Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 24, 2021
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Lost Judgment is a game that explores bullying, abuse and suicide. As such, this review will discuss said themes.
For mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online.
Under 25? You can chat with Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.
You can also phone the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or chat online.
Ryu Ga Gotoku, the Sega studio largely behind the Yakuza franchise, are on fire right now. Being a fan of said series is an exciting time. Yakuza is in somewhat of a renaissance era, and each entry over the past few years has been knocking it out of the park. Lost Judgment, the sequel to the 2019 detective game Judgment, set entirely in this same universe is the latest example of this. Barring a few concessions, the follow up is more of the same high quality we’ve come to expect from this universe in recent years. Even if it means treading familiar, sometimes flawed ground.
Once more, players control Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced lawyer turned P.I. His return here is undoubtedly exciting. Since the first game in the spin-off series’ events, Yagami has made quite a name for himself. That’s not just for his charming but oh-so-tacky denim jeans fit with a wallet chain and leather jacket combination either. Mid-pursuit of an individual during a case, a bunch of Yakuza stop him, looking to throw hands just because of his status alone.
With this new prestige and infamy he’s found across the Japanese city known as Kamurocho, it’s not long before our hero finds their next big case. In another city known as Ijicho (which players will recognise as Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s setting), bullying has been reported at the local high school, though no proof has been found. A body has been found in an abandoned building. Suicides years apart are seemingly linked and a police officer has been charged with groping a woman. All these relate to the overarching case at hand, but how? It’s up to you to work that out.
Across this harrowing journey, Yagami will reunite and work with his friends from the first game. This includes the legal team based in Kamurocho that Yagami was once a part of and his tighter-knit friends such as fellow investigator and ex-yakuza member Kaito. Amongst the cast members, more limelight means more to shine (though not for the women, more on that later). Lost Judgment solidifies these characters further, investing you in their world just as nigh series-long protagonist Kazuma Kiryu would.
Where Judgment enticed me back in 2019 was filling in the gaps that the series it was spinning off missed. What are the repercussions of Yakuza’s world, ruled entirely by men in power? The prior entry showed just that, and it showed it largely through clever mystery-solving and, importantly, high tension courtroom drama. I’m sad to report that’s an area that Lost Judgment is sorely lacking in. While there are reveals throughout that’ll have you reeling, they never really occur in these rooms. In fact, there aren’t many of these courtroom scenes at all.
The last time Yagami finds himself under oath in-game, it isn’t a tense scene, presenting the evidence in one final “gotcha” moment and a final surprise. We see him provide all the information we as the audience have already confirmed several chapters prior. If you’re looking for these heated debates and high-octane courtroom drama that the original provided, you’re going to be disappointed and would do well to check out The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles instead.
If I’m honest, I’m a little disappointed with the story on offer here when it comes to the play-by-play. Where past entries were just as dialogue-heavy, they also didn’t faff about as much. Lost Judgment provides you all the surprises it has to offer about three quarters of the way through the game. Then a slow build towards a resolution follows. These last few chapters play out like textbook Yakuza. Long cutscenes take place, heavy with dialogue. Then you face waves upon waves of men standing in your way of the big bad. This would all be fine if this were a game with the name Yakuza on the cover. It isn’t.
With all that being said, Lost Judgment’s narrative is at the very least good. This is something I can always say about stories in the Yakuza franchise and once more that rings true here. Even when they waver, they’re still serviceable and do their job. It’s just not the bombastic affair I wanted it to be. Especially considering this adventure could likely be Yagami’s last.
Yakuza as a franchise is no stranger to a mystery that is full of many moving parts and shocks and twists. However, Lost Judgment is still on another level on this scale. Across the game’s thirteen chapters, players will travel between the familiar home of Kamurocho and Ijincho. Here, they’ll get on a series of escapades such as infiltrating a high school to witness rumoured accounts of bullying meshed with the typical storming of a Yakuza family HQ and causing havoc. Whether it’s on the streets or throughout the main story, you’ll be tasked with beating the living tar out of so many teenagers. Sure, they’re no good scoundrels but you’re still a figure double their age. It’s. So. Bloody. Weird.
