Lost Judgement has undeniable strengths and it boasts enough content to keep the faithful playing for days, perhaps months. But it's hampered by a story that's muddled in places and drawn out in others. Not a bad game, but not as good as its predecessor
Lost Judgement opens with a scene in which a couple of firefighters make a startling discovery. Investigating what they think is a fire in an abandoned building, the pair stumble across a rotting cadaver chained to a chair, its skin and teeth browned and wrinkled, with maggots crawling through what remains of its flesh.
It’s one of the grisliest images players are likely to see outside of a Resident Evil game, and it seems to set the tone of what’s to come brilliantly. This is bolstered further by events transpiring at the same time as the discovery, in which a man goes on trial for groping a woman on a train, and mutters something rather cryptic as the sentence is passed. Players familiar with the first entry in this series – 2019’s Judgement – and the Yakuza series that spawned it, will likely be champing at the bit as the game’s opening comes to an end.
Lost Judgement’s tonal problem
And then Lost Judgement drops the ball – badly – and continues to do so for the first couple of hours. Over this time players may be justifiably perplexed about the tonal shift the story takes.
The plot kicks off with private detective Takayuki Yagami (hereafter known as Tak) and his ex-Yakuza buddy Masaharu Kaito wrapping up an investigation and then receiving a call from a couple of friends – Fumiya Sugiura and Makoto Tsukumo – who have set up a detective agency in Ijincho, a district in Yokohama. Upon arriving they learn Fumi and Mak have been hired by a local school to investigate a severe bullying problem. Tak and Kaito aren’t surprised; the first thing they did upon arriving in Ijincho was beat up some school kids who were harassing a restaurant owner.
The plot spirals from there into a labyrinthine tangle in which several teachers at the school may be connected to the dead body found in the game’s opening, which may, in turn, be connected to the bloke sent to prison for groping a woman on a train. Toss in a rather violent street gang, some corrupt cops, a cult-like group of masked hitmen, and a fixer/mercenary who calls himself a handyman, and you have all the ingredients for a plot that may seem bonkers to most, but will prompt a knowing smile from Yakuza and Judgement fans.
The main game’s story, however, takes a while to get going and as it does, it contains aspects that players may find more than a little uncomfortable. First off, there’s the issue around whether a group of detectives from Japan’s mean streets should be investigating a bullying problem at a school in the first place.
Second, the way they go about doing this is by secretly installing mini-cameras all around the school – even the bathroom – to catch the bullies in the act. Er, isn’t this a rather huge violation of the rights of a bunch of minors? When one female student catches Tak in the act of checking on a camera, she accuses him of being a pervert and, to be honest, it’s hard not to side with her on the face of things. Oh, and there’s the small matter of Tak’s first four or five combat engagements involving him beating the tar out of school kids.
Stay Out Of School
Once the action moves away from the school, however, Lost Judgement starts feeling a bit more like it should – and far less creepy. As Tak’s investigations take him into the seedy underbellies of Ijincho and Kamarucho, the plot’s atmosphere realigns better with both the protagonist and his activities. In these places, villains are worthy of beat downs and verbal exchanges don’t contain any hint of inappropriateness.
They’re also teaming with side cases, mini-games, and activities that’ll both delight the faithful and occupy hours upon hours of play-time. Really, you could lose months of your life in here.
Whether Tak’s having a game of darts, playing arcade games, racing drones, hunting down the local pervert, spending time at the batting cages, or playing a mind-bending VR experience, players are bound to have a ball because everything is so well constructed. It’s the sort of goofball entertainment that has been a staple in the Yakuza series for years. Tak even has a skateboard to get around on now, rather than having to hot-foot everywhere (or spend money on cabs).
The game’s combat is arguably one of its main selling points. Since Yakuza: Like A Dragon came along with its turn-based fighting, longtime fans of the series who prefer a more immediate beat-”em-up style of combat now only have the Judgement franchise to turn to and this game doesn’t disappoint. Players have four fighting styles they can switch between on the fly and depending on whether they’re up against a crowd in a confined space, a group of bruisers, or a boss, they’ll find the right tool for the job.
Once again, eventually, button-bashing won’t save them (at least on a difficulty level above ‘easy’), so it’s worth going into the menus and assigning experience points to open. up new moves and then learning said moves in order to turn Tak into a lethal weapon.
With the smooth, though, comes the rough. The first installment’s daft ‘detection’ sections are back, which basically amounts to staring around environments in first-person view and clicking on prompts. Tailing missions are back, although thankfully they’re relegated to side cases for the most part. There’s a parkour element that’s been introduced, but it’s not very good – no one will ever mistake this game with the free-running giants in this space. There are also stealth missions, but they’re badly implemented and unlikely to appeal to either fans of this genre or anyone else besides.
These concerns, though, are small potatoes compared to the plot’s handling of the issue standing as its central narrative plinth: school bullying. Not only is bullying in schools the springboard to the game’s story, but it is also a dominating strand that runs throughout the entire plot and the game’s reading of it leaves a lot to be desired.
Bullying is a rather huge problem in schools in Japan. It’s made mainstream news, political discourse and has been attributed to teen suicide in the press. These aspects pop up regularly in the game’s story but no attempt – bar roping in the silent majority’s complicity in bullying – is made to understand their root causes. Players aren’t given any insight into the mental state of either the bullies or their victims; the former are cardboard cutout villains, while the latter doesn’t have much of a voice at all.
Games can address issues of this nature, but the treatment of them in Lost Judgement barely scratches the surface.
Lost Judgement – Verdict
Lost Judgement, then, feels like a mixed bag. On the one hand, the screwball side mission and mini-game catnip and combat of this series are present and correct. Fans are likely to take to them like ducks to water. But the main story – which a game like this lives or dies on – is a muddled, uneven affair. The world is still wonderful and rich, though. Here’s hoping the developers make fewer missteps in the next installment.
- Lost Judgement was reviewed on an Xbox Series X
- A review copy was provided by Gamefinity