‘Lost Judgment’ review: a dashing detective game that improves on the original

Hard-boiled to perfection

A star-studded and ambitious spin-off set within Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Yakuza series, Judgment launched in 2019 for PlayStation 4 and wowed players with its stylish modern world. The detective-focused twist on the established Sega formula proved to be so refreshing that it has already warranted a sequel, Lost Judgment – and Ryu Ga Gotoku has managed to improve hugely on the original.

If you’ve never played any of the action-packed Yakuza games but have been intrigued by the meticulous open worlds and strong characters that fans famously fawn over, I think this is a great place to start. The first game has somewhat established the stakes, but Lost Judgment does a great job of welcoming new players while offering a fascinating, contained mystery to dig into. Sure, the Yakuza series is as good as everyone says, but this is an excellent accessible option if you find the number of games in the parent series daunting and just want to test the waters without getting your whole body wet.

In Lost Judgment, you play as Takayuki Yagami; a former attorney turned private eye who leverages his skillset and charisma to track killers and crack civilian cases. He’s a very different character than Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu, but he’s typically loveable, effortlessly cool, and can – of course – whoop a lot of ass when necessary. Lost Judgment retains the 3D-brawler fighting gameplay that helped to popularise the Yakuza games, and given that the mainline series has permanently switched to turn-based JRPG combat with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this creates a unique situation for newcomers and veterans. The Judgment series, or whatever spin-offs are to come from Ryu Ga Gotoku, will likely be the home for real-time action going forward, and the good news is that the system only seems to be getting better.

Yagami dances around enemies with his complex Crane and Tiger fighting styles, leaping and pummelling his way through hordes of goons while carefully dispatching rowdy students with his new Snake-style ground pounds and counters. It’s easy to have fun with but tricky to master and rewards players who learn the combos and choose the right skills to augment their favourite approach. It means that even when you run into a trio of thugs on the street for the thousandth time, you don’t mind the battle, as it’s always an opportunity to show off new skills and earn some precious Skill Points.

This is because Lost Judgment has a bustling skill tree for players to dig into, helping Yagami become more fluid in combat by activating absurd EX Attacks and improving the power of his punches and kicks. The fun part is that there are also skills to unlock that help him with his detective work and open-world shenanigans, so it creates the feeling that you’re nurturing a build based on your playstyle.

Lost Judgment
Lost Judgment. Credit: Sega

Judgment was my first introduction to the Yakuza series, and the main thing that hooked me was the simple pleasures of exploring its detailed modern world. Lost Judgment is very similar to the original in many respects, but it expands the scope of many of its best ideas, resulting in a confident sequel that easily supersedes the original. I can still head to Yoshinoya for a tasty beef bowl with extra toppings, but this time I can walk my cute dog or take my skateboard, grinding and kick flipping my way through the gigantic new Yokohama area.

Instead of sticking to just Kamurocho, the sequel adds an entirely new location to explore, which meaningfully fleshes out the amount of content and capers. Where you may find dull spots in the original, Lost Judgment fills in the cracks by making the most boring parts of the game more fun. Now you can find and return lost items around the map, parkour up the side of buildings, and participate in meaningful stealth encounters with smoke bombs and coin toss distractions. Activities that may have occurred out of reach in cutscenes in the past are now actions that the player can engage with. This was one of the few problems I had with Judgment, so it’s terrific to see that rectified.

My other major bugbear was how dull some of the detective activities felt in a game that is primarily about investigation. The tedium of tailing a target is still present, but it has been stripped back considerably thanks to the ability to ‘Act Casual’ when they turn on you. Every part of the game has taken on feedback, it seems — even Chases have been made more interesting with health mechanics and alternate paths. It’s not quite as fun as say Return of the Obra Dinn or Paradise Killer, but it’s getting there!

