In this, the 16th year of the Yakuza franchise, it really does start to feel like the series is trying to break free from its origin shackles. What was once designed as a game for young Japanese men has now evolved into a global franchise for SEGA, with Lost Judgment being the first game in the entire series to receive a simultaneous worldwide release.
During a global pandemic, this should be praised for even getting out of the door in one country.
However, Lost Judgment feels almost a world away from a Yakuza title. Yes, this is a sequel to a spin-off to the main series so rightly should be forging its own path into the future, but does this come at a cost? As much as I questioned Lost Judgment’s departure from all things Yakuza, when the story inevitably introduced gang warfare, my first response was to roll my eyes. So, what do I want?
Even after my time with Lost Judgment, I am still very much conflicted as to how I feel about it.
Lost Judgment once again centres around Takayuki Yagami and his Yagami Detective Agency. He is called to Isezaki Ijincho – the city map first introduced in Yakuza: Like a Dragon – by his friends Fumiya Suguira and Makoto Tsukomo who have just opened up their own detective agency, Yokohama 99. They have just secured their first big case and would like Yagami to help assist them. In turn, Yagami, trespasses into a high school, puts up some video recording equipment, beats some kids up and harasses a teacher, all in the name of ‘justice’.
I jest, but there are some questionable goings on in Lost Judgment. In true Yakuza fashion, it isn’t long before things link up to another case being looked at back at Yagami’s old law firm. So he decides to stay on and gets a part-time job working at the school. But that suddenly doesn’t make everything okay, and I was left with conflicting thoughts throughout.
The overall story in Lost Judgment isn’t a patch on the first game’s tale of police corruption and human experimentation. The original Judgment may have trodden familiar ground in some respects to the franchise, but I didn’t find myself questioning Yagami’s motives half as much as I did in Lost Judgment.
As well as Ijincho, Lost Judgment introduces another large new area in the form of Seiryo High School. This acts like another mini city in the game: you can eat at the cafeteria, purchase items and continue with the School Stories side quest. Though, to call this a side quest is a bit of a disservice, as it is a lot larger than that.
Soon after you become the latest peripatetic teacher at Seiryo High, you can start this mammoth side activity. The Yakuza franchise is known for these long “game within a game” activities, and now the Judgment series is no different. In this one, you become the counsellor for the Mystery Research Club, an extra-curricular activity for wannabe detectives. A girl named Amasawa brings to your attention the Professor and asks you to delve into the other after school clubs to find out what they know about this enigmatic fellow. These clubs will have Yagami dancing, boxing, racing, competing in Robot Wars-esque battle and much more. Many of these activities have been dabbled with before in the franchise but to see them all tie into an overarching narrative is a neat touch. And after the initial introduction to Dance Club, all this becomes optional if you just want to focus more on the main story. And let’s face it, if you’re roleplaying Yagami, you probably should.
As well as the lengthy distraction, Lost Judgment is once again filled with dozens of side activities to keep you occupied. 42 substories may be one of the lowest totals across the franchise (though more will be added in the franchise’s first Season Pass including girlfriends and a playable Kaito story), but it more than makes up for it elsewhere. Darts, casino, drone racing, VR missions and the SEGA arcade all make a return but Yagami now has a new toy. Or old, depending on which way you look at it. In his Kamurocho office, he now has a SEGA Master System, with eight games emulated within. Again, more are available as DLC.
One is available from the very beginning, the deceptively brutal Alex Kidd in Miracle World but more can be obtained through shopping and various other means. You can find Fantasy Zone, Enduro Racer, Secret Command (released as Rambo in the US), plus many, many more fully emulated. And if there are differences between the Japanese and English version, you can even choose which version you prefer.
Being the bulky console it is though, Yagami doesn’t take it over to Ijincho with him. But Kamurocho is only a taxi ride. Good job Lost Judgment allows you to freely switch between the two cities, whereas previous games have locked you to one for lengthy periods at a time.
As is now customary for the series, Lost Judgment once again features dual audio: Japanese and English. Many of the English cast return, though there are some changes. Shirosaki for example has had her English VA changed from Aimee Castle to Stephanie Sheh and it takes some getting used to. But on the whole, there is just something about the English dub in general that doesn’t feel quite right. I am nit-picking of course and being hyper critical of an entire language dub where the vast majority has been done away from an actual professional recording booth due to the pandemic. But there is something there that doesn’t sound quite right.
There can be no faulting the graphics, however. Both Kamurocho and Ijincho look utterly resplendent no matter what time of day it is; I will never tire of seeing the Ijincho Ferris wheel lit up on an evening. Drinking it all in before a thug spots me, initiates a fight and I am brought crashing back to reality.
Lost Judgment sticks with the brawler mechanics that the franchise was built upon, and then builds upon that too by adding a third fighting style. Both Crane and Tiger Styles return from Judgment with pros and cons for both depending on who and how many enemies you are fighting, but Snake Style has now been added. Snake Style is designed for counter attacking and disarming enemies. This does limit its usage severely against bosses – where disarming is not possible – but against a horde of knifed up thugs it really does come into its own.
Plus, some of the EX actions for Snake Style are hilarious. When you strike fear into an enemy, as indicated by purple smoke rising from them, hit the Y button near them and really see them cower.
I have said it countless times now, there isn’t a bad Yakuza game, but there are weaker ones. Lost Judgment on Xbox feels like a misstep in comparison to the plot of its predecessor, but it still stands head and shoulders above most other open-world titles. The plot feels elongated out in the early stages, and then padded in with unnecessary bumph as you continue. Just as well then that the side quests are as good as they have ever been with the whole School Stories perhaps being more entertaining than the main narrative. And if all that fails to win you over, Lost Judgment is still an excellent SEGA Master System emulator.
Go back to high school in Lost Judgment for £49.99 on Xbox