Whenever I’d step into an open-world game, I’m usually looking for multiple paths of progression, different sets of activities, and many ways of approaching the same objectives. While Lost Judgement is a departure from the Yakuza series, the proverbial fruit doesn’t really fall far from the tree. It’s still quite linear, most mechanics are for specific situations only, and are really clunky. Now the strange part is while all these things do grind my gears. I seriously found myself immersed and enjoying the vast, text-heavy, clunky, sometimes on-rails experience.
How did I find myself enjoying this title, when it sounds like the opposite of what I like to play? That’s the real mystery here, friends. So let’s get into it.
You take on the role of Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced defense attorney turned into Private Detective. His latest job sends him to a local high school to handle bullying happening under the noses of faculty. While handling the situation, we quickly find that there is a lot more to learn about what’s going on in and around Ijincho. Getting wrapped up into a story about justice, revenge, how easy it is to confuse them, and the consequences that come with it. So make sure to take notes, class, all of this is going to be on the test.
Production (3.5 / 5)
RGG Studios continues to show how well they can use their very own Dragon engine by creating the same familiar city blocks and the crowded streets with ease. The real impressive part comes during the evening, where they’ve made the glow of street signs and lamps bounce off the walls, puddles and the pavement. They make for a convincing atmosphere, though there’s some considerable pop-in for crowds when you spawn, or if you’re moving around the area fast enough.
They’ve put in commendable work for detailing the faces of many of the leading cast, they stand out enough and are easy to recognize. Other minor characters and passerby types look passable, but you’ll see the drop in texture quality if you look closely enough. Hair looks dated, but they’re at least well-made. I couldn’t help but notice that nearly everyone had their hair setup not to animate, which could look awkward on close-ups or when people are moving wildly.
Music is another thing that I think could have used a bit more work. You see, I generally like to listen to the OST of a game when I’m writing about it, and that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. A lot of the time I feel like I don’t remember many of the songs being played. Of course, I recognize the fight music, because I hear that so often. But nothing really stuck to me as ‘yeah that’s definitely the theme of Judgement.’ I suppose they all succeed in creating a good atmosphere to help contextualize whatever moment you’re playing through, and that’s all they all really do. There’s no unifying theme among all these songs and that’s a shame because they end up not being memorable. But except maybe for the finale, which was epic, unfortunately the rest feel generic.
The other side of the audio experience is quite different though. It really shows that they got actors to model and play speaking roles in this game. I liked the entire cast in general as the voices matched the characters to a T. And I liked the English cast as well, except for Yagami. And this isn’t to say that he wasn’t doing a good job, but I just feel like translating the protagonists’ personality was a very tall order. I think he did do a good job, but I felt like some of the nuances or subtle emotional shifts in Yagami’s character were lost in translation.
So while the graphics do feel dated, we can more or less attribute that to the old graphics engine, but it still does a great job of keeping the game consistently performing well. As for the voice, I’d recommend keeping it on Japanese, unless you’re okay with the lip-synch being completely off.
Mechanics (3.5 / 5)
Alright, this is where I would have to say I had the roughest time. I mean getting through the first hour of Lost Judgment felt more like reading a legal document rather than playing a game. Thanks to its many introductions of characters and having to give me written instructions on what to do next every few minutes. This isn’t really a unique problem to Lost Judgement or Yakuza, Japanese games tend to give a lot of text prompts to make sure you understand how you’re supposed to play. But when the game is action-based, these many interruptions really get in the way of me enjoying the game. However, when you finally get through it, most of the game becomes smooth sailing, so hopefully, you can hang on.
When it comes to combat, you’re given three fighting styles to switch between. Tiger is meant to dish out heavy damage. Crane is meant to be evasive while attacking several opponents at the same time. And the new Snake style is specialized for parrying strikes and fending off armed opponents. Each of these styles can actually handle any situation anyway, so don’t worry about mastering how to use each of them. Fighting in general is actually pretty fun, given there are so many situations you can make at any point, and it works seamlessly with wandering around the open world. I hardly ever got tired of fighting mobs even if there was a lack of enemy variety. This is mostly because combat is superfluid and I can do all sorts of flashy stuff so long as I’ve got an EX charge.
Getting through combat and finishing quests will reward you with SP, which you mainly use to buy the many, many upgrades available to you. Word of advice, you’re going to want to get a lot of health upgrades, because some enemies, particularly boss types, can dish out an unreasonable amount of damage. You want to be able to survive that. Improving other things can be done as well, like the ability to get bonuses for eating, making tailing missions easier, or getting better stamina for your grip.
You’ll want to take some of these upgrades as you’ll be facing some required sequences of climbing to areas or stealth sections. And given how clunky they are, that extra bit of convenience is just going to be helpful. I wish there were better improvements for the sneaking parts of this game, as there are points that straight up don’t make sense. Even if I perfectly sneak up on an enemy, I can’t do stealth takedown because I didn’t throw a coin to keep them preoccupied. These coin throws can only be done at specific points of the map so you really have to look for them, too.
Chase sequences are a bit more fun since you’re taking a more active part in the gameplay and are short enough, so they don’t overstay their welcome. It’s essentially just a set of QTEs until your target runs out of stamina, but at least they mix things up enough to keep me invested. There are parkour sections in the game too, and it’s not much to write about. You’ll get through it, it’ll be fine.
Oh, and for some reason, you have a skateboard. You go faster than your usual running speed, but can only use it in certain areas, you also must look out for running into people, and there’s the bonus of being a middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket, riding on a skateboard in a city. Honestly, though I think it’s useful for getting away from fights you don’t want to take but that’s about it.
It really looks like the point of this is to have multiple types of activities you can interact with in the world, where the pace varies depending on what you’re doing. From the quick and chaotic combat to the slow and calculated stealth sections. While I think they miss more than hit on this part of the review, they did a similar approach to how they made content. The story for that part is a bit different.
