With Yakuza having reinvented itself and heading in a new direction following Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the void left it left behind has been instantly filled by Judgment. While Yakuza crafts dense RPG adventures going forward, Judgment is delivering the same brawler gameplay that the series had always been known for, with some wrinkles and elements of its own, and the first game did it well enough to warrant a sequel. And that sequel, Lost Judgment, does exactly what an ideal sequel should- it improves upon the first game’s strengths, while also introducing solid new ideas of its own, and in the process ends up surpassing its predecessor.
Lost Judgment takes place a couple of years after the events of the first game, with Yagami and Kaito’s detective work in Kamurocho continuing to chug along, but as the game begins, Yagami Detective Agency is roped into a twisted and complicated case. When a man on trial for sexual harassment is deemed guilty, during the court hearing, he informs the judge of a corpse found In Yokohama, claiming that the man was responsible for his son’s suicide years ago, and though he escaped punishment because of a broken system then, he’s now got what was coming to him. Hired by the man’s lawyers, who happen to be the familiar faces at Genda Law, Yagami heads to Yokohama and begins investigating the case in an attempt to untangle its mysteries.
It’s a strong setup that instantly hooks you, and Lost Judgment keeps introducing new narrative threads throughout its opening hours as well. By the time you’re a couple of chapters in and the core of the story has properly crystallized, Lost Judgment’s central narrative premise really shines, with multiple plot threads running simultaneously and affecting the others in interesting ways. It’s hard to talk about all the ways Lost Judgment’s story works without spoiling interesting details that are best discovered yourself, but from the portrayals of returning characters to the excellent new ones added to expand the cast, from the gradual pacing that smartly takes its time to properly set things up to, of course, the excellently written and voiced dialogue (for which the localization deserves massive props), there’s no shortage of things working together in harmony to ensure that Lost Judgment doesn’t stumble in the narrative department.
"Lost Judgment does exactly what an ideal sequel should- it improves upon the first game’s strengths, while also introducing solid new ideas of its own, and in the process ends up surpassing its predecessor."
One particular way in which it stands out is how surprisingly dark Lost Judgment can get. This series as a whole is known for that, of course- in spite of how silly and ridiculous and over-the-top these games can get, they can also every so often go to some really dark places. Lost Judgment’s story, which starts off with things such as suicide and bullying, doesn’t pull any punches either, and has the capacity to hit surprisingly hard with those narrative beats. Thankfully, nothing feels like it’s being done for shock value, and like its predecessor, its writing is always good enough to effectively deliver the needed impact of the more dramatic moments in the story.
And of course, the fact that the bulk of the story is set in Ijincho, Yokohama (which Yakuza: Like a Dragon fans will be very familiar with) definitely helps. You can still roam around the streets of Kamurocho in Lost Judgment, but Yokohama is where the majority of the game is set, and the change in scenery helps the game greatly. Exploring the city is always fun, thanks to a predictably wide variety of enjoyable activities to dive into, from a dancing minigame to going to the arcade to play some classics to taking part in drone races and so much more. Of course, there’s also a healthy amount of side quests available, which are consistently a source of delight. Given the series’ pedigree, it comes as no surprise that Lost Judgment’s side quests effectively deliver plenty of interesting stories, humour, and wacky shenanigans.
The thing that really elevates the very fundamentals of exploration in Lost Judgment, however, is the skateboard, which seems like a fairly minor addition on paper, but turns out to be one of its best new features. Not long after arriving in Ijincho, Yagami gets his hands on a skateboard which he can then seamlessly pull out at any time to get around the city, as long as he isn’t on pedestrian sidewalks. You accelerate by repeatedly pressing a button, and another button can be used to jump, pull off some basic tricks, and grind on rails, while coins scattered throughout the world can also be collected for points. The mechanics are fairly simple, and Lost Judgment doesn’t suddenly turn into a skateboarding simulator by any means, but thanks to how seamless it is and how well its simple mechanics are implemented, even the simple act of getting from point A to point B remains consistently enjoyable through the game.
"The thing that really elevates the very fundamentals of exploration in Lost Judgment is the skateboard, which seems like a fairly minor addition on paper, but turns out to be one of its best new features."
Another major addition – and a much more substantial one, at that – is School Stories. Soon after Yagami’s arrival in Yokohama, his investigation takes him to Seiryo High School. A sinister history of bullying and things being swept under the rug at the school is tied to Yagami’s own investigation, and this kicks off an entirely separate arc that spans the bulk of the game. Yagami takes on the role of a club advisor so that he can dig deeper and deeper into the school’s problems, and finishing School Stories, helping students, and taking part in school-specific activities lets you increase certain Leadership skills (which are quite similar to the social skills in Persona), which, in turn, allows you to progress further in the investigation.
The school isn’t as dangerously addictive as something like the management minigame in Yakuza 0, no, but it’s a sizeable, meaty part of the experience that is brimming with quality. Strong characters, varied side activities, and consistently engaging narrative progression make it easy to invest in Lost Judgment’s school setting, and the fact that it is such a crucial part of the main story really helps as well, because even when you’re spending hours in the school doing optional activities that have nothing to do with Yagami’s primary investigation, it doesn’t feel out of place.
Structurally, Lost Judgment achieves a much better balance with its brawler and investigative facets than its predecessor. Varied scenarios constantly break up the action, from tailing sections, to infiltration sections with some light stealth thrown in, to fast-paced chase sequences, to more slower-paced moments where you have to stop and observe your surroundings. Parkour is another big addition, with Yagami now being able to swing across gaps, scale pipes and walls with handholds, and walk along narrow ledges, while managing a grip meter, which is essentially a stamina meter in all but name. Meanwhile, tailing missions, thankfully, aren’t quite as frequent as they were in the first game, and also generally demand more active participation thanks to some smart additions, like being able to spontaneously look at your phone or tie your shoelaces to blend into the crowd if your target begins suspecting something.
"Structurally, Lost Judgment achieves a much better balance with its brawler and investigative facets than its predecessor."
Where combat is concerned, Lost Judgment delivers in all the ways that you’d expect it to. The Yakuza franchise’s brawler combat never fails to be enjoyable, and smacking thugs into the dirt while using everything from your fists to traffic cones to baseball bats remains as fun as ever. The big new addition here is the Snake Style, which is ideal for when you’re taking on armed enemies and want to focus on disarming and counter-attacking, but honestly, the combat styles in Lost Judgment don’t really feel all that meaningfully different from each other. Each has its own unique bells and whistles, of course, but for the most part, all styles seem equally well-equipped for most situations, so there’s very little mechanical incentive to actually switching styles. Progression in Lost Judgment also ends up suffering as a result, because so much of what you can purchase using your skill points is geared towards powering up separate fighting styles. Some of those are, of course, very useful upgrades, but there weren’t a lot of times when I was torn between multiple available upgrades.
Regardless of what few complaints I may have with Lost Judgment though, it’s hard to deny just how accomplished the game really is at almost everything it sets out to do. From its extremely polished and distinct take on its predecessor’s gameplay to its arresting story to the great localization to even minor touches and additions that collectively enhance the experience so much, Lost Judgment is an incredibly compelling game that is well worth playing.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
An engaging narrative, thanks to excellent writing, endearing characters, and strong performances; Ijincho and Kamurocho are full of enjoyable side activities; Great side quests; Getting around is a lot of fun, thanks to the skateboard; The school setting is a solid addition; Achieves a nice balance with combat and varied investigation activities; Beating up goons is as fun as ever.
Unengaging progression; Fighting styles aren't well implemented.