Lost Judgment – A Tale of Two Cities
PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5 (Reviewed)
After thoroughly enjoying the perspective shift Judgment brought to the long-running Yakuza formula, I was overjoyed when it proved successful enough to warrant a sequel. Two years on, Lost Judgment arrives as a worthy follow-up that exceeds its predecessor in some areas whilst feeling like a slight step back in others, a stellar spin-off that takes another step towards escape from the long shadow of its lineage.
Picking up three years after the events of the first game, Lost Judgment opens with ex-lawyer Yagami and his partner Kaito operating as successful private detectives on the streets of Kamurocho, still occasionally lending a helping hand to the Genda Law Office. Drawn into what initially appears to be an open and shut sexual harassment case, they are quickly summoned to Isezaki Ijincho – the major setting for Yakuza: Like A Dragon – to assist an investigation into bullying at Seiryo High School and possible links to a student’s suicide. Pulpy and occasionally ham-fisted with moments of genuine feeling and sincerity, Lost Judgment tackles some important subject matter throughout its main story which has plenty of heel-turns, last-minute redemptions and epic battle sequences fans have come to expect from Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio. The series’ critique of the Japanese legal system continues on from Judgment, this time in close connection with bullying and its relation to youth suicide in Japan, still one of the leading causes of death for Japanese teens. While such a universally important issue makes the main storyline quite compelling, it also proves a source of narrative weaknesses when links between the initially disparate arcs don’t tie together quite as neatly as they could.
Despite featuring heavily, Lost Judgment manages to make the glittering locale of Kamurocho itself feel fairly lifeless in comparison to Ijincho. Perhaps the developers are concerned longtime Yakuza fans are tiring of the setting, resulting in the lack of side stories in the area. Previously, both Judgment and the Yakuza series have done a good job of peppering paths between main missions with side content which makes avoiding them feel purposeful on the part of the player – Lost Judgment seems to reverse this approach with side stories often placed out of the way of the next main objective. Most notable are the School Stories which seem undersold for how much they develop the overall themes of the story and further establish the setting of Seiryo High School. As a result of a lack of pressure on players to participate in these side stories, they tend to feel oddly paced and more suited to clearing many in a row rather than spacing them out.
Perhaps the upcoming DLC for Lost Judgment partially explains why it feels there is less to do overall than the previous titles from the studio. A series of missions starring Kaito, something that could have been included from the get-go, is locked behind further purchase. Speculation abounds that this decision was necessary by Sega in the event that Johnny’s, the casting agency that manages actor Takuya Kimura who both performs and provides the likeness for Yagami, will pull him from the series preventing it from continuing over licensing issues. A pivot to Kaito as the protagonist would be a touch disappointing but not devastating if it secures a future for Judgment.
A few additions and tweaks improve the flow of the game both in and out of combat. Yagami gains the ability to travel via skateboard, which significantly cuts down on travel time, most noticeably in Ijincho but is perhaps also symptomatic of fewer side missions littering the streets due to the dual locations. In yet another year in which travel has been nigh impossible for most people, part of the beauty of Lost Judgment is becoming immersed in the world the developers have painstakingly created, soaking in the atmosphere and whatever chance for virtual tourism presents itself. For this reason alone, it feels detrimental to the experience to fast travel via taxi too often, so a skateboard becomes a happy medium. In a bid to enrich the investigative trappings of the game and make more use of Yagami’s detective equipment, Lost Judgment swaps environmental puzzle QR codes for graffitied squirrels which require Yagami to use a specific detective gadget (or even a cute detective dog!) to locate the reward, occasionally chaining these together in a small treasure hunt. There is also a marked increase in the use of first-person perspective investigation elements across both main and side stories which mitigates but can’t quite erase the pervading sense that Yagami isn’t exactly the most accomplished or dedicated detective, solving rudimentary puzzles that require scant deduction.
The boost to 60fps on the PlayStation 5 alongside faster loading times compounds improvements made to the combat which places Lost Judgment on par with Yakuza 0, previously the RGG Studio title I regarded as the benchmark for their fighting systems. This is primarily thanks to the addition of Snake style, a move-set that compliments Tiger and Crane beautifully. While Tiger focuses on powerful techniques and Crane on groups of enemies, Snake gives players an incredibly effective style for dealing with armed enemies and parrying unarmed enemies – a shift that consequently sees a marked increase in armed enemies throughout the latter portion of the game. While this isn’t unexpected based upon experience with previous RGG Studio titles, Lost Judgment is perhaps the most empowered players have ever been to take down hordes of katana, gun and sledgehammer wielding goons.
Lost Judgment is nothing less than I would expect from a team as dedicated and experienced as RGG Studio, building upon both Judgment and Yakuza: Like A Dragon to deliver a sequel that hits more than it misses. Whether this is a first trip to Kamurocho or simply the latest of many, Lost Judgment is an engaging experience and hopefully not the last we see of Yagami Takayuki.
Lost Judgment was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 with a code kindly supplied by Five Star Games
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen’s attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then he has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the now-long retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up on by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever.
Writes on Yugambeh land.