By Leah McDonald / October 29th, 2021
|Developer||Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio|
|Release Date||Sep 21, 2021|
|Genre||Action-adventure, Detective, Fighting|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S|
Lost Judgment follows the vein of its predecessors in delving deep into relevant topics that affect especially, but not exclusively, Japanese society today. One of these subjects is suicide, and it is an inextricable part of the game’s story and world. If you or someone you know has dealt with or is dealing with suicide, please reach out for help. I’ve included links to some sites that offer support, hotlines, and information.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Institute of Mental Health
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support
The Yakuza games have never shied away from tackling real-world issues and Lost Judgment is only the latest in this storied tradition. But whereas previous games often delved into issues involving the underworld, Lost Judgment sets its sights squarely on issues of bullying, suicide, and where the line between justice and vengeance resides. Bullying in Japanese schools is an oft-researched topic that is still relevant today, much like Judgment’s exploration of the pharmaceutical industry, but unlike that story, Lost Judgment’s felt far more intimate and impactful.
Once again we join Takayuki Yagami as his status quo job of hunting down cheaters is interrupted by a call from old friends Makoto Tsukumo and Fumiya Sugiura. They’ve opened up a detective agency in Ijincho, Yokohama, and need Yagami’s help tackling a bullying case at local Seiryo High School. Happening concurrently to this, Saori Shirosaki of Genda Law Firm is defending an active-duty police officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman on the subway. Akihiro Ehara claims he’s innocent, but during his sentencing, he says a peculiar thing: Hiro Mikoshiba, the man he claims bullied his son to suicide four years ago, is dead, and his body should have been found that morning in Yokohama. Seeing as Ehara was arrested months prior and spent the entire time in jail, how could he know something the police hadn’t yet released? The mystery only deepens when Yagami and Co. find connections between Ehara, Mikoshiba, and Seiryo High – the very school they’re investigating for bullying. What exactly is going on in Ijincho?
One of my favorite things about Judgment was how its overarching story delved into the morality of “the ends justifies the means.” Was killing criminals and thugs worth it if it meant creating a drug that could potentially save millions? Where did personal stakes and professional conduct meet and diverge, and which needed to take precedence in the face of tragedy? What was justice’s role in all of this, if exposing the conspiracy saved a handful of lives but keeping it under wraps could support a breakthrough in medical engineering? It was weighty and thoughtful, and that same care is given to Lost Judgment‘s story, as well. What are the limits when it comes to protecting others, and where does your responsibility end? What do you do when justice fails you? Is vengeance ever the right course of action? How far must one go to atone for past sins? Can justice ever be served if the innocent have to pay? I don’t want to go too deep into it because this is a story worth experiencing, but it definitely left me with a lot of thoughts and no clear answer by the end of my playthrough. I absolutely love a story that can craft an antagonist who is sympathetic and whose reasoning, while perhaps indefensible, is still understandable, and Lost Judgment definitely delivered in that department.
Combat in the Yakuza series and its off-shoots has always been versatile and fun, but the team at Ryu Ga Gotoku really outdid themselves this time around. Tiger and Crane return, along with newcomer Snake. One of my major gripes with the original Judgment was that Crane was basically irrelevant, since only Tiger received any decent upgrades. That is not the case here. Both styles, as well as the new Snake style, have a ton of upgrade options, making the flow of battle ridiculously fun as you mix and match the styles to fit the fight. Like in Judgment, Crane is best against large groups and Tiger is best for one-on-one, but the additional Snake is great against heavy-hitting characters and blockers. It’s also canonically used against the unruly students from Seiryo High who will frequently pick fights with Yagami. It wouldn’t do for our protagonist to beat up actual children, after all!
