Yakuza is a series that I have really gotten into over the last couple of years and has turned me into a real fan of it since starting with Yakuza 0 with each entry following it. While I do love the Yakuza games and what they bring narratively, I really started appreciating the developer, RGG Studio’s approach to storytelling even more with Yakuza spinoff, Judgment (2019).
Unlike past Yakuza games, Judgment focused on telling a story not from the perspective of an ex-Yakuza but this time around from a civilian, Takayuki Yagami, a defence lawyer-turned detective. Judgment gave a more realistic approach to the RGG games fans knew with a captivating detective story that unravelled deeper the more players went in. It really kept me in suspense all the way through and at times felt truly personal with its focus on the fictional untested cure to Alzheimer’s disease. Its sequel, Lost Judgment takes it a step further in a gripping narrative that again feels pretty personal especially to anyone who has ever been bullied in their life.
Yagami is Heading to Yokohama
Lost Judgment kicks off with our hero, Yagami and his partner, Kaito staking out their target with a client. After finishing the case with the game going through the motions of introducing the player to the mechanics of the game, the dynamic duo heads to Yagami’s old stomping grounds, the Genda Law office where Yagami finds out his former colleagues are handling defence on a sexual harassment case.
The game cuts to the court where former police officer, Akihara Ehara is on trial for groping a woman on the subway. The result of the trial is pretty obvious with all the evidence is stacked up against him as it was captured on video of him doing the deed which followed him running out of the subway train car. He doesn’t get away though, as he gets caught by civilians on the scene which was captured on a smartphone which went viral.
After hearing his guilty verdict, Ehara creepily smiles at hearing his punishment. He then reveals to the court and the media in the audience that an unidentified decayed corpse that was discovered three days ago belonged to a young man named Hiro Mikoshiba. He adds that Mikoshiba deserved to die for bullying his son, Toshiro Ehara at Seiryo high school which ultimately led to his suicide four years ago.
Lost Judgment‘s Narrative focuses on Bullying
During the trial, Yagami gets a call from Sugiura and Tsukumo, who formed their own detective agency, Yokohama 99. They reveal they want to team up with the Yagami Detective agency to deal with a rampant bullying case at Seiryo High in Yokonama, the main setting of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
After finishing with the bullying case later in the game, Yagami gets a call from Saori, the attorney from Genda Law Office handling Ehara’s defence case who tells Yagami she believes the sexual harassment case and Mikoshiba’s murder are connected. Saori wants Yagami to find that connection while he’s in Yokohama. From there, it unravels a huge series of events that involves the school, the court system, the past, public security, and once again a higher-up position in the government.
This leads to a gripping narrative of what happens when a person’s sense of justice is blinded in the pursuit of revenge against the bullies who led their victims to suicide. When such a path opens up, one’s judgment of what’s right get’s lost at some point as the victims of bullying unknowingly become what they despise in this never-ending cycle of hate.
Back to Yakuza Gameplay Basics
While the Yakuza series has shifted genres to RPG recently with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Lost Judgment sticks to its roots as an action brawler. The combat feels very fluid and honestly a bit easier to control than the original Judgment game. RGG has upgraded their animation game when it comes to the wrestling-like ‘EX’ action moves you can activate during combat which is ridiculously over the top as usual and awesome like in past games. This time around you also get to use such moves and more – for the first time in RGG’s Yakuza universe – on high schoolers.
My favourite EX move is definitely any of the team-up moves you do with your returning NPC teammates – Kaito, Sugiara, and Higashi. I think Yagami and Kaito have the best ones by far. Especially the one where an enemy gets launched up into the air by Yagami and Kaito launching him farther by hitting a spine breaker-like punch to the enemy’s back with Yagami ending the sequence with an axe kick. That move oozes all the anime feels because in real life that man’s back would be broken like Bane infamously did to Batman.
