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gaming

Lost Judgment review – crime and punishment


Lost Judgment – life beyond the yakuza (pic: Sega)

The latest Yakuza spin-off sees Sega return to the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and Yokohama, in this compelling new crime thriller.

Sega’s Yakuza franchise really has had a turbulent history in the West. In the early days there was a limited attempt to sell it to mainstream gamers, but when that didn’t work Sega quickly gave up and many of the subsequent spin-offs never got released here. They’ve tried again more recently and as a result the franchise has steadily built up a new audience, with Yakuza: Like A Dragon and 2019’s Judgment coming the closest yet to mainstream success.

Those two games were important milestones for the series in multiple ways, with Like A Dragon segueing into more of a traditional role-playing game, with turn-based combat, and spin-off Judgment emerging as the more action-orientated of the two, now that original main character Kazuma Kiryu has been retired.

As a direct sequel to the last game, Lost Judgment once again casts you as private detective Takayuki Yagami, as he becomes embroiled in a new murder case which quickly unravels into a larger conspiracy. There’s a lot of pulp action in Lost Judgment, and the franchise as a whole, but in this game Sega also has a serious tale to tell.

Although the yakuza do still figure in the game’s plot, there’s a clear effort to move away from the subject and in story terms Lost Judgment is really just set in the same universe as Yakuza, with few real story links to the rest of the series. In terms of reusing assets though, it often feels worrying like an expansion pack rather than a separate game, not only returning to the mean streets of Kamurocho, in the series’ fictionalised version of Tokyo, but also the Isezaki Ijincho district of Yokohama from Like A Dragon.

There are new locations created purely for Lost Judgment but even so, it’s hard not to notice just how many reused assets there are if you’ve played any of the other games. That’s fair enough in one sense – these games have a limited audience and yet the graphics are very good – but popping into local bars and shops to waste time with mini-games and side quests is something that’s beginning to feel very overfamiliar.

Yes, it’s cool that the arcades have real versions of Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter 5 (and Sonic Fighters, for some reason) but the Yakuza series has been relying on the novelty of such virtual tourism for decades now and that novelty is wearing thin, even if you’ve only played one or two of the previous titles.

It doesn’t help that while Like A Dragon mixed things up with its new style of combat, Lost Judgment is still very similar to the older games. Yagami is more acrobatic than Kiryu but the underlying combat clearly has the same roots. There are some chases and tailing sequences, as well as a minor new stealth element, that weren’t in Yakuza, plus a Phoenix Wright style investigation mini-game but none of these are much fun and Lost Judgment seems to realise this as they aren’t as numerous or lengthy as last time.

Viewed in isolation Lost Judgment is a competent action game but one that lacks variety and ambition. As a result, everything depends on the quality of the narrative, but despite a long-winded script – usually a sign of a too-literal Japanese translation – this is actually some of the best storytelling the series has ever seen.

Lost Judgment – familiar locales (pic: Sega)

The plot is ruthlessly linear, to the point where you almost feel the game should be a visual novel, but it tackles a number of serious real world issues, including bullying and suicide. These are handled in an impressively delicate manner, with nuanced depictions of the victims and perpetrators, although there’s also a sexual assault case that quickly discards its victim once they’re of no more use to the plot.

Overall though, Lost Judgment is miles away from the shlock melodrama that is Yakuza’s usual stock in trade, even if there is plenty of that as well, in the game’s less serious moments. Thematically, this is the most interesting Yakuza game by far, as it explores a central question of whether vengeance can ever be justified – but not in a trite moralistic way but against the background of a corrupt and indifferent judicial system.

The whole thing is held together by the performances of Yagami’s voice actors, with both the English and Japanese dubs painting him as a thoughtful and decent person, while still ensuring he has some interesting rough edges. Best friend Masaharu Kaito and new character Kazuki Soma are good value too, again regardless of whether you play using the English or Japanese voices.

Lost Judgment is a better game than its predecessor but only really in terms of the storytelling. Two games in and the gameplay and settings are already starting to feel predictable. Although thanks to the talent agency of Yagami’s Japanese voice actor, who is a major star in Japan, there may not be a third entry at all, after they got into a bizarre argument about whether there should be a PC version or not.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if there wasn’t a third title, but you can only hope that the same team continue their work on another spin-off, because much like Yakuza’s mainstream success, they’re right on the cusp of something great here and just need that final push to break away from tradition and into something genuinely new.



Lost Judgment review summary

In Short: There’s so much reused content it barely feels like a new game at times but the storytelling in Lost Judgment is some of the best, and most thoughtful, the Yakuza series has ever known.

Pros: Great characters and, mostly, tactful handling of serious real world issues. Great graphics and as overfamiliar as it might be, all the mini-games and shops are still fun to mess around in.

Cons: The script can be quite clunky and the action and open world wandering is overly familiar, even from just the last game. Very linear plot, with no real chance to influence it.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: 24th September 2021
Age Rating: 18

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