Upgrades include your typical HP and EX Actions, as well as some around-the-town goodies like a gluttonous stomach and easier trailing. Some of my favorites have always been the ones that let you attack from the ground, as well as crowd control. Several actions return from previous titles, so there’s nothing really new here with the exception of Snake, which prioritizes displacing people and using their momentum against them. As I mentioned above, you also learn EX Actions to use against opponents who are scared, which instantly knocks them out by scaring them shitless. The first time I did one I laughed out loud, it was great. I also really love the point system the game added to battles. After every fight, you earn a certain amount of SP, but by performing specific actions during battle (defeating someone in the three styles, using EX Actions, performing wall jumps, etc.), you earn bonus SP. Not only was this really helpful for leveling my skills, it also encouraged me to swap fighting styles on the fly, making for a significantly more fun experience.
When it comes to random battles, fighting isn’t particularly difficult. You never have enough enemies to swarm you and I don’t recall any especially annoying moves. Enemies guard more than they did in Judgment, but that’s what Snake is for. Boss fights also felt overall easier with two exceptions, but they all flowed incredibly well. Each boss fight also felt very different than each other, which was a welcome change from the usual. Often, Yakuza games have mostly samey boss fights with a couple standout exceptions, but I really loved the boss fights in Lost Judgment.
Trailing suspects makes a return, though with some nice quality of life changes. Yagami will now naturally hug walls and hide behind corners in order to avoid detection, and can now also perform “Act Casual” actions if he’s caught, such as tying his shoe or checking his phone. These are great for if you’re caught out in the open. You only have a limited amount of time you can use these actions in, though, so you have to use them sparingly if you don’t want to get caught red-handed. That being said, the trailing sections are significantly streamlined from Judgment and happen much less frequently, which I was perfectly okay with and welcomed. Instead, the game added some stealth sections, where Yagami has to sneak through a building or around thugs in order to get to his goal. I found these sections a bit boring, but I’ll go into detail on that later. Lock picking also returns and is also pared down to the point that I’m not sure why they included it outside aesthetics, but it also was never more than a fiddly waste of time in Judgment, so, I’m not too chuffed over it.
Yagami can now climb walls as part of his parkour skills in order to get into places he probably shouldn’t be in. Parkour is easy enough: Approach a climbable object and press “O,” then use the directional buttons and O to direct Yagami up and along grippable items. Keep track of Yagami’s grip, though, because if it runs out he will fall. Yagami can also run along walls to cover large gaps and swing from hanging objects. You cannot parkour freely and it’s used pretty sparingly throughout the game, much like stealth, but unlike stealth I enjoyed the parkour sections. They expand on Yagami’s wall-jumping abilities from Judgment and felt like a natural progression of his skillset.
You can also now use Observation Mode on the fly, unlike in Judgment where it occurred at specific points in the story. Yagami will often need to observe his surroundings as part of a quest, but he has also added a repertoire of other gadgets to his sleuthing kit. Along with his drone and camera, Yagami also has a listening device and receiver, as well as his Detective Dog. The listening device allows him to hear far away sounds, the receiver lets him pick up electronic noise, and the Detective Dog can track scents. I cannot stress enough how good it feels to use Observation Mode and not have the camera reduced to a crawl when you’re examining something. It makes these sequences so much less tedious. Yagami also has access to Buzz Researcher, which uses the in-game Chatter app to narrow in on keywords for Yagami to discover cases. It’s basically an expanded version of the Chatter sequences with Tsukumo from Judgment and adds a lot of liveliness to the world. It’s also integral to one of the game’s longer sidequests.
Lost Judgment also adds skateboarding to Yagami’s movement repertoire and oh my God is it wonderful. No more just hoofing it around town, now you can jump on your skateboard and zoom about city streets. You unlock the skateboard pretty early on in the game, and can collect coins as you ride to exchange at the skate park (part of the School Stories, which I mention below). You can’t ride your skateboard on sidewalks, and it’s all but impossible to navigate through Kamurocho, but I spent the vast majority of my time in Ijincho skating about. It’s fluid and fun and very responsive, plus Tiger style gets an upgrade that lets you use the skateboard to smash people in the face, and I appreciate that a lot.
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