Many fans were left concerned when the Yakuza series decided to spin off into an RPG with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. What did this mean for those who had fallen in love with the action brawler routes the game had been built on? Thankfully, SEGA had a plan for us all along. Judgment, the spin-off series starring lawyer turned detective Takayuki Yagami, was set to become the series’ new action game. While Yakuza would continue to explore RPG’s, Judgment would stay true to the series origins. The split between Judgment and Yakuza ended up doing more than just representing gameplay styles, though.
Yakuza is a series about characters. The stories are terrific, but people play those games because they love to see how the characters are going to pan out. This also means that the stories those games tell are solely focused on those characters. As a crime drama series starring actual Yakuza, it’s hard for the series to break out from certain crime drama themes.
Lost Judgment, meanwhile, is still a crime drama, but it can tackle subjects that Yakuza cannot. It’s a plot that involves a serial killer, organized crime syndicates, and corrupt politicians. Yet it also touches on themes such as bullying, teenage suicide, and handling grief. It tells a story that is complex and will leave the player wondering if the protagonist, Yagami, is truly on the right side of this conflict.
Unfortunately, it has to be said that while the game has lofty expectations, it does fail to hit on every note. It handles the more personal portions of the game incredibly well. The developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio understand people as individuals in a way that many games fail to do. They bring those characters to life yet again in Lost Judgment and it’s why those personal moments are done so well. Unfortunately, the final third of the game tries to make this story bigger than it needs to be, and while it’s entertaining, it doesn’t carry nearly the same emotional weight as the earlier and mid-point scenes do.
All of that said, the story and characters are only one part of what makes Lost Judgment. There’s still an entire video game in here, and even if the story doesn’t manage to stick the landing perfectly, there will be plenty of other reasons to play the game for hours on end.
We’re happy to report that this game is just as fun to play as any other in the series, in large part because there is so much that you can do. The cities of Kamurocho and Yokohama are filled to the brim with activities that could keep anyone busy for months on end. The usual suspects are back, such as Mahjong and SEGA arcades, but there is an incredible amount of new activities to dig into, such as boxing, dancing, collecting SEGA Master System games, or even bike racing. All of these mini-games are thankfully optional, but they give the player the opportunity to break away from the story and just get lost in the world.
There are a whole heck of a lot of side-quests, too. As a detective, Yagami makes a habit of taking on weird cases, and he can find plenty on his office boards in Kamurocho or Yokohama. He can also help out random people throughout the two cities by exploring the “Chatter” app. By inputting keywords into the app, Yagami can run into some of the wackier residents around town and get to the bottom of a few mysteries, such as the Café Robber or a UFO sighting. These missions are great because they introduce to us some of the wackier characters that the Yakuza series has become so well known for. Still bored? Then team up with the Mystery Research Club at Seiryo High School and solve some of the mysteries around the school.
There is so much to do in Lost Judgment that it’s very easy to get distracted and play for hours on end without completing a single story mission. That is the best compliment anyone can give a side-quest.
While side missions are fun, the bread and butter of Lost Judgement is in the combat. This is how anyone who plays the game will spend the majority of their time, so combat needs to be fun and engaging. The developers unsurprisingly hit this one out of the park. They managed to take an already very good system from the first game and make it even better. Fighting styles make a return, with Crane being suited for large crowds and Tiger better for 1-on-1 combat. New to Lost Judgement is Snake, a style that is best suited for taking down enemies that use weapons or have a tendency to block. What’s fun about Snake is, with enough of the EX Gauge built up, scared enemies can be eliminated immediately no matter their health.
What Lost Judgment has done a good job of is getting players out of their old habits of building up the EX Gauge and spamming heat moves to win fights. Enemies have a good variety in them, forcing the player to switch styles a lot, and if you don’t pay attention, it’s actually very easy to die. Yagami has never been as tankish as previous series protagonists, but it will catch some players off guard how quickly he can take a beating. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as the player stays on top of upgrades and health items.
One of the best parts of this franchise, whether it’s Yakuza or Judgment, is that the games are extremely accessible. There is no game that can’t stand on its own because all the stories are self-contained. That said, if someone has not played Judgment or Yakuza before, then they might want to give those a try before they play this one. Lost Judgment is another great game in that universe, but it’s not the best of those games.
That said, for people that have played the franchise before, then this is a great place to continue. The story is good, the combat is incredible, and there are endless activities for the player to enjoy. It’s always a fun time getting lost in Kamurocho and bringing back Yokohama was a brilliant idea. It hits all the right notes for those of us that love this series, and as such, it gets the highest recommendation for returning players.