Not every video game sequel needs to always feel like a sequel. Making video games is in itself an iterative process, where ideas are tried, tested, and (sometimes not) found wanting, as a development team assesses what does and doesn’t work, and why. Therefore it’s not entirely out of the ordinary for a sequel to feel like an iteration of what came before, as the final result in a long-winded process of smoothing out rough edges and perfecting moments of brilliance.
Release date: September 24, 2021
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
That’s what Lost Judgment feels like. The sequel to Ryu Ga Gotoku’s 2019 spin-off of the action-brawler Yakuza series has the player once again stepping into the shoes of red light district lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami. A few years after his dramatic showdown on a national level with the government, an Alzheimer's drug, and a serial killer with more dead bodies than Agent 47, Yagami and his cohorts are hot on the heels of another case. What starts out as a bullying scandal at a local secondary school quickly spirals into something more sinister, which will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone familiar with Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios’ past games.
Lost Judgment feels like more of what came before. Yagami once again kicks faces in and snaps bones with the precision of a machine in a fast-paced and responsive combat system, which this time switches things up by adding in a new combat style focused around parrying attacks at the last second. Recognizing that its riff on Yakuza 6: The Song of Life’s robust real-time combat system worked superbly in 2019, there’s not a whole lot of change from Ryu Ga Gotoku to be found in Lost Judgment’s action-battle system, but the developer instead builds on what came before with more options layered atop the same foundations. That’s pretty emblematic of the whole game, really.
That being said, a lot of what Judgment did brilliantly back in 2019 - its fluid combat, sublime storytelling and characters, and nonsensical side stories - was in itself a product of over a decade of iteration on the Yakuza franchise. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is taking what it’s learned from over a decade of the Yakuza series going from strength to strength around the world, and applying it to its latest releases like Lost Judgment. Perhaps it’s not fair to criticize Lost Judgment as being more of the same when what came before is so excellent.
Arguably the most overhauled aspect of Lost Judgment is actually the detective work itself. In his 2019 adventure, Yagami’s detective work was basically restricted to either gawking at crime scenes, pacing over the same scenery until one of several clues was located to advance the overall plot, or solving a problem with his fists Kazuma Kiryu-style, battering people until a resolution popped out of them and a plot point was neatly wrapped up in a bow.
Lost Judgment gives the detective a whole lot more to work with. Yagami now comes armed with devices like a directional microphone, which can be used to isolate and pick out certain noises from the bustling cityscapes of Yokohama and Kamurocho, and a tracker which picks out and leads our detective to devices like wiretaps. You can even comb through nearby chat logs and social media posts, pairing posts with specific story-specific keywords to try and pick up a clue for a case, and every aforementioned aspect combines to gently nudge Lost Judgment towards being a more satisfying detective mystery.
Side cases are back once again, and they help breathe life into the new area of Yokohama. Picking up after Ichiban’s adventures in the southwest Tokyo city in Like a Dragon, Yagami ventures into Yokohama to unravel the main case he’s been hired for, but quickly comes across all sorts of weird and wonderful characters in need of a helping hand. There’s the likes of a UFO sighting, a detective dog that sniffs out crime, and a mystery revolving around a science mannequin that comes to life at night and roams the hallways of the local high school. If you thought Yagami’s side cases were going to be anything within the realms of normality after tracking down a perverted trio composed of the Panty Professor, Ass Katchum, and Judge Creep n’ Peep in 2019, you’re very much mistaken.
Unpacking a life
In many ways, Lost Judgment’s eclectic side cases are the perfect foil to its more somber main storyline. Lost Judgment’s localization director Scott Strichart warned players prior to launch that it dealt with “various traumas”, requesting that potential customers look after themselves and make sure they’re in the right headspace before delving into Yagami’s new case. Strichart was right to issue such a warning because Lost Judgment doesn’t back down from bullying and the fallout from such social isolation, casting an intense analytical gaze over not just the bullies themselves, but the individuals in our adult society who allow such bullying to proceed uninterrupted.
After Judgment’s tale of studying those who have power in society using it to lord over those who don’t, Lost Judgment feels sincere in studying bullying throughout childhood, and how it casts an inescapable shadow over those who intimately know the victim. Ryu Ga Gotoku’s sequel feels genuinely critical of a society that allows children to be bullied and taken advantage of, and, like the original game, not pulling its punches when studying the perpetual nature of police violence and self-service, Lost Judgment isn’t afraid to tackle these tough topics.
Lost Judgment proves a sequel can feel overtly iterative and still succeed. There are relatively few changes to be found from Yagami’s original outing outside of increased depth to an already-bombastic combat system, but that’s no bad thing when what came before was so enjoyable. Lost Judgment provides laughs aplenty with a brilliant array of side cases and characters, but it crucially tackles trauma and bullying with refreshing honesty and steely conviction when it needs to.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.