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‘Lost Judgment’ Review: A Captivating Murder Mystery With Heart

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‘Lost Judgment’ Review: A Captivating Murder Mystery With Heart

I won’t beat around the bush: Lost Judgment is absolutely worth your time. A sequel to the 2018 Yakuza spin-off Judgment, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s latest entry in the legendary beat-em-up series is an immaculate murder mystery that defies any and all of the stereotypes that lay before it. Possessing both heart and a level head, Lost Judgment is a game carried by loveable characters, a captivating story, and masterful subversion. The game’s sheer charm, coupled with its engaging story, makes for a tour de force both longtime fans of the Yakuza series and casual gamers alike are sure to fall completely in love with.

Set three years after the events of the first game, Lost Judgment’s story begins with firefighters responding to a supposed fire in an abandoned building in Yokohama district Ijincho. To their horror, they discover that the fire was set intentionally to lead them to a horrifyingly decomposed dead body. Three days later, Akihiro Ehara – an active-duty police officer – is found guilty of sexual assault. But as his verdict is read, Ehara alerts the court to the identity of the deceased; Hiro Mikoshiba, a young man who allegedly drove Ehara’s son to suicide after incessant bullying four years prior. This raises several red flags as authorities have not yet released the identity of the deceased, meaning that Ehara is somehow connected to both crimes. Controlling former defense attorney turned private detective Takayuki Yagami, the player is roped into discovering Ehara’s link to the murder and must uncover a web of conspiracies and lies in order to learn the truth.

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RELATED: ‘Judgment’ Next-Gen Remaster Review: A Wholly Immersive, Unique Detective Story

Where Lost Judgment executes in spades is its balance of dark, sensitive topics like bullying and vengeance without compromising on the Yakuza series’ signature humor and lightheartedness. Moments I experienced ranged from heartwarmingly sweet to heart-wrenchingly tragic, sometimes within moments of each other. There is one chapter in particular that is based completely in a high school where the player will witness vulgar displays of bullying and coldness that can seriously hit a nerve should they have any real-life experience. This unfiltered look into the darkest parts of our primal nature is often discomforting and will elicit a reaction from most players. By that same token, Lost Judgment’s commitment to lightening things up pays off as relief from the unrelenting drama the story boasts. Wisecracks between Yagami and his peers are sure to elicit everything from light chuckles to full-on belly laughs. It’s this ability to delicately walk the line in between drama and comedy that makes Lost Judgment as unique an experience as you’ve had in gaming and one of the most captivating.


Carrying this story is a collective of engaging characters that either completely endear themselves to you, or fill you with copious amounts of contempt. Series favorites such as Yagami’s goofy agency partner Masahuro Kaito, as well as the duo of Fumiya Sugiura and Makoto Tsukumo (who have an agency of their own) all return in Lost Judgment. These four are generally the central figures in the story and who the player will spend the most time with when following the main story. Other important characters returning from Judgment include Saori Shirosaki, Issei Hoshino, and Ryuzo Genda of the Genda Law Firm. While Genda’s firm plays a pivotal role in the story, they do become peripheral figures at certain points in the game. On the other side of the law, Yagami encounters Daimu Akutsu and Kazuki Soma, leaders of the mysterious “RK” crime syndicate and old associates of Kaito’s from his Tojo Clan days. The most engaging of the new characters, however, is Jin Kuwana, a mysterious handyman in Ijincho who assists the Yagami Detective Agency and operates in a very gray moral area.


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All of these characters are properly fleshed out and built up through good story writing. This is greatly aided by the stellar voice acting and direction. Even though playing the game in Japanese with English subtitles will still be the preferred approach by the series’ most diehard fans, the American dub of Lost Judgment is truly just as good due to good casting and great localization. The only downside to playing the game in English is that some of the more detailed cutscenes are obviously lip-synced to the Japanese language, which can sometimes break the immersion. Game engine cutscenes, however, have received proper syncing and won’t be as jarring.

Of course, no Yakuza game is complete without its combat. And trust me, this game has plenty of it! As Yagami, you will come across several thugs who want to rearrange your facial features, be it in story or while casually roaming around. Some battles, both with bosses and large crowds, are absolute wars of attrition that will push you to the edge of what you think you can handle. Returning are the Crane and Tiger fighting styles; Crane being useful for crowd control when fighting multiple enemies, and Tiger being the go-to for singular, more powerful enemy types such as bosses. A new fighting style known as Snake is also introduced. Snake is a more defensive, parry-based fighting system that focuses on quick counter-attacking and will come in handy against enemies who are wielding weapons. So long as the opposition isn’t too powerful, Yagami can end a battle with one strike while using Snake Style if the enemy is in a frightened state.


