Lost Judgment is like two games in one – and then some, once you start counting the various minigames, including a large collection of Master System classics. The Yakuza series, of which this is a spin-off, has always been known for deftly swinging from serious melodrama to zany comedy, but it’s never been so keenly split as with lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami’s new case.
At first, he finds himself in the same neighbourhood of Yokohama as in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, going undercover at a private high school to investigate claims of bullying. This, however, intertwines with a seemingly open-and-shut sexual assault trial that uncovers a gruesome murder and more buried secrets.
Getting entangled in convoluted plot threads is a Yakuza speciality that fits better in the perspective of a professional sleuth, but Lost Judgment’s themes of suicide and bullying also hit a lot more raw nerves, including a few particularly upsetting scenes. Yet despite being a series that practically trades in tonal whiplash, the subject matter is treated with the seriousness it demands, even going as far as discussing the prehistoric origins of bullying. In any case, the game tries to offer more interesting solutions than simply having you smack some no-good delinquents around, while also wading into the murky greys of retributive justice when the law fails to protect.
In parallel to this are School Stories, which sees Yagami doing his best ‘how do you do fellow kids’ routine infiltrating school clubs as an ‘outside counsellor’ to track down a mystery villain while also helping students face their own problems. They’re like the Social Links of the Persona games, except they’re arguably more engaging for having their own substantial minigames. It’d be inaccurate to call these a complete contrast to the main story since some still deal in pretty heavy themes, even if you’re also partaking in rhythm action dancing, a fairly deep version of Robot Wars, and even trying to ‘git gud’ in a Virtua Fighter 2 tournament.
However, the main case is just so gripping and tightly paced that it reaches a point where you’re less likely to be distracted, especially as some School Stories take a bit more of a grind for more to unlock. It’s for that reason I would advise saving these for the post-game, and considering these also have post-launch DLC, the developers probably feel the same way.
Of course, for those who want a slice of virtual tourism, that’s still possible – even better now that your first-person mode comes with a zoom-in function to better appreciate the detailed environments. Ultimately, Lost Judgment’s biggest strength comes from having one of the most gripping stories of the year that’s more bingeable than the latest Netflix crime drama. Yes, it’s definitely a bit less cerebral than a detective game like Paradise Killer, but as someone who doesn’t want an obtuse puzzle to kill the drama’s momentum, I have no objections on that front.
While the mainline Yakuza games are now turn-based battles, returning to real-time brawling in Lost Judgment feels wonderfully fresh, especially as Yagami’s fighting animations flow more smoothly than before. Best of all is the new Snake style, which specialises in counters. If the conditions are right, you can perform EX moves that scare enemies into submission.
A vastly improved sequel and hopefully not the last we’ll hear from Yagami.
Genre: Action / Detective thriller
Format: PS5 (tested) / XB X/S / PS4 / XBO
Developer: RGG Studio
Release: Out now