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