Content (5 / 5)
Despite my criticisms in terms of graphics and mechanics, I honestly think it makes up for more than that in the amount of content Lost Judgement is doling out for anyone who’s able to get through the rougher introduction of this game. It was said back then that they were looking to make something like a TV drama back in the first game, and that approach hasn’t really changed. With that in mind, you’ll have to tackle the content, at least for the main story, as you would a TV show. A few hours into the game and you’ll be presented with this question: How is a bullying problem at a high school, a groping incident on a train many kilometers away, and a 2-month old rotting corpse linked? Finding that out will be your long-term objective in Lost Judgement.
As you progress through the chapters of the main story, you even get recaps of what has previously transpired. A decent part of the lines involves making sure that the audience is following along and not forgetting any key details. This hand-holding approach may make or break the experience for you, but it’s only one facet of what the game has to offer. I also would like to point out that I skipped every single recap because you can do that.
Yagami is introduced to a high school to deal with a bullying case, and the first thing he does is beat up a bunch of bullies, which may have missed the mark on the message. But hey, for some people that’s a selling point. Anyway, not too long after you start the game you unlock School Stories as well. A set of self-contained, interwoven sub-quests where you’re tasked to investigate a mysterious entity that’s getting the students of Seiryo Highschool tangled with unsavory acts and actors. It has its own progression system as well, which will quickly remind you of a Persona game. The stories are a bit cheesy, but manage to throw in some surprises here and there. I think the themes fit considering these are mostly high school students you’re dealing with. The neat part is that all of them are tied to yet another mini-game built into each of them. You can be piloting robots, dancing, doing skateboard tricks, boxing, and much more. Some of them are long, some are short, but all of them are fun.
But you know, don’t get time for that? Want something more of a one-shot 20-minute or-so adventure? Well, Lost Judgement’s got you covered! You can take on requests posted to detective agency which are pretty much one-shot stories that have a much more light-hearted tone to them. Or just progress one step of a quest-chain through a search engine. Heck maybe just walk a dog and find a new mystery? Yeah, you can do that too.
And what gets me invested in playing these quests that generally have similar mechanics and sequences to them, where you go from point A to B, find something, or fight someone, is how each story is filled with characters that feel grounded, nuanced, and real people. Even a simple story about finding someone’s correct time capsule became about letting go of something you’ve held onto in the past and moving on from that. Chasing something in the sky, became a story about a guy accepting the reality of his situation. It made me want to see a lot of stories to the end because, despite their short-lived time in the spotlight, I tend to like the people involved.
Perhaps you just want to explore the city, and the many activities it has to offer, aside from getting plastered, that is. There’s a ton of minigames you can play, and actual old Sega games if you’re willing to walk into an arcade for one. In fact, you can play Virtua Fighter in the school if you wanted to, it’s pretty insane. I was personally surprised to find out that Sonic had a fighting game and I just had to play it. There’s even this VR board game you can play, which gets you a lot of money, fast. It’s quite similar to Mario Party, and again I can’t believe they managed to make something like that and just add it to the game. A lot of these can be stand-alone games on their own, especially the school stories bit. It’s just so overwhelming how you can get lost in the many activities this game has to offer.
The sheer variety of content in Lost Judgement kept me wanting to check out what that new marker on the map is about. They even vary in tone of light and heavy stories, so it was hard to get tired of playing since all you really had to do to change things up was decide that you want to do something different. The hours pretty much just ticked away thanks to the abundant offerings Lost Judgement had in store.
Features (4 / 5)
In this case, I think RGG studios did okay, there are definitely things they could have done better, like the map. You have several ways of viewing the map, which helps in keeping your view from getting too cluttered, I just wish that they had integrated fast travel to these a little better. So I don’t have to jump around menus so much to get things done.
I’d have to say the same for inventory management, equipment aside. I don’t think queuing up one healing item for you to use is good enough especially for the battles late into the game, it might have been better to have a quick menu for this instead.
They also have case file, which I think is more for helping somebody who hasn’t played in a while to be all caught up with what’s been happening in the game so far. So you won’t really need that unless you stopped playing Lost Judgement for an extended period of time for some reason.
Then there’s the gauntlet mode that lets you take on challenges that you gradually unlock as you play the main game, as well as playing the fighting games within it with 2 player versus available. On top of that, as a replay theatre for the big scenes within the main story for you to view, which I primarily used to compare voice-overs with.
And finally, it has an NG+ mode, which gives you a fresh new save with upgrades and items carried over. Though I can’t imagine why you’d do that when Premium Adventure mode is, in essence, what you really want as a post-game experience.
Lost Judgement came down like a hard drink. Where the initial sips could be a challenge to take, but the buzz you get for downing a few shots could be well worth it. I’d pick up the game every now and then while writing just to check on a few details, only to find that I have somehow been robbed of another few hours of my time. It’s just really entertaining.
I ended up wanting to see how every story would conclude itself as they crafted even the most minor of characters to give me something to care about. And that’s pretty much the trick here, it’s not some new technology that procedurally creates new encounters or a graphics engine that blows our minds. It’s just this thorough weaving of stories with whatever little games that the developers can mix it with. They made them compelling, entertaining and can be taken at a pace that we want to.
Truly, it’s a shame that this may be the last Judgement title to come to us. Ironically because of the legal situation around it. Also, considering that RGG Studio has gone through a restructuring, this may be the last game of its kind. This game has a lot of heart, wanting to share the highs and lows it has in store for the world. And I recommend that you listen to the story because there’s a lot to learn.
Lost Judgement certainly found its stride, scoring a 4 out of 5
Available on the PlayStation 4/5 and the Xbox One/Series X|S