RELATED: ‘Lost Judgment’ New Images Reveal New NPCs, Side Quests, and the Sega Master System Games You Will Be Able to Play

Graphically, Lost Judgment is simply stunning. The streets of both Kamurocho and Ijincho are lush with beautiful textures and immaculate lighting, while character models are generally striking in their detail. Some of the more minor characters you come across in side quests won’t be as well rendered as the more central figures, but are still animated with care and purpose. The world itself feels wholly immersive and lived in. Even if the districts of Kamurocho and Ijincho aren’t as big as maps we’ve seen in other open-world games such as Red Dead Redemption II or Grand Theft Auto 5, there’s enough to do and explore in these areas to mask its smaller size. This is also helped by the game being spent entirely on foot, minus the times you’ll use the various parked taxi cabs around each city to either fast travel to another taxi point, or go to an alternate area.

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Despite Lost Judgment being a truly great game and experience, there are some issues. On some occasions, especially when taking on a large group of enemies, performing a special move (an “EX Action”) on an enemy would teleport me to another part of the combat area, sometimes putting me in a precarious position. The mini-map is also super frustrating due to it not orientating itself based on the direction you’re facing. Instead, it reads as a static map that you just have to navigate and get used to. The game gives you a skateboard to help navigate the world, but the controls are janky at best and will take some getting used to. This isn’t helped by the fact that using the skateboard is triggered by the same buttons you use to sprint. Other things such as physics glitches and weird animations pop up from time to time, but are typically very minor and never break the immersion. The two biggest glitches I encountered was a cutscene where Yagami’s lips stopped moving, and a surface that enemies would partially fall through in one contained area later in the game. Other than that, the game is very stable and isn’t likely to present any game-breaking issues that ruin your experience.


With everything taken into account, Lost Judgment has made a strong case for being a Game of the Year candidate. The combat system is robust and, above all, fun to use and experiment with, and it’s coupled with an intense and suspenseful main story that I couldn’t put down until I saw it through. The story itself runs well over 20 hours not including side content, giving the game tons of meat on the bone. 2021 has thus far produced some really good games such as Resident Evil Village and Hitman 3, but Lost Judgment feels like the first game of the year that has risen above the rest and establishes itself as an absolute juggernaut with an equal prioritization of narrative focus and fun factor.

Grade: A-

Lost Judgment will be released on September 24th on Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

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Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

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Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

Brad Pitt leads a wickedly funny ensemble in a high-octane actioner loaded with twists. Adapted from the 2010 Japanese novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train has a bevy of disparate assassins manipulated by a mysterious criminal mastermind. Stuntman turned action director, David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), stays true to form with unrelenting bloody and flamboyant violence. The codenamed characters get downright verbose before beating, stabbing, and shooting each other to bits. The loquacious banter tends to run long, but the narrative always bounces back with sharp reveals. Strap in for a helluva ride.

Ladybug (Pitt) boards the overnight bullet train to Tokyo with a newfound sense of self. He’s chock-full of philosophy after recovering from a near fatal ambush. Ladybug ignores his unseen handler’s advice to take a gun. Surely any issues can be resolved peacefully. The job seems straightforward enough. Steal a briefcase with a sticker and exit at the next stop.

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Also on board are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), ruthless “twins” known for their brutal methods. Lemon is obsessed with the British children’s show “Thomas & Friends”. He reads people by comparing them to the anthropomorphized trains. The twins are escorting the previously kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful gangster, the White Death (Michael Shannon).

None of the hired guns are aware of the Father, aka Yuichi Kimura’s (Andrew Koji), mission. He’s out for vengeance but foolishly runs into a deceptive figure. The Prince (Joey King) has a score to settle with the White Death. Meanwhile, the Wolf (Bad Bunny) joins the fray after his truly horrific Mexican wedding. He’s also ready for serious comeuppance. Ladybug quickly realizes they’re all unwitting pawns in a dangerous game. Someone has packed the train with killers for an unknown purpose. He desperately wants to get off but can’t seem to escape the carnage.


Related: I Love My Dad Review: Patton Oswalt’s Delightfully Cringeworthy Catfishing Comedy

Cast of Bullet Train

Bullet Train introduces the cast with splashy entrances that flashes back to their dark pasts. The murderous montages are informative but don’t fill in every gap. The script doles out more critical information as the bodies pile up. Alliances bounce back and forth as everyone wonders who’s actually pulling the strings. The whodunit element works well as the audience becomes embroiled in a series of betrayals. You don’t have a sense of the plot’s true trajectory until the third act. The film builds to a showdown that delivers a huge action payoff.

