The Yakuza series has long been a franchise I’ve admired from afar, but I’ve never actually dived into the games myself. Whether it be the neverending deluge of quality games releasing seemingly constantly, or the sheer amount of titles in the Yakuza series making it hard to know where best to jump in, I’ve never sat down and attempted to play one.
Initially a series that was big in Japan but niche in the West, the reverence for the Yakuza franchise in the West has seemingly risen astronomically in recent years, with titles such as Yakuza 0 and most recentlyYakuza: Like a Dragon enamoring gamers with the works of developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Despite the Yakuza series and its myriad of entries, the game that intrigued me the most was the spinoff title Judgment, where instead of assuming the role of a Yakuza member, you instead play as an ex-lawyer turned detective. Its anticipated sequel Lost Judgment just released, so I thought why not make it my first foray into the series? I’m sure happy I did, as its gripping murder mystery narrative and kickass combat ensured that Lost Judgment quickly found itself amongst my favourite games released this year.
Set a couple of years on from the happenings of Judgment, Lost Judgment again sees you play as ex-lawyer turned private investigator Takayuki Yagami, as he continues his life in Kamurocho as a detective with friend and ex-Yakuza member Masaharu Kaito by his side. The pair are contacted by some buddies who run a detective agency called “Yokohama 99” in the Isezaki Ijincho district, and are subsequently hired to investigate the issue of bullying that has taken over at the Yokohama-based institution Seiryo High School. While not as intense and gruesome as some Yagami’s prior investigations, they agree to take on the job.
Meanwhile, a train groping incident involving ex-police officer Akihiro Ehara has stunned the nation, a matter which is only made more shocking when Ehara reveals the location of a body belonging to Hiro Mikoshiba, a man who bullied Ehara’s son Toshiro to the point where he committed suicide. This bullying took place at Seiryo High School, so Yagami ultimately begins to investigate the murder whilst also trying to delve into the bullying issues that have severely affected the school. Nothing comes easy to Yagami and co however, as they find themselves embroiled in conflicts with various gangs such as the newly formed RK gang full of ex-Yakuza, and the mysterious masked crew known as the Yokohama Liumang.
The narrative weaved throughout Lost Judgment is absolutely fantastic, providing that strong sense of intrigue felt while binge watching a new favourite TV series. The murder mystery story with its countless shocks and twists and turns makes for an entertaining experience, but its the success of the games sizeable cast of characters that truly makes Lost Judgment shine the brightest. While you’re likely to benefit from context and characterisation of the first game, Lost Judgment does a great job of making the core characters and supporting cast all interesting and likeable individuals. Even without any context from the original game, Yagami and his pals quickly felt like friends to me. Even the antagonists you come across such as RK leaders Akutsu and Soma are enjoyable characters, not in the sense that you like them, but because they are characterised in a way where all you want to do is stop them.
Serious themes aside, Lost Judgment still has the sense of wacky humour that the Yakuza series is known for. From a side story involving a detective dog to using microphones under the desks at Seiryo High in order to trick the bullies into believing their classmates are standing up to them, there’s various lighthearted and silly moments that serve nicely to alleviate the pressure that builds up from the rather heavy overarching narrative. Some moments of the narrative are questionable and hamper the pace of the narrative (why did we need the paint gun scene in the final chapter?), but it’s forgivable to a point when the story being told is of such high quality. Despite some questionable tangents that hamper the pacing of the narrative, Lost Judgment has a thrilling action movie narrative that is buoyed by an intense murder mystery and an epic ensemble of well written and voiced characters. The soundtrack is also awesome, with tracks befitting both dramatic and sillier scenes perfectly.
Further aiding the narrative again is the quality aesthetic of Lost Judgment’s visuals, which are complemented well by the 60fps frame rate and 1440p resolution afforded to players in the standard graphics mode. Resolution priority mode does offer a bump in resolution to 4K with a drop in frame rate to 30fps which is fine if you want the higher resolution, but higher frame rates always win out in my book. The higher frame rate also lends itself nicely to the frantic combat sections, ensuring things don’t look too choppy.
Nothing Lost Judgment does with it’s gameplay is particularly unique or groundbreaking, but it does provide you with a solid combat variety across the three Kung Fu fighting styles that you can implement across the fights you will undoubtedly take part in throughout the journey. A press down on the D-pad allows you to alternate between Crane Style, Tiger Style, and Snake Style, with each providing their own advantages in particular combat situations. Crane Style covers Yagami with a blue aura and is the style suited for encounters with multiple enemies, as it can knock out various enemies at once. Snake Style, which sees Yagami surrounded by a green aura is best used against enemies equipped with weapons, as it allows you to disarm enemies of their weapons. Lastly, the red aura Tiger Style is suitable against single enemies, with the ability to charge attacks and break through enemy guards. I wouldn’t say that the gameplay changes up much as you shuffle between each style, but it is definitely important to shift styles if you want to succeed throughout the game, especially as fights get more intense as the game draws to its conclusion.
If getting through the main story missions of Lost Judgment is your aim, you will largely spend the majority of your time alternating between watching cutscenes and unleashing some old fashioned Kung Fu chaos. In saying that however, there are other segments that occur throughout missions other than fighting. As Yagami is a detective, you do make use of his investigative skills, which often results in you assuming a first person view and investigating the space you are in for clues to the current predicament.
Climbing sections provide you with an area you must climb in an Uncharted-esque fashion. They serve to add variety to the gameplay but they aren’t particularly enjoyable. Chasing segments on the other hand are a little bit more entertaining, forcing Yagami to chase down a person of interest throughout the busy streets of Kamurocho or Isezaki Ijincho. Avoiding crowds and being quick to respond to quick time events are your key to success here. The last gameplay segments of note are the stealth segments, which despite being a cleaner alternative to opening up a can of whoopass, are a tad too scripted for their own good. Trying to avoid the clearly defined laws of the stealth segments seemingly stops you from being able to incapacitate enemies, which leads to experience feeling less genuine as a result. Each of these segments are fine, but they are nowhere near as enjoyable as the combat sections.
When not engaging in fights with underground gangs or whatever foe stands in your way, the cities of Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho offer up a variety of optional activities for you to partake in to your heart’s content. Mini-Games such as Shogi, Mahjong, Golf and more are readily available across the two districts. You can even head to the Arcade and play full versions of older Sega games such as Sonic the Fighters and Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown. Being a Sonic fan that’d never experienced Sonic the Fighters before, I was more than happy to force Yagami to the arcade so I could take it for a spin. These optional activities throughout Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho are great fun, and while you’re likely to only stop by for a little while between main story missions or side stories, they do a great job of providing you with a break from the heavy nature of the story, whilst also making the world of Lost Judgment feel a little more alive.
Even though some aspects of the gameplay in Lost Judgment aren’t fantastic, the top tier storytelling, fantastic characters, and quality combat ultimately make up for the minor shortcomings to the point where it’s one of the more memorable and enjoyable adventures I’ve encountered this year. Lost Judgment may have been my first experience with the Yakuza series, but it sure as hell won’t be my last. I demand that you give it a try, regardless of whether or not you’ve played the first game, or any game in the Yakuza series.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron