It’s been a pretty rough year for the video games industry (along with the rest of the world). Numerous titles slated to release this year from Gotham Knights and Warhammer 40,000: Darktide to Gran Turismo 7, GhostWire: Tokyo and God of War have been delayed to 2022. Horizon Forbidden West is rumored to be the next big delay; Halo Infinite doesn’t have a release date, despite being recently rated in Australia; and even projects like Overwatch 2 have been impacted to the extent that they may not even release next year.
Not like the industry is doomed or anything. Battlefield 2042 should be a massive hit for Electronic Arts since it leans more into the multiplayer antics that fans love (and I’d be lying if I said that Battlefield Portal didn’t look immensely fun). The next Call of Duty and Diablo 2 Resurrected, despite all the lawsuits and scandals at Activision-Blizzard, appear to be on track. All of these titles have their set audiences and should do extremely well. But there’s one big release that deserves a lot more attention than it’s been getting – Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s Lost Judgment, which is out on September 21st for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PS5.
RGG Studio has had its fair share of successes through the years, whether it’s the rise of the Yakuza franchise, the breakout success of Yakuza 0 in the West, or the shift to a more RPG-focused design in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. But it’s also been fairly underappreciated on a larger scale, especially when it comes to the writing and design of its games. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Judgment. Released in June 2019 worldwide, the Yakuza spin-off introduced a new protagonist in Takayuki Yagami. Its atmosphere, while still having bits of humor and outlandishness, was far more visceral, set against the backdrop of Kamurocho’s darker side.
With the Yakuza franchise sticking to turn-based RPG gameplay going forward, Judgment could be considered its successor in terms of the sleek beat ’em up style combat. It has the potential to be a major flagship franchise but with the reported dispute between Sega and Johnny and Associates (the talent agency for actor Takuya Kimura, who plays Yagami), Lost Judgment may very well be the last title in the series. As it stands, RGG Studio is ensuring that the sequel is incredibly stacked, to the extent that it’s one of the biggest games of the year.
Judgment was already fairly serious when it came to exploring the seedier aspects of Kamurocho while just being morally grey enough thanks to Yagami’s history. Lost Judgment immediately hits the ground running with Yagami investigating a dead body found in the Isezaki Ijincho district in Yokohama (which will be familiar to Yakuza fans as the main setting for Like a Dragon). The accused, who’s already dealing with a harassment case, seems to have a strong alibi so what’s going on?
A conspiracy is teased, one that deals with various factions – including a Hangure syndicate called RK led by the enigmatic Kazuki Soma. Yagami also has to infiltrate a school in Yokohama to aid his investigation. Despite how bright and cheery things may seem on the outside, certain students are subject to bullying and abuse. The overall treatment is such that localization director Scott Strichart warned players about the “various traumas” that will be explored and that no punches would be pulled.
But that’s only one side of the story. The other side consists of getting involved with school activities and clubs, interacting with various students to learn their stories, and potentially making a positive impact on their lives. Such clubs include the dance club of the Seiryo Rabbits, whose mini-games involve both rhythm game inputs and Freestyles to increase quality. Though Yagami ends up watching the group as they perform on stage, he’s with them during practice, and it feels like you’re helping them grow.
There’s also a robotics club that allows for customizing one’s own robot and pitting against others in battles (which is separate from the drone racing that’s returning from the original). Of course, you’re also helping the club to band together and unite in their struggles. You also get involved with the boxing club which allows for partaking in unique fights and a community centered around motorcycle gangs which involves bike racing.
Photo club and an esports club are also available along with skateboarding, the latter having its own unique play spots. Speaking of which, several new play spots return including Aiserios, Hama of the Dead (a House of the Dead spin-off), VR Paradise, darts and the batting center.
Many of the investigative aspects have also been beefed up considerably. Yagami will have devices for detecting hidden cameras and wiretapping along with looking into someone’s social media to help solve various issues. Sometimes suspects will flee, leading to fast-paced chase sequences, but other times, you may have to tail them without being spotted like in the previous game. Search Mode is key for spotting the little details while photography can be used to gather evidence (and obtain new Scoops). You’ll also have to use parkour to access certain inaccessible areas and there’s even the Detective Dog who will help sniff out various clues. No confirmation yet on whether petting the dog is possible but you can walk it, skateboard with it and summon it to help in combat.
Keep in mind that none of this includes the expansion to combat, which adds a new Style with new moves and an EX Boost mode for added special moves; the addition of the Sega Master System for playing classic titles, a venerable first for RGG Studio titles; Sonic the Fighters being fully playable in the arcades; all of the different School Stories that Yagami can get involved with; or Rasen, the incredible theme by jon-YAKITORY and Ado. Of course, it’s easy to list out different features, activities and numbers to outline the size of the game. What’s more important is how it all comes together.
While earlier titles in the Yakuza series had their ups and downs, more recent entries like Yakuza 0 (and even Judgment) have done an excellent job tying together so many widespread elements into a cohesive, entertaining whole and still delivering a great story. Yakuza: Like a Dragon proved that the development team could handle a much larger scale and change up its presentation and gameplay for the better. Lost Judgment looks like the best of both worlds, benefiting from a bigger world and range of activities while having better production values and cohesion. And though some may grow weary of school settings, the way it’s handled here provides a nice, GTO-like twist on the same.
Of course, looking like it’s this masterful package is one thing and actually playing like it is another. Time will tell just how extensive the attention to detail is or how polished every one of the mechanics are (though there should be no doubts about the combat since the original game was stellar).
Making enormous games like this can be trying. One could argue that Lost Judgment benefits from assets that have been created for other titles like Isezaki Ijincho from Yakuza: Like a Dragon. But creating a compelling story with lovable characters while incorporating serious themes and adding all kinds of new things for fans to dig into, that too while retaining the essence of the original, is still a monumental task. Achieving all of that while also having a simultaneous worldwide release and English dub, something which “tripled the struggles of the entire development team” as per producer Kazuki Hosokawa, while current events are ongoing is even more commendable.
There are several titles worthy of one’s attention in this day and age – heck, I can think of ten in just the past month alone. But Lost Judgment is looking like an incredible standout from the crowd, whether you’re a fan of the Yakuza series or not.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.