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Bullet Train has complex characters that each contribute slices of devilish humor. Brad Pitt preaching self-help and understanding is an effective gag throughout. Brian Tyree Henry’s constant comparisons to Thomas & Friends aren’t as comical but play an important role in the story. There are a lot of moving parts. Leitch, who worked as Pitt’s stunt double for years, is clearly fond of his players. He gives everyone a chance to babble incessantly. I would have trimmed the dialogue to be more incisive.


The action scenes are worth the price of admission. Leitch has a great eye for mixing stylized set pieces with intimate fights. He knows when to go big and small. You never feel let down by his pacing. There’s always the right amount of adrenaline to keep your pulse pumping. Bullet Train is another feather in a skilled filmmaker’s cap. Watch out for A-list cameos and a mid-credits scene.

Bullet Train is a production of Columbia Pictures, Fuqua Films, and 87North Productions. It will be released theatrically on August 5th from Sony Pictures.

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Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

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Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

If orchestrated properly, with adjusted stakes, tone, and atmosphere, there can be a beautiful, symbiotic relationship between intense action and comedy. A hero pulling off a rapid and vicious series of blows against an opponent can be savage and dramatic in one context, but it can also be so deliriously awesome that an audience’s first reaction is to laugh. Fast paced martial arts can be used for wonderful physical humor (see: the legendary career of Jackie Chan), and the best examples provide dual layers of entertainment: you marvel at the skill in all the ass-kicking, and cackle at the creativity in the choreography.

This is a sweet spot that filmmaker David Leitch knows well. After peppering funny moments in John Wick and Atomic Blonde at the start of his directorial career, he brilliantly utilized the action/comedy weapon that is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, and crafted some excellent physicality with the unique styles of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. His latest, Bullet Train, is another effort that takes aim at that particular tonal target, this time with his most expansive ensemble yet, and it’s another success. With a sensibility that could be described as early Guy Ritchie with more specific action focus, it’s a movie that is both silly and skilled and inspires its primary star in particular to do energetic and engaging work.

Based on the novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, the film weaves multiple narrative threads through the cars of the titular bullet train as it speeds through the country of Japan – all of the protagonists being killers with their own particular reason and motivation for being aboard. Ladybug (Brad Pitt), for example, is a hired gun who has been tasked by his handler (Sandra Bullock) to perform what sounds like a simple job: find a briefcase marked with a train sticker and steal it. What he doesn’t know, though, is that said briefcase belongs to a pair of British hit men named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and that the contents include the recovered ransom for the kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful crime lord known as The White Death.

Meanwhile, Kimura a.k.a. The Father (Andrew Koji) is on the bullet train because he is on a mission of vengeance – hunting down the person responsible for nearly killing his son by pushing the boy off of a building. What he doesn’t expect is that the individual he is looking for is a young woman identified as The Prince (Joey King), and that she has purposefully gotten him on the high speed rail with the intention of forcing him to execute an assassination attempt.

And while five killers sharing the space would be enough for most movies, Bullet Train actually has even more that pop in and surprise throughout the film’s runtime – and their roles are worth keeping as a secret pre-release.

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Bullet Train has a chaotic storyline, but the pieces properly connect as a fun puzzle.

Narratively speaking, Bullet Train is a messy movie to put together, as focus briskly ping-pongs between the different players, but everything stays in harmony as the film persistently finds ways to build on each protagonist’s arc. This is particularly cool later in the movie as different characters are drawn together from individual angles and instant conflict is generated from their simple interaction.

The film is at its best when it keeps things simple, but it does let things go off the rails at times (if you’ll pardon the pun). This is especially true as it gets into the third act and it tries to pull off stunts like one of the leads leaping from a platform on to the back of the train as it leaves a station; it’s both a problem for the “rules” of the universe and in its strained use of visual effects. The movie also frequently tries to get a bit too cute and Tarantino-esque with what are admittedly familiar-but-not-quite-stock characters – the most prominent example being an ongoing and quickly tiresome gag with Lemon explaining that he understands people through the lens of Thomas The Tank Engine.

Primarily, though, it’s a movie that is able to generate its entertainment with engaging and quippy dynamics between the members of the ensemble, both when they are talking out their issues and trying to kill one another.

David Leitch puts a lot of exciting and weird fights in a confined space, and is at its best when working with a “less is more” philosophy.

Coming from a stunt background, both as a performer and a coordinator, David Leitch’s bread and butter remains deftly and specifically choreographed action sequences, and Bullet Train proves to be a terrific challenge and opportunity for his skills. Regardless of where you are in the titular transport, space is not a luxury, and the best fights in the movie are those that are being fought only between the characters, but against the limitations provided by the location.

There are guns, knives and explosives in the mix, but Bullet Train also has some terrific “found item” moments that add spice and humor to the various showdowns, whether it’s a pocketed cell phone saving a character’s life from a blade, a laptop making for a solid cudgel, a water bottle making for a useful projectile, or a venomous snake showing up at a perfect moment.

Once again we see David Leitch work a special magic turning dramatic and comedic actors into badasses with slick and stylish moves, and while everyone shows off some terrific skills, it’s very much the Brad Pitt show at the end of the day.

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Brad Pitt’s joy in the role of Ladybug is palpable.

At the nexus of everything good in Bullet Train is Brad Pitt, who very clearly had a blast reuniting with David Leitch (who performed the actor’s stunts in films including Fight Club, The Mexican, Mr. And Mrs. Smith and Troy). He’s a joy to watch in action not just because of the talented craft he demonstrates in his physicality, but how he channels the psychology of the character. As we meet him, Ladybug is reluctantly getting back into his business following a number of important breakthroughs with his therapist, and Pitt does a fantastic job conveying that he doesn’t ever want to choose violence as a first answer – both via verbal pleas and defense-heavy moves. Action/comedy is a genre he should revisit a lot more often.

Bullet Train doesn’t aim to revolutionize hitman movies, but instead plays with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that lets you recognize the tropes and appreciate how the film plays with them. It’s a slick/goofy action movie that is both contained and wild, and a satisfying late summer release.

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Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

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Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

The world’s unluckiest woman enters a magical land to change the fortunes of a fellow orphan. Luck will make you smile and possibly shed a few tears. The big-budget, CGI animated fantasy shines a spotlight on needy children while telling a truly original story. An assortment of lucky critters and creatures dazzle in a spectacular setting. The highly imaginative narrative gives age-old superstitions a dynamic new spin. Luck is a brilliant first film from Skydance Animation.

Sam Greenfield (Eva Noblezada) reaches her eighteenth birthday with trepidation. She’s finally aged out of the foster care system. Sam never found her “forever family”. She spent her entire life living in orphanages. It doesn’t help that Sam has the worst luck. Everything she does or touches ends in abject disaster. Her only thoughts are for young Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), Sam’s roommate at the girls home. Sam has been set up with a job and tiny apartment. She has to stay in school and employed to remain housed.

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Sam’s first day at Marv’s (Lil Rel Howery) floral shop goes exactly as expected. She sadly eats dinner sitting on a sidewalk. Sam learns that Hazel’s weekend trip with a foster family was canceled. She gives half of her sandwich to a curious black cat. It scampers away but leaves a strange penny behind.

The following day is a revelation. Sam’s lucky penny changes everything. Her ecstatic mood sours when she loses the penny in spectacular fashion. Stewing on the sidewalk, Sam’s surprised when the black cat returns. She’s astonished when Bob (Simon Pegg) asks for his penny. The “travel penny” is the only way a creature from the Land of the Luck stays safe in the human world. She follows an unnerved Bob back through the portal to the Land of Luck. Sam has to find another lucky penny to help Hazel. Bob reluctantly agrees, but they have to be careful. Misdeeds end up in banishment to Bad Luck.

Related: Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octaine Thrill Ride

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The Land of Luck

The Land of Luck is an absolute joy to behold. Leprechauns, cats, pigs, and rabbits, lucky creatures, are the bureaucrats tasked with spreading good fortune. Bringing Sam in such a place is a recipe for absolute chaos. Bob, and his leprechaun assistant Gerry’s (Colin O’Donoghue), efforts to contain Sam’s bad luck will have audiences in stitches. I’m still chuckling at Sam’s “Latvian leprechaun” disguise; their harebrained excuse for why she’s so much bigger than everyone else.

Luck’s serious themes are artfully addressed. Sam’s lonely childhood, and her desperate efforts to change Hazel’s, brings a melancholic touch to the narrative. The film reminds us to not take love and family for granted. Every kid deserves care, nurturing, and a safe place to grow. It shouldn’t take luck or chance for a child to find a “forever home”.

Insert sigh here. Recent headlines concerning John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars) will undoubtedly cloud this film’s release. The genius storyteller and animator behind Pixar’s success left to head Skydance Animation after awful “Me Too” allegations. He’s brought his incredible talent to Luck, and it shows. This wonderful film deserves to be judged on its own merits. Sometimes we must divorce ourselves from art and the personality of the artist.

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Luck is a production of Skydance Animation and Apple Original Films. It will have an exclusive Apple TV+ premiere on August 5th.

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