Ryu Ga Gotoku does their best to reckon with this. Evidence in the form of fake alibis… a large number of individuals playing key roles in the mystery, it’s clear this is meant to be a messy, atypical mystery narrative. For the first half of the game, it’s so intent on gifting tidbits of answers to the big mystery, confusing you every step of the way. Often you’ll be misdirected quite cleverly, thinking the plot narratively and thematically is going one way before spinning into another. This progression can be enticing. Pondering the characters’ motives and being nervous at how Yagami and his friends will make it out of a new situation is constant. Wherein lies a problem with this is that it muddies the promising themes throughout.
“Often you’ll be misdirected quite cleverly, thinking the plot narratively and thematically is going one way but spinning into another.”
A lot of heartfelt, impactful moments are offered in Lost Judgment. Characters will bounce off each other quite well, whether that’s antagonising one another or working together to solve the case at hand. An interesting dynamic sprouts between Yagami and a fresh new individual that serves as the antithesis to our hero.
Where our leather jacket protagonist is all about giving a fair trial to everyone, patching up the holes the legal system has failed (there’s many, the Japanese legal system has a 99.7% conviction rate – unfair, isn’t it?), this half opposition, half ally offers something else. Witnessing the system previously fail himself and those around him, he finds ways to make a joke of these structures put in place. He takes things into his own hands.
While this dynamic, following themes of vigilance and temptation to a darker side, is something done well, there’s just as many missed marks and ruined potentials. Covering sexual assault, holding men in power accountable and so much more, the action drama’s beginning looked to go where I haven’t seen many go before. It doesn’t take too long to learn that won’t be the case. Instead, it treads familiar ground. It treats its female characters like dirt.
Where Yakuza: Like a Dragon took some small, yet progressive steps towards championing its female characters, Lost Judgment does the polar opposite. A female lawyer by the name of Saori returns once more here. However, like Judgment prior, some opportunities to prove the tenacity she exhibits are promised. Leaving the office, you briefly get to control Saori and see the world through her perspective. You’re on a mission, taking to the streets and getting some answers for the mystery. Y’know, with your lawyer skills, right? Wrong! On two occasions, you’ll partake in a makeover sequence where you’re tasked with dolling up Saori to be one of ‘the pretty girls’ and no longer the unattractive individual her design implies she is.
Now outfitted in make-up and a revealing dress, you learn this is the only way Saori’s going to get answers she so desperately needs; disguising herself as a hostess at a club and using her body. Whether it’s this example, the key victim in the mystery being a woman experiencing sexual assault, one that is bullied and another losing their life, it’s undoubtedly clear: Women are merely a plot point used to drive the narrative further in Lost Judgment. It’s tiring, saddening and something I can’t defend in a franchise I otherwise adore.
Now for the absolute best news: Lost Judgment includes the best combat the Yakuza franchise has seen yet. It’s been some time since we’ve seen the frantic third-person action brawler gameplay in action – last year’s Like a Dragon featured turn-based combat. While that was also a great foray, it truly does seem absence makes the heart grow fonder. The real-time combat is as slick and thrilling as ever. Two fighting styles return here in Crane and Tiger. Crane once again serves as excellent crowd control, providing fast and sweeping kicks. The latter works for more one-on-one battles, packing a meaner and more impactful punch.
New to this bunch however is the Snake style, which does well to parry and counter incoming attacks soaring towards Yagami. See a fist coming your way? Hold L1 and you push them away like they’re nothing, leaving their back exposed to you. Then, they’re just asking for a solid kick forward into a group of foes. What these fighting styles hone in on is that while he’s meant to come across as a varied fighter, Yagami is actually rather sprightly.
