A new Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game is here, and for the first time, we’re getting the game in the West at the same time as its Japanese release. Lost Judgment, a follow-up to 2018’s Judgment, returns to detective Takayuki Yagami and his investigations in the shadier sides of Japanese society. And as Judgment becomes something of a franchise of its own separate from Yakuza, it’s increasingly finding its footing and learning its specialties.
While the Yakuza and Judgment series continue to build on the same worlds, characters and gameplay conventions, the framing of the two is increasingly distinct. Yakuza wants to offer a world of adventure to explore. There’s a main story, but it’s surrounded by other sights and sounds. You’re meant to distract yourself as much as you’re meant to push forward in the narrative. Judgment, on the other hand, builds around that central narrative. The minigames! The gadgets! Certainly the side stories! They’re all meant to complement and feed into your core quest to uncover the mystery. It’s a simple shift in structure, but it makes it feel a lot less like you’re slacking off.
There’s also a difference in tone. While Yakuza hasn’t shied away from serious topics, Judgment makes a point to address societal issues. Lost Judgment doubles down on this. We’d go deep into this sort of stuff if it wouldn’t spoil a lot of the narrative! It’s fair to say that it spends a lot of its time and energy on high school bullying. This sort of thing might resonate vividly with a lot of players, for better and worse, and it’s important to know that going in. Things go badly sometimes. Situations don’t turn out the way you want. It makes for an engaging narrative, but one packed with emotional burden for the player.
As we’ve seen in previous Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio games, Lost Judgment recycles the environments of the most recent game for new adventures. This time, that means the Yokohama neighborhood of Isezaki Ijincho from Like a Dragon. By this point, the team’s become adept at making the same area feel familiar but distinct. Major locations from Ichiban’s adventure like Hello Work? The game blocks them off. But you can still head by Survive Bar and Ichiban Confections for a dose of nostalgia. The new school location is large in itself! It also makes you spend more time in a corner of the map that was largely ignored in Yakuza.
Now that Like a Dragon has taken Yakuza into turn-based battles, Lost Judgment is left to carry the action mantle. It does so through mixing three combat styles. And we do mean mixing! Because of the game’s bonus-based skill point system, you’ll want to dispatch an enemy with each style in every battle, if you can manage it. Conveniently, roving packs of punks usually include at least three foes! That makes the task a lot more doable. While Yagami has a “Tiger” style with some stronger punches, he’s generally a swift fighter. Most of the unlockable skills let him essentially parkour from enemy to enemy, and the smooth gameplay engine meshes well with that.
Technically speaking, Lost Judgment handles itself well. It’s not a flashy next-gen showpiece, but the PlayStation 5 build we reviewed is smooth and relatively seamless. Of course, not a lot of that technical power matters when you’re spending time with its selection of Master System games. While it’s not a huge library and you’ll have to track most of them down in the world to play, it’s a nice bonus to be able to drop by Yagami’s office and play some Penguin Land. Obviously, modern systems are going to handle these games fairly well! But it’s still nice to see them here. Gathering them reminded us of collecting all the NES games in the GameCube release of Animal Crossing.
The minigame selection is about what you’d expect! Drone racing returns. The arcade House of the Dead tribute has a new level. A lot of the stuff you’ve seen before is here with a few bells and whistles. It’s a comforting selection, if not a particularly impressive one. None of the minigames here live up to Yakuza’s addicting cabaret management. We’ll keep comparing new entries to it until one does!
And generally, we found that the further away they were from the main story, the better they fared. We’re still less than enamored with the “chase” scenes, which amount to simple quick-time events and don’t allow you to be clever or hug corners to make up ground. The observation sequences don’t let you fail or really reward you for speed or precision, but at least they’re forgiving and harmless.
What holds this huge collection of activities together is the compelling central narrative. While what’s on offer here is not dissimilar to RGG Studio’s other recent games, the mystery at the core of it is both well-executed and deftly integrated. Much like the flashy combat, the story also builds itself with significant momentum. It makes Lost Judgment a game that, in addition to being fun to play, really entices you to see it to its end.
Lost Judgment is developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega. It launches September 24, 2021 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Xbox One. Players who pre-order deluxe digital editions receive early access to the game on September 21, 2021.