It’s hard to say whether 2019’s Judgment was always intended to be a standalone story, but we come to you today very pleased that it wasn’t. Lost Judgment is a wonderful extension of the characters and writing that we adored from the original.
As a tonally different, noir-tinged offshoot to the main Yakuza franchise, Judgment introduced us to Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced former lawyer who turns to private detective work in order to shine some daylight on his city’s dark underbelly. It set Judgment as a kind of boots-on-the-ground detective game with dashes of legal drama thrown in for good measure.
The original game’s narrative dealt with some extremely heavy themes, stretching from serial killings to dementia, and Lost Judgment is no different. It introduces us to characters making drastic choices and hiding painful secrets all at once, but this time largely centring on a Japanese inner-city prep school, a place as exclusive as it is sinister.
Lost Judgment’s opening hours do a great job of introducing a new world and stakes for Yagami and his crew, while also carrying over some familiar faces from the last game. That said, Lost Judgment feels like largely a standalone experience, with the case Yagami is faced with this time around being in a world of its own, both thematically and narratively. You don’t need to have played Judgment to get to grips with Lost Judgment pretty quickly.
Opening with the discovery of a badly decomposed body, seemingly killed as some form of retribution, Lost Judgment quickly begins to introduce a complex yet tantalising web of choices and relationships linking its key players. The grieving, imprisoned father; the hesitant, image-conscious headmaster; the determined, no-nonsense teacher. The dialogue and interactions between characters in Lost Judgment are full of evasiveness and deduction, but most involved still feel human and empathetic. The story doesn’t just move forward via staged conversations that you’re expected to just button through, and the game has Yagami partaking in all manner of activities during his investigation, from throwing down with Yakuza and unruly students alike, to leading the school’s dance club via a ridiculous rhythm game with J-Pop inspired dance moves.
Such is the perfectly off-kilter tightrope that Lost Judgment (and many other Yakuza games) walks with ease. Yagami is a straight-man who isn’t afraid to get a little silly, and it does wonders allowing proceedings to not get bogged down in the muck and grime of its darker moments. Throughout many of these interactions you’re collecting information and clues, filing them away in case files divided across the chapters of the game. The organisation of these case files isn’t always the clearest however, with differing skews of the investigation often sharing key individuals and clues.
“Lost Judgment’s greatest asset comes in the form of just how playable it is…”
Combat is something of a real-time brawler that can spring up anywhere from a back alley to a classroom. Yagami has multiple combat styles that he can use, differently suited to group combat or one-on-one fights, and there’s an absolute bevy of special moves and buffs that you can unlock with experience points. It’s often the case that the circumstances surrounding combat are more interesting than the fights themselves, usually taking place on key narrative beats that expand the scale of the situation Yagami finds himself embroiled in. Nothing teaches you more about the culture of a prep school than when you’re forced to beat the snot out of a bunch of arrogant, violent bullies, mere hours after arriving to investigate the death of a teacher and the suicide of a student. Or when masked men arrive to an otherwise secret rendezvous with a possible informant. Lost Judgment tells a story of slow rotting institutions and privilege with a kind of ‘show, don’t tell’ attitude key to great detective fiction.
It’s ultimately an easy recommendation, and Lost Judgment’s greatest asset comes in the form of just how playable it is, stringing you along its deductive path as deftly as some of the best mystery fiction we’ve ever played. Playing the ‘good guy’ might sound like a compromise in a franchise all about the nooks and crannies of the Japanese underworld, but Lost Judgment proves that no matter what side of the law you’re on, the Yakuza formula still sings.
Lost Judgment is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PS4.