One case might have been closed, but if the Yakuza series has taught us anything it's that on the crime-laden streets of Kamurocho there's always some new villainy afoot. In series spin-off Judgment and its upcoming sequel, Lost Judgment, that meant a new lead character, swapping ex-yakuza with a heart of gold Kazuma Kiryu for disgraced defence attorney turned private eye Takayuki Yagami (whose partner just happens to be a different ex-yakuza with a heart of gold, Masaharu Kaito).
While the previous games were set in the well-trodden streets of Kamurocho, the heart of almost all Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's crime thrillers, this time the action's happening across the bay in Yokohama. You're able to travel between both districts, but the site of the grisly new crime is there. It's also the location that was the setting for Yakuza: Like A Dragon, another reimagining of the Yakuza format. But, as years visiting Kamurocho have taught us, the devs are skilled at repurposing previous maps to evolve them over time, keeping them interesting while also taking advantage of the familiarity series veterans build up over time.
Fists of Justice
Where Like A Dragon ditched the brawling in favour of turn-based combat, Lost Judgment returns to real-time fisticuffs. Yagami's own street fighting skills are less heavy-handed than Kiryu's, utilising the hero's martial arts training to bring a different feel to the Dragon-Engine-powered combat. It's just as over-the-top as you'd expect, with huge finishing moves that comically send criminals flying, and Yagami switching stances to access alternative movesets in the heat of battle.
The Crane and Tiger fighting styles return, now joined by the Snake style. Built around deflection and counters, it offers a change of cadence to fights, allowing you to tussle a bit more smartly. And you don't need to be a maths whizz to realise that adding a third moveset to Yagami's actions means this offers a lot more variety than the previous binary switching. Whacking foes in the honker is always going to result in a good time, but now you can be more expressive with your beatdowns.
To be honest, that first-freedom was something that was lacking when the studio first switched to the Dragon Engine, between Yakuza 0 (which itself had multiple schools of combat) and Yakuza 6. It's great to see Lost Judgment not only making the detective-'em-up a series in its own right, distinct from Yakuza, but also carrying the smackdown belt forward to continue to improve brawling in a way that can rival the best of the previous bunch.
Yagami isn't exclusively focussed on roughing up thugs in the street. As a detective, his goal is actually to solve cases. And this time around the job might be the most challenging he's ever taken on – investigating a suspect who has seemingly pulled off the perfect crime, with an alibi that appears rock-solid.
As police officer Akihiro Ehara takes the stand and is sentenced to six months of penal service for groping a woman on a train, he reveals gleefully to the court that he knows about an undiscovered body in Yokohama, the corpse of someone who was murdered at the same time as the incident he's being convicted of. Accusing the horrifically tortured victim of killing his son, he claims nothing was ever done about it, and that the legal system is a joke. Having been sentenced for a crime happening at the same time as this new murder, he's made himself bulletproof, and publicly shown up the court system.
This comes as a surprise to his defence attorney Saori Shirosaki (returning from the first game), who believes the incidents are connected, and the original investigation is fishy. Naturally, she calls upon Yagami to help reveal the truth behind the simultaneous incidents Ehara was involved with, as well as the previous murder of Ehara's son.
Of course, things spiral out of control, and Yagami and Kaito end up tangled in a conspiracy that delves deep into the way justice is served in Japan (something Ace Attorney fans might be familiar with). As a former lawyer, Yagami's own beliefs will be called into question, as well as what the right path is for pursuing true justice. It's a bona fide legal thriller.
Sounds heavy? At times it's sure to be. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio regularly drafts in seasoned Japanese crime writers to tell compelling, legitimate narratives that can be tense and emotional rollercoaster rides, ensuring its titles offer some of the most mature storytelling of any video games around.
And yet Yagami is also the kind of guy who does flips on a skateboard, dresses up in comical disguises, and this time around even infiltrates a school in Yokohama. There he takes part in minigames such as dancing and robotics in order to complete School Story sub-quests. He assists a variety of students with their problems, undoubtedly helping them learn something about themselves while also learning from the kids. It's a little 'School Of Rock meets The Raid', and it's bound to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, as will the other, non-school-related sub-quests. As usual, the devs manage to balance the whiteknuckle legal thriller of the main plot with some of the funniest side activities in gaming.
Ever the detective, Yagami needs to use his private eye skills to complete missions, both within and outside the main plot. These were fun in the first game, but somewhat limited, often involving a hefty dose of tailing. These have evolved in Lost Judgment to be more engaging (though tailing does return), giving Yagami some new tools, including a coin to distract enemies (but no silverballers – Yagami prefers to get up close and personal), more gadgets, and parkour moves, like hanging off ledges on buildings, to enable him to stay out of sight when stealthing through the streets.
It's not just the story of challenging the legal system that's going big. Lost Judgment will also mark the first time Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio releases a game on PS4 and PS5 simultaneously, meaning it will benefit more fully from the new hardware. If the PS5 version of Judgment is anything to go by, the addition of 60fps will be especially effective for the fast-paced street brawling. It's also the first time any game related to Yakuza has had a global launch date – usually we've had to wait a year or so after the game's launched in Japan to play it in the West, at the very least. With a great English-language dub in tow, Yagami is taking the world by storm.
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