Master these three fighting styles and you’ll soon find yourself dancing circles around some Yakuza punks. If all else, the devastating and beloved ‘EX’ finisher moves return and are absolutely devastating. Fighting choreography and animation is mesmerizing in these moments. Playing with a freshly installed surround system in my house, combat encounters are more pleasing than ever as I hear that excellent combat music kick in and the bone-crunching goodness of a bicycle being crushed against a henchmen’s skull.
It’s not just smashing heads that the franchise is beloved for either. Both the quality and quantity of side offerings are something synonymous with the series and it’s for the most part no exception in Lost Judgment. As a franchise first, Yagami will be able to skate around town with a skateboard, popping ollies and performing tricks where he so pleases.
Then there are the typical arcade adventures that see you playing an older Sega game (I got way too invested in completing Sonic the Fighters, you guys), bars and restaurants to drink at along with your wide variety of side missions and cases to pick up. Highlights in here included reuniting a man with his high school crush, only to have bittersweet consequences and another that saw me trying to wrangle a rogue auteur of a video game company to return to get work done. Players will be pleased to know the gambit of side stories here range from thought-provoking to absolutely out of this world.
A significant means of uncovering many of the side activities comes through Seiryo High School. Yagami’s main case, investigating the reports of bullying and how they tie to the greater mystery already bring him here, though it’s the after school clubs that Yagami can consult and work with that keep him around. Before long, you’re introduced to a club that is made up of a pair of siblings that are budding detective investigators themselves. Naturally, Yagami takes a liking to this pair and it’s with sticking with them that players get introduced to subsequent clubs such as the dancing team hoping to make it to finals, the robotics team and a bunch of skateboarding hooligans.
I quite like this way of introducing the minigames and they’re all substantially fun, whether that’s the rhythm game segments in the dancing or the real-time strategy focus of dominating a field that comes with those creating robots. Cleverly, the game even finds a way to tie these clubs together, with you eventually researching whisperings of a figure known as ‘The Professor,’ dealing with dark web forum requests that affect each group individually and as a whole. Enticing, no?
“… I have the virtual world of Kamurocho and Ijincho to call home again, offering that nice slice of life.”
While these additions prove to be some solid arcade fun, unfortunately, that can’t be said to the gameplay additions Yagami now has as a detective in-game. Stealth sequences can be finicky and end in an instant fail state if you’re seen. Parkour is also here this time around, and while the puzzle of identifying which path to take upon scaling a wall is novel at first, it later becomes sluggish and pads time in a mission. New tools in the form of an audio device that is used to trace sources of sound and a radio device that picks up frequencies are tutorialised so poorly. When it came time to use them outside of the main story and in the open world, I was forever questioning whether I was utilising the device correctly.
I appreciate attempting to add more new stuff into a now long withstanding series, but the fact of the matter is these implementations are clunky and don’t work half of the time. Interestingly, I think RGG are aware these moments aren’t at their best and ask the player to engage in them sparingly. At least we’ll always have the returning tailing or chasing missions, actually serving to be more fun than they have any right to be.
Take or leave some of the minigames, I still wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve yet to complete all of the school clubs but I have gauged which are my favourites and which are worth spending more time in. Similarly, jumping into the arcade that is Club Sega, hoping to win big in a claw machine is as silly and joyous as ever. Ticking off that completion list and seeing everything these Japanese cities have to offer… that’s comforting. I’ve never been to Japan. With everything going on in the world, it will still be some time until I finally get to. At the very least, I have the virtual world of Kamurocho and Ijincho to call home again, offering that nice slice of life.
Lost Judgment is a hell of a game, mess and all. Passing its predecessor in some regards and lagging behind in others, it at least has solid bang for your buck and brings the franchise goods that have been built upon over recent years. However, I’m disappointed by some of the shortfalls. Female character treatment remains a problem in-game and the mystery or detective gameplay don’t feel as solid as the one prior. Still, if you’re after a living breathing world with plenty to do and some of the best combat the series has seen yet, then this is a mystery adventure that still manages to hit hard.