Lost Judgment is a compelling new entry in the Yakuza series, doling out flashy action, meaningful side content, and an engrossing mystery to solve.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s introduction to Yakuza’s detective-focused spin-off series, Judgment, landed at a particularly strange time in the franchise’s history. Fans had just come off the closing chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s story in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and were anxiously awaiting the next step for the long-running series.
They’d see a complete reinvention of the franchise via the excellent Yakuza: Like a Dragon a few years later, but before they got there, Judgment was their next original venture into RGG Studio’s larger-than-life criminal underworld. Despite its sleuth-focus, it was a game not all too mechanically dissimilar from prior Yakuza titles and one that felt like a slight stop-gap for the series as it readjusted its approach for a new era.Its sequel, Lost Judgment, doesn’t struggle with the same issue. A few years removed from the original Yakuza template, Lost Judgment feels like a welcome return to the classic format of the franchise and a fun partner piece to Like a Dragon following its JRPG genre shift. Those left craving some standard Yakuza beat ‘em up action after venturing through Ichiban Kasuga’s turn-based adventure last year are sure to find plenty of it here, as well as a darker story filled with surprising twists and turns.
Much like its predecessor, Lost Judgment sees players fill the shoes of lawyer-turned-PI, Takayuki Yagami. The charismatic sleuth has returned to helping the people of Kamurocho following the events of the original Judgment, tackling odd cases alongside his charming sidekick, Masaharu Kaito.
During an investigation into reports of bullying at a local high school, the pair become embroiled in a disturbing new mystery, with the discovery of a grisly murder connected to their case leading them down a rabbit hole of sinister secrets and shady cover-ups. It’s a much darker and more unsettling tale than its predecessor or really any Yakuza game to date, delving into the ramifications of bullying and the victims that suffer through it.
Aside from a slow-paced third act, it’s a compelling case for Yagami to crack, loading its runtime with subversive plot beats, surprising revelations, and an intriguing cast of new characters. It also spends a surprising amount of time highlighting the flaws in the justice system and Yagami’s dedication to upholding it, offering a complex internal struggle for the lead detective even if it doesn’t result in a particularly meaningful payoff.
As per usual for Yakuza, players will spend the majority of this campaign in lengthy dialogue exchanges and stunningly animated cutscenes, as Yagami tracks down leads and interrogates suspects in the cities of Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho. While the adventure’s gorgeous visuals and charming writing make it hard to complain too much, the focus on standard storytelling does mean Lost Judgement’s detective aspects are underutilized and underdeveloped.
Similar to the last game, certain sections of Yagami’s case will require players to complete short, investigation-based mini-games, whether that’s tailing suspects, analyzing crime scenes, interrogating witnesses, or chasing suspicious individuals. Lost Judgment even throws a few new additions into the fold, including stealth and parkour sections.
Sadly, these elements never make players feel like the ace detective Yagami is meant to be, offering aggressively linear objectives with no room for interpretation. Interrogations have one piece of evidence that leads to an answer, crime scenes entail wandering around environments until all of Yagami’s dialogue is exhausted, and stealth missions are slow, arduous affairs that punish players for straying off the beaten path. It often feels as though RGG Studio rejects the more independent parts of the detective fantasy to tell a controlled, exposition-heavy story, which is unfortunate considering it makes Lost Judgment feel like more Yakuza rather than its own separate entity.
That being said, it’s easy to forgive considering Lost Judgment is exceptionally good at being a traditional Yakuza game. Case in point, its combat, which once again offers a dizzying spectacle of super-powered martial arts, physics-defying finishers, and hard-hitting combos.
Fans of the previous Judgment will know the basics here, with a lot of Yagami’s arsenal remaining identical to that of his 2019 debut. Players can still switch move sets mid-battle, with both the agile Crane and power-focused Tiger styles making a return. Meanwhile, they’re joined by a third style known as Snake, which relies on Yagami using well-timed counters to turn the tables on his enemies and brutally dismantle them.
Much like before, Yagami’s combat style is a welcome change of pace in comparison to Kazuma Kiryu’s bolder, strength-focused move set, with the game encouraging players to use quick steps and blocks to gain the upper hand on opponents. Snake style only feeds into this greater focus on defense, and although it’s slightly too slow-paced to become a player’s main style, it’s definitely got a methodical feel that’s a lot of fun to experiment with.
