Judgment marked the beginning of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios leaving behind the Yakuza drama in Kamurocho. With the Tojo Clan and Omi Alliance completely disbanded, a spin-off with a new focus on a character who is both a detective and lawyer emerged.
Takayuki Yagami would become a hero of Kamurocho, as he helped people and solved crimes. His methods differed from Kiryu and Ichiban, due to his discrete approach to handling situations. Instead of charging into buildings and fighting everyone, Yagami opted for subterfuge. Along with his brutal, former Tojo, best bud Kaito; they would conduct elaborate schemes to infiltrate.
On top of having the most fluid combat ever in any prior Yakuza game, Yagami’s games offered so much more variety than anything before. Compounded with stellar writing with characters you’ll get attached to, Judgment proved to be a worthy spin-off that eclipsed most of the main games.
Lost Judgment builds upon the foundation further; and expands the scope so massively, it becomes the largest and most substantial entry in the franchise yet.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: September 24, 2021
Players: 1-2 (online)
Price: $59.99 USD
Lost Judgment is an epic crime drama that unfurls with mysteries compounding on each other. The core of the plot is centered on bullying, a topic that has been admittedly played out. Yet Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios manages to put a creative spin on it, having it support the series reoccurring theme of corruption.
There is a lot of backstory to uncover as the scenario plays out. Yagami and his merry band of sleuths and law experts dig deep and sift through information and misinformation, from all kinds of unlikely sources. At the center of everything is a fully realized high school set in the Ijincho district; the same city used in the magnificent Like A Dragon.
What begins as a simple case involving a bullied female student, unravels with connecting ongoing cases of alleged suicides that tie to the school’s past; and how the events led to a mysterious murder and the perfect alibi.
The plot is engrossingly meticulous, with many players involved with clear motivations. Not everything is as it seems, and enemies grow into allies, and characters who seemed trustworthy turned out to be heinously evil.
To carry this dense mystery is a wonderful cast of characters. Yagami, Kaito, and the Genda Law office crew make returns, and their personalities are as wonderful as ever. Kaito is like a brasher and dumber Kiryu, he is extremely loyal, and a fierce fighter. Director Genda is as boisterous and affable as ever, and truly feels like a father figure to the team.
Sadly, Hoshino seems to have regressed as a character from the first game. His development from weenie intern to head strong lawyer has been dropped in favor of keeping him as a dorky comic relief. Saori is the secretly sexy lady in the office who carries a cold and sarcastic demeanor. She is actually the most competent on staff, and has the biggest role in the story at Genda.
Yagami is the player character, and his role is the one who gets his hands dirty. This usually means sneaking into places he shouldn’t, tailing suspects, and beating up kids. Since a substantial part of the story is tied to school bullying, the player will find themselves having to break some noses and shins of high schoolers who act like extras in the anime Cromartie High School.
The battling further evolves the beat ’em up action established in the Yakuza games. Yagami’s fighting mechanics still function with the same foundation in prior entries; a series of light attacks that can be followed up with heavy attacks that initiate devastating blows. But now his playability and fluidity surpasses anything the series has had before.
Yagami has a new third kung-fu style, the Snake stance; which specializes in disarming, fake-outs, and defensive play. This is one of the best contributions to his repertoire of brutality, and offers many more options than the series has seen.
A majority of encounters typically came down to wailing on thugs with some evasive maneuvers. Now with Snake stance, options open up when players can turn enemy attacks on themselves.
Crane and Tiger stances are back, and have been rebalanced. Tiger was almost useless, but now can cause nasty splash damage, unblockable blows, and is overall more fluid with the charge attacks. Crane has been made faster, and has much wider reach. Yagami covers so much ground, and bounds off walls with flying kicks like Jackie Chan.
The experience system has also been rebalanced. The game is much more liberal with distributing the points with basic actions and battle victories, since there is an extra style to buy abilities for. Compounded with the basic ability list and the vast amount of passives to buy; players will seemingly have a constant stream of new actions and upgrades coming in as they play.
The only issue with the combat is that it is too good for the kind of game Lost Judgment aims to be. The scenario is focused on investigation and subterfuge. A lot of the time Yagami will be sneaking around, picking locks, looking for clues, and corroborating info with his teams in both Ijincho and Kamurocho.
For Yagami to break out the kung-fu when there is a disagreement or when he gets jumped by punks in the street, it feels out of place. It isn’t like Lost Judgment would feel like it would be missing something if there was no combat; the ridiculous amount of things to do would more than make up for it.
Not counting the side activities, Yagami can engage in chases, stealth, a detailed search mode, take photos, has a huge cache of surveillance equipment, climb buildings, and even gets a K9 to sniff out suspects. Everything a modern detective would need is at his disposal; making the excellent fighting seem like it is from a totally different game.
When not doing detective work, Yagami has all the traditional Yakuza side activities like the arcade games, darts, shoji, mahjong (with multiple varieties), and all the other usuals. What Lost Judgment adds is the school activities that open up a vast amount of amusing and surprisingly deep distractions, that add a lot of life and believability to the school.