Lost Judgment. Credit: Sega
Lost Judgment. Credit: Sega

Observing a scene is still very satisfying, especially when you pan the camera and find a rogue item hiding on a subject’s body that blows the whole case wide open. It feels like Lost Judgment rewards your curiosity more instead of being so rigid. I remember many occasions in the original where I would be stuck pixel-searching or looking online for a guide, whereas, in the sequel, Yagami can choose to think and summon a hint that lets him progress further. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it always gives you an option, which is much appreciated and helps with the pacing.

The minigames are so entertaining too. You’ve got a whole Master System in your office to play retro classics, but you can also enjoy games like Sonic the Fighters and Fantasy Zone at Club SEGA in your downtime. The usual suspects are back, such as Baseball, Gambling and Darts, but Judgment’s most interesting minigames are all new and feel a little less aloof given how they’re tied to the story. You spend a lot of time orbiting a secondary school in Lost Judgment as part of the Main Case, which leads Yagami to box, dance, bike and more. The attention to detail in these impressive sidecars would be something to behold if it wasn’t already the standard for Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s meaty open-world action adventures. The studio is unrivalled in its ability to realise the intricacies of a modern open-world, and Lost Judgment’s environments feel lived in as a result, thanks to all of these wonderful excursions.

Judgment featured a ton of tonal whiplash, as do a lot of Ryu Ga Gotoku games. The Yakuza series is known for emotional melodrama and absurd NPC encounters, and this balance is something that feels particularly acute in Lost Judgment, given the subject matter. At times you will leap between images of decomposing bodies to caveman sociology lessons. One minute you may be discussing a gruesome suicide, and the next, you’ll be skateboarding to the pawnshop to smack the life out of someone over a coveted action figure. I don’t mind this so much as I believe that these games capture life’s multitudes in such charming amber, but if you aren’t used to this unconventional storytelling style, it may be hard to stomach.

Lost Judgment. Credit: Sega
Lost Judgment. Credit: Sega

There’s some tricky content in here (particularly pertaining to bullying), but it makes for a thrilling tale that you won’t want to put down. It’s almost beneficial that Lost Judgment has all of these optional oddities so you can take your mind off of the main case, sometimes. Tragedy and comedy are always holding hands here. Much like Judgment, the sequel’s main case is well thought out and full of thorny twists and moments that make your mind wander. The mysterious Akihiro Ehara’s sinister smiles delight and Yagami’s ex-Yakuza buddy Masaharu Kaito is still the ultimate himbo sidekick. Lost Judgment’s growing cast introduces plenty of new characters for Yagami and friends to bounce off too; the impossible odds stacked against the plucky Yagami Detective Agency and Yokohama 99 elevate the narrative considerably.

You’ll be pleased to hear that it looks incredible too. The high frame rate on the PlayStation 5 helps to make Lost Judgment’s intricate animations sing. Combat is gorgeous to look at as a result, but simply traversing through busy streets to find new side quests and stories is a feast for the eyes. It’s easily one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 5. Within cutscenes, Ryu Ga Gotoku flexes its graphical abilities further with remarkable skin detailing and clothing materials, down to the flappy tassels that drift in the wind as Yagami peels through the streets of Kamurocho and Yokohama. I still think there’s some distance to go in making conversations and emotions feel more natural on the character’s faces, but Lost Judgment still sets a very high bar for open-world storytelling.

Lost Judgment will be released globally on PlayStation 5PlayStation 4Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One on September 24. This review was based on the PS5 version of the game.

 

The Verdict

Lost Judgment feels like the game Judgment was always meant to be, which is saying something given how well-received the original game was. With a bump in framerate and graphical capabilities, Ryu Ga Gotoku’s open-world stuns with its visuals and shocking story while delivering oodles of content for players to dig into. With its quality-of-life improvements and refined detective gameplay, It’s a no-brainer purchase if you enjoyed Judgment, but if you’re new to these games, it would also be a great place to start your Ryu Ga Gotoku journey.

Pros

  • Stunningly detailed graphics
  • A living open world with ridiculous intricacy
  • Delivers a pithy story where tragedy and absurdity collide

Cons

  • Detective work is improved upon but still not top-notch
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