Title: Lost Judgment
Developer: RGG Studio
Release Date: September 24, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Judgment was a needed palette cleanser from developer RGG Studio following the sixth mainline entry of the Yakuza series. While its gameplay identity was similar, Judgment was a significant shakeup thanks to its new cast, detective drama context, and differing thematic lenses.
Now, humorously enough, the newly released Lost Judgment is embedded with an almost opposing identity from its predecessor. This sequel is more representative of the Yakuza series’ past due to Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s dramatically different approach to game design. This could instill some hesitation to this shift, but it’s unwarranted mainly due to just how well it’s executed.
Lost Judgment centers on returning protagonist detective Takayuki Yagami handling a new, disturbing case with multiple loose threads that somehow are connected. Several characters from the first entry return, such as Yagami’s bear of a partner, Kaito, and the employees of Genda Law Offices. Even though this could be played as a standalone game, it would be better enjoyed with the first entry to reference. Several remarks and references are made to past events, and it helps with making the connective tissue cohesive.
Half the thrill of Lost Judgment comes from its fascinating mysteries and overall story, so I won’t discuss this in detail. Premise-wise, Yagami, and Kaito are tasked with investigating cases of bullying occurring at Seriyo High School, a private institution in the newly visitable Ichinjo region. I, admittedly, did find myself somewhat baffled by the focus on this subject matter, but I soon found myself eating my words with how expertly weaved in it was.
Unfortunately, bullying is all too common in our world, and Lost Judgment tackles its grotesque nature quite vividly and courageously, never ashamed of showcasing its effects. The attitudes of the bullies and the victims are genuine and believable, but so are the onlookers and third parties.
Early in the story, Yagami finds that Seriyo High School is connected to an open and shut case involving Hoshino and Saori from Genda Law Offices. They found themselves defending a man caught groping a woman on a subway train. Yet, this same man accused of committing sexual battery is connected to a recently taken place murder. This, as Yagami and his friends realize, is just the first thread of a massive conspiracy spanning decades, multiple interpersonal relationships, and those high up on the societal chains.
Lost Judgment utilizes the foundations of the previous entry to deliver a unique experience with characters who have already endured tremendous growth. However, instead of being one-note and predictable, the returning cast melds with the new characters to create more fulfilling relationships.
Gameplay in Lost Judgment needs no deep dive as, if you’ve played the first game or any of the first 6 Yakuza titles, it’s about what you expect. Action combat returns, and Yagami wields a 3rd new style in addition to the returning Tiger and Crane styles. This new style, Snake, is reliant on timed counters and evasion and is recommended for one-on-one fights. Additionally, snake helps in upping the ante and making boss fights fresh, which is welcoming in a series of games where all manner of battles can feel repetitive.
Skill upgrading, extract creation, and equipment all return with their expected functionalities too. Still, even though the combative identity can be lumped with most of Yakuza, Lost Judgment’s combat does a more than adequate job of evolving Judgment’s design. Kicking thugs’ asses on the street is always satisfying, and not fundamentally fixing what isn’t broken aids in this continued satisfaction.
Furthermore, with Yagami being a detective, stealth returns as a gameplay element alongside new investigative tools like the Noise Amp. These items are never over-used and used as lite reprieves to keep progression moving. The inclusion of the skateboard for faster travel is a neat idea, though its incorporation is somewhat awkward, with it automatically being stored away when on sidewalks. However, it does have its own addicting minigame tied to it, so you get used to the controls.
Moreover, there is a slew of expected minigames and side activities the franchise has been known for. However, let’s be honest; listing each and every possible side activity is needless, so just know that you’re in for a varied array of enjoyable tasks. The drone racing and batting cages are where I had some of my most fun while dabbling in Shogi and Sega arcade games that provided a neat change of pace.
The most noteworthy side activities that deserve mention, though, are the School Stories. After becoming acquainted with Seriyo High School, Yagami can become involved with several school clubs and other student affairs, such as teaching the Dancing Team and advising the Mystery Research Club.
There are so many minigames and side ventures that create bold player agency. It’s easy spending hours with the Seriyo students through these activities. In fact, I found both the quantity and quality of Lost Judgment’s side content to be at the top leagues of what the franchise offers. With DLC coming, I am legitimately impressed with the volume of what is included in this title’s base version.
The English dub is as spectacular as Judgment’s, and though the presence of NPCs emitting Japanese battle grunts and phrases was jarring, these were more minor gripes than anything else. Still, if I have one major critique, it has to do with its first couple of chapters. For as borderline masterful as the narrative ends up being, I was not truly hooked until around 20% through the main story.
The pacing during the early hours was gradual and necessary to build up later consequences, but there was no strong, initial tether with the main cast that made me feel connected to their actions. This isn’t to say the quality of the story was lacking, though. I suppose the best way I can describe it is, I felt like an observer for these initial chapters, while conversely, I felt truly strapped in and actively immersed shortly after.
Lost Judgment is yet another home run for RGG Studio. It boasts an engaging, jaw-dropping narrative with emotional mysteries connected within an immense web of interconnected conspiracies. Additionally, the game’s bold nature in tackling darker themes that can sharply resonate with young adult audiences is remarkably well done. Add on the expected and addicting side activities, minigames, and varied gameplay loop, and you have a sequel that manages to establish its own sturdy identity coupled with non-intrusive elements of the past. Yagami and company have more than proven themselves as magnificent inclusions into the Yakuza franchise at large, and let’s hope we see them return in future Judgment entries.
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