As always, combat only grows deeper the more players invest in upgrades, and although the skill trees are slightly less exciting than earlier Yakuza games, there’s still a fair amount to dive into here. From supercharged heat moves that enable Yagami to leap off walls and slam enemies into the concrete to elongated combos that send foes flying into the air, players have a lot of opportunities to expand their favorite style.
They’ll definitely need to net some upgrades if they want to succeed in the game’s various boss encounters, which are riddled with the franchise’s staple melodramatic flair. Although certain bosses return a little too frequently, the majority of the climactic showdowns really work in Lost Judgment, with the game offering memorable battles with a host of intimidating, scenery-chewing villains. The final fight is a particularly enthralling face-off, capping off the game’s most intriguing arc with an epic clash of fists and ideologies.
Outside of story and combat, players can also expect more of Yakuza’s seminal side activities, and diehard fans can sleep soundly knowing they’re just as outlandishly over-the-top as ever. Whether it’s arcadey skateboarding contests, intense death races, or the ability to jump into titles like Sonic The Fighters via the map’s numerous SEGA arcades, there’s a ton of zany content to dive into between missions.
While some of these activities will be familiar to returning Yakuza fans, Lost Judgment offers a substantial helping of brand-new distractions courtesy of Yagami’s investigation into Seiryo High School. Going undercover as a club advisor, Yagami is able to help out at various extra-curricular clubs around the school, solving small mysteries that crop up in each.
It’s a smart move from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, as the numerous Seiryo High School sub-plots serve as wacky, light-hearted storylines that offer a reprieve from Lost Judgment’s darker main campaign. Better yet, it’s packed with the brand of larger-than-life comedy that made previous Yakuza games’ side content so charming, whether that’s watching Yagami attempt to take a dance troop to nationals with zero experience or learn about the world of professional eSports.
These clubs also offer an array of new mini-games, with each ranging vastly in-depth. While some may task players with winning several rounds of Virtua Fighter, others are much deeper, seeing them engage in boxing bouts, perform rhythm-based dance routines, and take part in strategic robot battles. Completing increasingly challenging versions of these activities will progress the storyline at any given club, eventually providing Yagami with answers to the mystery he set out to solve.
While a few of these clubs can wear out their welcome, most of them are surprisingly entertaining breaks from the action, introducing fun side characters and ludicrous plotlines. They’re, of course, joined by more standard side missions too, including smaller cases Yagami can pick up at his office and disturbances he can investigate using his social-media-based Buzz Researcher app. As expected, they’re equally as eccentric, with some of the line-up’s best adventures seeing players investigate UFOs lurking over Isezaki Ijincho and team up with a detective Shiba Inu that can literally sniff out crime
With such a loaded set of side activities, Lost Judgment becomes a game that’s absolutely brimming with content. However, with so much of its depth coming via optional side content, it never feels bloated. Those enamored with its cryptic story can easily make their way through Lost Judgement’s core mystery in 20 hours flat, but the side activities found throughout Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho’s streets will easily offer double that and potentially more. Add to that its spectacular battles and larger-than-life tone, and it becomes clear that this is a really solid slice of RGG Studio action.
With Like a Dragon confirmed to be the start of a brand-new direction for the mainline Yakuza series, Lost Judgment proves that players can have their cake and eat it too. For those loving Ichiban Kasuga’s turn-based beat downs, they can continue to follow his story in the inevitable Like a Dragon follow-up. As for those longing for more of the flashy beat ‘em up action that became synonymous with Kazuma Kiryu, Judgment is a more typical continuation of the original Yakuza format.
And hopefully, the Judgement series will get to act as a continuation of that formula for a long time to come, as Lost Judgment proves time and time again that it’s worthy of carrying the traditional, action-heavy direction of the series. Its detective elements may be lacking and its third act is slow, but it more than makes up for it, offering spectacle-heavy set pieces, an engrossing mystery, and a bounty of fantastic side missions. Whether a diehard fan of the Yakuza franchise or a newcomer looking to see what all the fuss is about, Lost Judgment is a thrilling adventure that shouldn’t be missed.