You’ve heard the rumors for days; in the dark of night, after all the students have gone home, the model of the human body from the science classroom awakens and stalks the halls of Seiryo High School. It sounds too absurd to be true, but far stranger and graver things have been afoot at the school of late, and you have to chase down every lead to uncover the truth. And so here you are, walking the eerily quiet buildings in search of what has to be some kind of prankster, when suddenly… you watch dumbfounded with your own eyes as the body model crosses the end of the long hallway. As you give pursuit, it sees you and takes flight, hucking its organs at you in an attempt to slow you down as it dives through windows, hops fences, and takes evasive action, and all the while you’re wondering to yourself if any of this is actually happening and how you even got mixed up in this mess to begin with.
This is, of course, all in a day’s work for Takayuki Yagami, Lost Judgment‘s protagonist and primary player character, who makes his return after the initial success of 2018’s Judgment, the risky but spirited spinoff of the core Yakuza series that focuses on telling a noir-inspired private detective story and exploring the world of Yakuza from the opposite side of the law, and all of the ways in which both the criminal and legal worlds are intertwined. No longer burdened with having to prove itself and its cast as a viable contender, and riding on the recent surge in popularity of the Yakuza series in the west, Lost Judgment sets its sights high in an attempt to deliver a story and world far bigger and richer than on its inaugural outing. If the first Judgment was a demonstration of what other stories from this universe could look like, and what the potential of this specific franchise could be, Lost Judgment wants very badly to demonstrate that the franchise can stand on its own and that it is deserving of your time and attention.
It’s a curious sequel in that it follows the traditional arc of a follow-up to a successful first go, but is somewhat inconsistent in the ways that it tries to go bigger. Lost Judgment pulls few punches in its attempts to amp up the qualities of its predecessor, and it succeeds in fleshing out its world in many ways. The game takes advantage of work done for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, using both Kamurocho and LAD‘s new Ijincho region to tell its story across two cities in an effort to increase the scope and gravity of the narrative. One of the immediately beneficial side effects of this is that there’s significantly more game area to explore, and the offering of side activities and side cases is robust enough that it’s safe to say there’s more meat on the bone in Lost Judgment, and plenty of cases for Yagami to solve.
Where Lost Judgment is really trying to push into bigger things is in its story, which opens with a big moment in a Tokyo courtroom, where a disgraced police officer Akihiro Ehara accused of groping a woman on the subway waits for his conviction to be handed down to announce to the world that the body of a man named Hiro Mikoshiba has been recently discovered, providing his exact location and circumstances of death, baffling everybody in attendance as to how he could know any of this after having been in isolation for weeks. The only way he could know is if he had committed the crime himself, and yet he has the airtight alibi of already having been in police custody, and so Ehara’s defense lawyers from Genda Law Office enlist the help of Yagami and his partner Kaito to investigate the mystery of how Ehara could have killed Mikoshiba, who Ehara also reveals is the man who drove his own son to suicide years ago through relentless bullying.
The setup for the story is strong, and the narrative follows the typical Yakuza formula of starting off with a bang and then slowing way down to spend several chapters developing characters and establishing a framework for the larger tale that’s about to unfold. The biggest challenge that Lost Judgment faces narratively is that it is influenced by the continuity of the core Yakuza series, and as such it’s the first game in the larger Yakuza fiction to be released since the Tojo clan and Omi Alliance disbanded at the end of Like a Dragon, creating a world (at least in Kamurocho and Ijincho) without a traditional Yakuza presence. It does start to tease at how future Yakuza entries will explore filling the void left by the eponymous crime family organizations, though, as there’s now plenty of room for other criminal organizations to filter in, notably the Yokohama Liumang and the Geomijul from Like a Dragon, and the very newly formed and pesky RK gang.
While the threats against Yagami and his friends have effectively multiplied, they lack the gravitas naturally lent by the presence of the sometimes larger-than-life Yakuza families. Everything feels scrappier and less predictable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in much the same way as many of the disenfranchised Yakuza members are trying to find their way in this new world, so too is Lost Judgment trying to make sense of how to anchor itself in this post-Yakuza Ijincho. The answer comes from the A-plot, which centers around the very real world problem of bullying, and the effects it has directly on victims and indirectly on the people around them.
It’s somewhat surprising to see a video game take on this particular subject, especially in a series that usually takes on stories about the criminal underworld, but following on Judgment‘s plot about a potential new miracle treatment for Alzheimer’s, it’s clear that the Judgment franchise intends to carve out its niche exploring themes of justice for those who are less able to fight for themselves, which is reflected from multiple angles in Lost Judgment‘s story, as it’s not just about justice for victims of bullying, an activity that often occurs away from the oversight of anybody who could otherwise put a stop to it, but also for those impacted by bullying activities and their inability to get justice for their families due to the lack of the school institution’s or legal system’s ability to effectively mitigate or reprimand bullies themselves. How can a kid get out from under bullying when their fellow students look the other way? How can the grieving parents of a suicide victim feel closure or peace when the bully who drove their child to kill themselves walks free with no consequences?
On the surface, its heady stuff, but for large portions of Lost Judgment‘s runtime, these questions and the pursuit of answers to them feel more like a thought experiment than an indictment of the systems that allow bullying and injustice to go unchecked. Thankfully, once all of the pieces begin to click together in the third act, and the scope of the murder mystery is revealed to be (surprise!) much grander than it seemed at the outset, the beats in the story begin to feel more consequential, and in many ways it’s easy to sympathize with Ehara even if his action are condemnable.
More of the Same, But Better. And More.
Actually playing Lost Judgment is more of the same Judgment/Yakuza gameplay you’re already familiar with, but RGG have made many improvements to some of the most-derided systems introduced in the first game and learned to use Yagami’s toolkit much more effectively. You’ll spend a lot of time in conversations, of course, and plenty of time running from Point A to Point B, and there’s no shortage of fighting around town now that every punk looking to make a name for themselves is out roaming the streets and itching for a brawl. Getting around town is easier than ever, thanks to the combination of the usual network of taxi stations, and the new and totally radical addition of Yagami’s skateboard to the mix, which he can whip out on any road and use to zip around town more quickly than he can sprint.
Detective sections are far less tedious this time around, with better hinting in evidence searching mode, much more forgiving mechanics in the subject tailing mode, and clearer definition to the rules in the chasing mode (which is used for comedic effect more often than you’d expect). Also new are stealth sequences which are pretty decently implemented (though not perfect) for a first go, and parkour traversal sequences that allow Yagami to get around to places he wouldn’t have otherwise before, so apparently he’s been learning some tricks from Sugiura over the past few years.
Fights with thugs around town are plentiful, as I mentioned, but Lost Judgment does a significantly better job of incentivizing you to engage in them this time, owing to the fact that its one of the best ways to gain Skill Points (SP) quickly thanks to bonuses for feats performed in fights and the ability to spend SP on skills that multiply the amount of SP you get from fights, up to 300%. Suddenly, fights become an extremely good way to jack up your SP to spend on other skills, and SP feels like way less of a precious commodity this time, which is good because the overall number of skills to purchase for Yagami is greater too. The fighting system builds on the traditional fighter/brawler mechanics found in Judgment and all of the Yakuza games up through Yakuza 6, giving Yagami three fighting styles to swap between at any time, including the all new Crane style which is focused on evasion and quick movements, which Yagami casually mentions he made up on his own in the beginning of the game.
Yagami also has access to new detective tools this time, so in addition to piloting his drone, he can use a microphone to eavesdrop from a distance, a signal detector to track down bugs or other suspicious radio sources, and the detective dog Ranpo whose nose for crime solving might outdo even Yagami’s natural intuition. Lost Judgment even has its own knock-off version of Twitter, a social media app called Chatter, which Yagami’s white-hat hacker buddy Tsukumo helps him use to lock in on hotspots of posts about specific keywords to follow existing leads or uncover new ones. The overall effect is that you feel even more like a private detective with a robust set of spy gadgets and skills at your disposal, and I think the sense of fulfilling that role is significantly improved overall.
Stay a While, And Butt In
There’s a whole lot going on with the main case, but it wouldn’t be an RGG game without a plethora of additional content to take on, and thankfully Lost Judgment brings that in spades. The main diversions from Judgment, drone racing and the Dice & Cube VR board game return in better, more feature-rich forms, and they are accompanied by the debut of an arcade shooter reminiscent of Geometry Wars, and of course the typical stable of SEGA arcade games and sports activities like the driving range and batting cages.
Side Cases, the game’s version of side quests, are also back and I’m happy to say the content of them is significantly improved over the original game’s offering. The stories feel more substantial and clever, and RGG have pulled way back in their reliance on the Tailing and Chasing mini-games, opting instead to use them for as ways to enhance the story rather than chores you have to get through to advance it. There are also slightly fewer Side Cases this go round (not counting the multi-part steps of larger cases), which helps the stories in them feel more unique and interesting, and generally they avoid rehashing similar territory. So, instead of chasing dirtbags or cheaters around town, you get involved in more interesting and strange capers like following UFO sightings, tracking down a nefarious “detective” who uses his skills for unsavory purposes, saving a visionary game director from his overzealous producer, or getting to the bottom of the curse surrounding a family heirloom.
Rounding things out are the inclusion of School Stories, another flavor of Side Cases that tell larger narratives spread across sets of cases that are tied to each of Seiryo High School’s ten student interest clubs. This is honestly some of my favorite content in the entire game, as it’s a place where Lost Judgment gets to live simultaneously in its serious and silly sides. It’s a little absurd that Yagami manages to continually get himself roped into being an “outside advisor” for every one of these clubs, but that’s part of the fun, and the school’s chairman is all too happy to oblige if it means possibly cleaning up the school’s image in the wake of the main story’s events. So, Yagami quickly finds himself embroiled in helping the Mystery Research Club get to the bottom of a mysterious site on the Dark Web being run by a character calling themselves The Professor, who assists students with all manner of unsavory anonymous requests that have major implications in real life.
As you work to get to the bottom of the central School Stories mystery, you’ll find yourself playing rhythm mini games as you guide the Dance Club to victory in a subplot clearly riffing on the likes of Bring it On!, or piloting battle bots with the Robotics Club as you try to form relationships with the students and gain their confidence to gather clues. It’s an absolute riot of a twist on the formula and the interactions Yagami has with the kids are incredibly endearing, and it really helps cement Seiryo High School as a central pillar of the overall game.
Lost Judgment has so much going on in it, it’s kind of hard to paint a complete picture of what’s available. This is a full-fat experience, building on the promise of the first game and feeling like a much more well-realized iteration of the concept’s vision. In most ways, I think Lost Judgment is successful in proving it’s capable of carrying itself, though it has the double-edged fortune of both standing on the shoulders of last year’s epic Yakuza: Like a Dragon while also trying to escape its shadow. It’s a worthy follow-up that feels like it’s building up to something great, and while the narrative doesn’t conclude with quite the same impact as its forbear, it’s still a well-told story with depth, heart, and insight. The fact that the rest of the game is so rich and that the characters are so well written make Lost Judgment an easy recommendation, and its an adventure you won’t soon forget.
A PlayStation 5 code was provided by the publisher for review purposes