From motorcycle races with customizable rides, Tony Hawk Pro Skater-style skating, to a full-fledge boxing mini-game; Lost Judgment is bursting at the seams with content and action that adds an unbelievable amount of value to the experience. Even Yagami’s custom drone can be used in an absurd twin-stick shoot ’em up in a VR lab within the city.
Like always, the arcade is stocked with Sega classics like Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, and Motor Raid. This time Club Sega has several fighting games- the arcade version of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, Fighting Vipers, and hilariously; Sonic the Fighters. There is even a cheeky House of the Dead-style rail shooter made up of Yakuza: Dead Souls assets, proving that game was not a total waste.
Lost Judgment could have stopped there with all the games within the game, but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios doubles down on the retro gaming generosity by supplying Yagami with a fully playable Sega Master System in his office. He may only start off with the woefully shabby Alex Kidd, but there are seven other carts to find, and playing them does net a small amount of experience.
The only way this can be topped in future installments is if players get a functional Sega Genesis, and can upgrade it with a SEGA CD peripheral. It is a wonderful feeling to explore Ijincho and discover a shop selling a real life game, buying it, and running to a cab to go straight to Yagami’s office to play Maze Hunter 3D; long into the night as the distant sounds of Kamurocho’s bustling fills the air.
Since Lost Judgment is a kind of RPG, there are a lot of side-stories to experience. These scenarios are some of the best diversions; often having touching stories with amusing climaxes. Most of the time, they serve as light comedic episodes to offset the more serious and heavy tones of the main story.
Getting involved with a side-story involves Yagami using an custom app from his phone, where he filters key-words to get a lead. This is based on a GPS that pinpoints where the concentration of the keywords are being used, and from there players can seek out the NPC that will initiate the events.
The side-stories get mileage out of the various actions Yagami has gained from the story progression. Usually the abilities are recontextualized and put into a humorous situation. These sequences don’t feature the mid-level quality cutscenes; the stories play out like a PlayStation 2 RPG, with text and simple animations to get the point across.
It is a cost cutting compromise, but that does not mean the boys at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios don’t try. The side-stories sometimes are more entertaining than the main story due to their emphasis on comedy, and that they don’t last for dozens of hours.
Side-stories also show just how well the games’ writers understand their players; often having familiar concepts and premises that would be relatable. They never over-stay their welcome, and it can be difficult to stop playing because of how compelling the scenarios are.
The only issue that does stand out in Lost Judgment is Takuya Kimura; the Japanese actor and model for Takayuki Yagami. Kimura is 48 years old, and the developers chose to render his likeness exactly as he looks. The problem with this is that Yagami is 38, and he does not look it.
With modern rendering technology and the vast team of artists at Sega, it is perplexing that they would design Yagami to look exactly as Kimura does in 2021. The man is pushing 50, and this comes across in Yagami’s design, making him look so much older than he is intended. Why make him 38 at all, if the character is being portrayed by an aging pop singer who is past his prime?
To make things even more embarrassing, Kimura’s Yagami dresses like a guy would dress in his 20s. The impression is that he ends up looking like a guy having a mid-life crisis, and is trying to look hip and cool with his leather jacket and tight jeans.
Kimura is a measly 5’9, but Yagami towers above him at almost 6 feet, and is shredded like a martial arts master. The 3D modelers took the time to make him look awesome, but didn’t bother to de-age him? He looks incredibly out of place and unconvincing; especially when surrounded by the students.
On PlayStation 5, Lost Judgment looks and runs incredibly. While it is clear that this is a game made for last generation specs, the Dragon Engine is notorious for pushing the Playstation 4 to its absolute limit. On current gen platforms, Lost Judgment is able to push past restrictions and look as dazzling as possible.
There are no frame-rate issues at all, and loading times are virtually nonexistent. Draw distance renders all details perfectly, and image quality maintains maximum resolution on any display. The art style aims for realism, and employs many cinematic camera effects like telephoto lenses for extreme details, and depth of field focus. Sometimes the visuals look photorealistic when squinting.
The attention to detail is unbelievable across the board. There are no noticeable repeating NPCs, and object density in environments is high; making places feel lived in. When in first-person mode, the minutia of the 3D models and textures can be appreciated and marveled. Getting into fights leads to random objects getting flung with realistic physics; all for immersion.
Lost Judgment is the ultimate Yakuza game. It can no longer be just a spin-off; it is the successor to the traditional experience. Like A Dragon can go on to do its turn-based RPG shenanigans, and push the franchise forward with its experimentations; the Judgment games can further refine the old formula and keep the brawling.
At this juncture for the franchise, crime syndicates have become such a small part to the grander scope of the games. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios have shown no sign in slowing down, and despite the gradual deemphasis on mobsters, the drama has consistently been engrossing. It has become one of the main draws of the series- not the solid adventure gameplay.
Most gamers will come for the balls to the wall, bone breaking, violent kung-fu action and adventure. Some may come for the mini-games and retro video games. No matter who plays Lost Judgment; everyone will stay for the dramatic, thrilling story and characters.
Lost Judgment was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a review code provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.