A New Fighting Style in Yagami’s Arsenal
One of the things that RGG has added to the sequel gameplay-wise is a third fighting style Yagami has taught himself during his time off from the limelight. His first two fighting styles include Tiger (for fighting groups of enemies) and Crane (for one on one encounters). Yagami’s new fighting style, Snake focuses more on counters, parries, and reversals during combat which is honestly one of my favourite fighting styles to use in the game.
Yagami can also skateboard as a 38-year-old detective with all the ‘how do you do fellow kids’ energy on the streets of Yokohama, which helps because the main location of the game is way bigger than Kamurocho so the extra speed honestly helps with getting around. Also, there was a little ‘you got chocolate in my peanut butter’ moment in the game as Yagami can now transverse ledges through parkouring which aesthetically feels very inspired by Uncharted that honestly feels fine. Unlike those Naughty Dog games, RGG Studios. added bar gauge for how long Yagami can hold onto a ledge. That honestly wasn’t needed as I personally never ran out of time but I get it as it’s in line with RGG’s realistic approach to the game. The game also adds a stealth system that you use most in the main campaign which honestly feels very experimental but you take out enemies from behind after distracting them by throwing a coin.
More Focus on New Tools
While Lost Judgment doesn’t focus that much on the drone, other than races and cinematic cut scenes it doesn’t utilize it that much in the game. Speaking of which as an aside RGG has also scaled back on tailing missions which were pretty annoying in the first game, if you go into a tailing mission it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome too much thankfully. The reason for that has to do with Lost Judgment‘s introduction of new tools including a noise amp, detector, and Ranpo, your Shiba Inu detective dog. Each of these new aspects of the game has more of a presence in Lost Judgment‘s side content.
One of the greatest aspects of RGG games is how is it deals and balances tone. One moment the game can be dealing with the super seriousness of the main plot and then it shifts to more light-hearted nature if its side content the series is known for. In Lost Judgment that could anywhere from buying an anime figure before a reseller for Tsukomo to helping find a game director so a VR game studio can finish the project.
You usually find that type of content with side cases but Lost Judgment this time around adds even more side content with School stories that honestly feels like its own thing at times. Yagami will spend a lot of time at Seiryo High but he needs to be a club advisor in order to be allowed to stay on the school campus which helps with the main plot of the game. The school itself feels very much like its own location that compliments Yokohama with so many things to do at the school and characters to interact with.
School Stories is an Excellent Addition
Yagami becomes the advisor of the Mystery Research Club which leads to the president loaning Yagami to help investigate the rumours of the other clubs to unveil a huge online conspiracy involving the Seiryo High students. Yagami is able to help out ten clubs which includes helping get the Dance/Robotics Club to the nationals, working out at the local boxing gym, even joining the local motorcycle gang. School stories honestly gave me all the sports anime energy and it was honestly more distracting to the main story in the best way possible as you help these kids get on the right path.
Visually Lost Judgment is a beautiful game as it continues to present the game as a detective TV series with Lost Judgment as its second season. The recap at the start of every chapter is not going anywhere thankfully, which is a presentation aspect of the game I personally love and I’m glad the developer didn’t cut in the sequel. Ever since RGG Studios upgraded to the Dragon Engine starting with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the details and facial animations have been improving every time with every new game they’ve put out.
I applaud the developers for bringing this game to life because they’ve outdone themselves again. Although will say while playing in resolution priority there are some visual errors that appear at times during cutscenes but other than that it still looked fantastic. Onto the game’s music, there is a couple of reused background music I noticed during my playthrough but the main opening theme I wasn’t much of a fan of compared to Judgment‘s banger opening theme song it definitely wasn’t as good.
With Lost Judgment being another cross-gen release that comes with exclusive next-gen features for resolutions. Players will have the choice of choosing between two graphics modes. The first mode is the standard mode which prioritizes frame rates over resolution, which is 1440p at 60 fps while the other mode resolution priority as it says in the name prioritizes resolution, which is a native 4K resolution at 30 fps. I personally went with resolution priority on the PS5 version of the game to see how visually beautiful the game looks but after switching to standard, I honestly wish I went standard because at 60 fps it plays much better.
