back turned to the camera before looking back. There’s pain in his eyes as he looks at the camera as if he does NOT like seeing what he’s seeing.
Then Kaito appears. He does MORE than that. He THROWS his cigarette at the camera as a sign of aggression and disrespect. He actively HATES whatever the camera represents.
Then we get a very threatening looking Hamura and he looks menacingly at the camera. He’s in full control and he knows it. It’s like he’s PROUD of himself as he looks at the camera.
Genda doesn’t look directly at the camera at all, simply having a smoke as he looks up, in thought.
Mafuyu STARTS with her back turned but turns towards the camera fully, looking HAPPILY at the camera.
Ayabe doesn’t look at the camera similar to Genda, but it’s like he ACTIVELY doesn’t WANT to look at the camera, keeping his focus on something else outside the frame.
Kuroiwa starts off looking at the camera, but then he turns away, as if not wanting to look at the camera either… until we get a cut where he’s walking TOWARDS the camera. On the contrary, he’s actively FOCUSING on the camera!
Lastly we return to Yagami as he’s in thought, looking down. But then FINALLY he looks at the camera head on. He’s no longer in pain. Now there’s determination in his eyes as he looks at the camera.
Has it become obvious yet?
The camera represents their PAST!
Yagami starts off the story ashamed of his past, as he blames himself for Emi’s death for getting Okubo acquitted.
But HIS pain is not universal, as everyone has their own pasts.
Kaito seems to have a more violent relationship with his past, while Hamura is in full control of his past.
Genda HAS no problems in his past, Mafuyu EMBRACES her past.
Ayabe’s mysterious as he actively avoids his past, while Kuroiwa actively PURSUES his past.
Finally we return to Yagami, but this is a DIFFERENT Yagami.
This is the Yagami from the END of the game, having CONQUERED his past! The past no longer HURTS him, it MOTIVATES him!
I’d also like to point out that ALL of this can be seen in the opening and yet NOTHING of the story has been spoiled! It’s not style OVER substance, it’s style WITH substance!
And each of their views on their pasts AREN’T set in stone! That’s how they all START in the story. But like how Yagami changes from his first appearance to his last appearance in the opening, EACH of them will change the way they look at the past by the end of the story! THAT IS SO AWESOME!
Couple all of this with the song “Arpeggio” by [ALEXANDROS], whose lyrics literally starts with “I’m sorry”! OOF THE FEELS!
It’s a song about someone trying to find a new path in life after losing someone. They try to find new self-worth in their new direction rather than be held back by the past.
There’s ACTUALLY a lyric in the song that says:
Judgment is a game that keeps getting better and better the more I analyze it. Even if there are gameplay stuff which I disagree with, the STORY and PRESENTATION is just SO GOOD!
As awesome as this opening is, if/when Judgment 2 comes out, I don’t WANT Judgment 2 to keep the smoke motif.
It’s the fact that it holds on to that central theme that makes it so awesome.
They found a motif that represents the entire story from start to finish and made us emotionally invested in it. The smoke isn’t just to be “cool”, it’s to REPRESENT the game in it’s entirety.
But because of that, I HOPE Judgment 2 is able to find a NEW motif and artistically center on THAT instead. Of course, it better keep the amount of thought in it.
If the Judgment 2’s murder would involve drowning or something, I DON’T want it to use WATER as a representation, as that’d be TOO EASY.
The smoke motif REALLY works because it’s a natural extension of fire. They could have EASILY have made the motif about FIRE, but that’s already been done to death. Instead they went with smoke, which is SO much cooler and unique.
I want to REMEMBER the crime scene of Judgment 2 the same way that I remember the crime scene of Judgment 1.
Not through constant flashback cutscenes (though Judgment 1 had that too), but through masterful use of the central theme and giving the aftermath a unique visual for the entire game to play with.
Either way, Judgment’s story is great. Like most Yakuza-based games it’s definitely the type of game where you’re watching cutscenes more than playing the actual game, but similar to Metal Gear Solid you’re invested in the story.
I have joked every now and then that playing Yakuza games is more like watching a Soap Opera than playing a game, but this is a franchise where I’m able to forgive it purely because I keep WANTING to get to the next cutscene rather than the cutscene being a break from the gameplay.
Big advantage of Judgment over the other Yakuza games is that there’s barely any continuity with the previous Yakuza games whatsoever, it features new characters in the same district. This makes this game a GREAT jumping-on point for any newcomers of the franchise.
So yeah, if you’re interested in a game with a great story and presentation and you happen to have a Playstation 4, pick up Judgment.