The English Cast is Once Again Fantastic
Judgment was the first game since the first Yakuza game on PS2 to bring to feature an English dub in the RGG games. I was a huge fan of Judgment‘s English dub because of not just having an awesome cast like Greg Chun’s performance as Yagami but because of Sega’s approach to the dubbing. It never at any point felt like Sega was westernizing the world as the English cast does a great job portraying the characters while still feeling very Japanese with the inclusion of characters saying honorifics and so much more and makes me wish the other games in the Yakuza series like Kiryu’s saga could be played at 60 fps.
Like other games in RGG Studio’s catalogue, there are tons of mini-games whether it’s playing retro Sega games or even playing VR Paradise which can rack you up tons of money to buy items in stores. Additionally, school stories offer club mini-games too which include boxing, battle bot destruction with the robotics, motorcycle racing in Mad Max environment, and even the Dance Club’s Rythm dancing gameplay which I’m super bad at but still had fun when I got lucky with the inputs. My favourite by far is the skateboarding school story where you get to play in a Tony Hawk Pro skater-lite play session where you wrack up points by collecting coins, doing moves on a half-pipe, and grinding on rails.
RGG Studios’ Masterclass storytelling at its Best
Lost Judgment is a gripping narrative that pushes the envelope of RGG Studio’s storytelling in an emotional and dramatic story that is without doubt game of the year worthy. It’s a shame that RGG’s games never get the recognition they deserve because in my mind they are on the same level as superb western storytellers like Naughty Dog. If more people played RGG games they would see what I’m talking about as their effort into narrative design and storytelling should be applauded with Lost Judgment being their best work yet. Lost Judgment is a much darker story this time around plus you feel much more empathy to other characters compared to the antagonists in Judgment, which at times didn’t feel redeemable, this is the opposite for Lost Judgement.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s Impact is Very Much Felt
The topic of bullying in this game is honestly something that I gravitate to as a victim of it and overall it is an international issue that a lot of people can sympathize with no matter what country you were born in or the culture you were brought up in. Bullying is not something that you see a lot of media tackle and Lost Judgment‘s team of writers gives the angle the respect it deserves in a dramatic captivating story that is honestly the best story of 2021. The focus on bullying could have been like an after-school special but it never comes across that way, high school bullies you beat up repeatedly in the game actually get character development throughout the game and by the end of the game become better people than they were.
They went beyond to a point of surpassing the original Judgment, which I love but definitely felt like a Yakuza spinoff as it took place in Kamurcho. The same can’t be said for Lost Judgment as it feels very much like its own piece of work instead of trying to be something it’s not. I think that is in contribution to Yakuza: Like a Dragon which helped push what a world without Yakuza organizations like the Tojo Clan or Omi Alliance would look like. That doesn’t mean you won’t be fighting any Yakuza in the game as they still exist as a force in the game in some unofficial shape or form. The fallout of that game is definitely felt in Lost Judgment in the best way possible which is great as it pushes the narrative that both the Yakuza and Judgment games take place in this universe are connected in some way kinda like the MCU but it’s just not in your face about it.
While Lost Judgment is a continuation of the last game, you don’t really need to play the first game to get into Lost Judgment as it plays like a standalone story. Although I would say it definitely helps playing Judgment firstly it’s a fantastic game and secondly, it gives you a better understanding of the recurring characters and their relationships with other characters. Additionally, key moments and nods to the first Judgment game and Yakuza: Like a Dragon do get referenced but it’s not that often plus easter eggs do get thrown out from time to time too. No matter what if you’re a fan of the Yakuza games you’re going to have a fantastic time with Lost Judgment, but that doesn’t mean new fans won’t get anything out of it is really welcoming to anyone who has never picked up a RGG Studios game before.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5