Nearly twenty years into the lifespan of Sega’s Yakuza game universe, the publisher has opted to fork the franchise into two different paths. The first was seen last year with the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. That game offered the biggest change in the series’ history with its pivot to turn-based combat in lieu of the traditional street beat ‘em up the previous games were known for. Lost Judgment is a sequel to Judgment, which first saw release on North American shores in mid-2019.
The Judgment games appear to be picking up the mantle for the traditional Yakuza street fighting style, which will be a welcome sight for those who didn’t fall in love with Like a Dragon’s approach. Lost Judgment is a culmination of all the work in the series up to this point, featuring a quality visual presentation and an underlying story with plenty of intrigue. However, it is still rotten with all the offbeat and nonsensical sections the franchise has come to be known for and the juxtaposition of these uneven elements can leave a bad aftertaste for players that are not already enamored with how these games are presented.
A body, a suspect, an alibi
Lost Judgment follows protagonist Takayuki Yagami and friends as they work to uncover the truth behind a brutal killing in the fictional city of Kamurocho, Japan. Yagami returns from the first Judgement game as a former attorney who now operates as a private eye. Where previous Yakuza games always followed gangsters with strong moral codes, Lost Judgment offers an alternative look at a similar Japanese criminal underworld from the perspective of the legal system.
The main story of Lost Judgment focuses on former police officer Akihiro Ehara. Ehara was thrust into the public eye after allegedly groping another man on public transit and being pursued immediately after the altercation while the commotion was recorded and posted onto social media by multiple bystanders. During his arraignment in court, Ehara shocks onlookers when he asks if a body found in Kamurocho three days earlier had been identified.
As suspicions grow that Ehara may have murdered the man, it is noted that his very public arrest and altercation offers a clean alibi for the mystery man’s murder. Ehara’s legal team has many unanswered questions about the situation and chooses to hire Yagami’s detective agency to assist in making sense of the dark, convoluted mess.
It is clear from the outset that the development studio intended for Lost Judgment to work as a conventional police procedural, though its constant barrage of whacky side jobs and interactions would ideally put it in league with shows such as Monk or Castle. These shows earned their bread by mixing grizzly murder mystery with lighthearted moments and character arcs. They ultimately worked thanks to the charisma of their lead stars, along with careful writing and direction. This is not the case with Sega’s latest.
In Lost Judgment, the mood can flip from so gruesome that you don’t want to look at the screen to so absurd that you don’t wanna keep holding the controller. While there is some universe where this mix could work, it was not in the cards for my playthrough. From side-quests like helping local teens with high-school problems or doing favors for old friends, most of the time that Yagami and company stray from the main mystery works to drag the entire experience down for me.
Around the tenth time you settle an altercation with a West Side Story street fight or fight against the controls to try and pass one of the many awful stealth sequences, I wanted to toss my DualSense out the window. The “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the game’s open-world activities and how dated or clumsy all of the mechanics feel was much more acceptable back when the Yakuza series launched than it is in 2021. I tolerated floaty street fighting when playing Yakuza Kiwami and its sequel because they remained faithful to the older games. A game centered around hand-to-hand combat shouldn’t feel so archaic compared to the stuff we’ve seen from Rocksteady, Monolith, or even Insomniac over the last fifteen years. I have similar feelings about the rhythm pattern-matching, racing, gambling, and other sequences.
Players can opt to use the full original Japanese voice cast or go with a localized version. Yagami is voiced by Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura or Greg Chun, depending on which version you opt to play. The performances are good for both versions, particularly when the tone turns serious. Visually, the development team has done an admirable job building out the alleys of Kamurocho and working to make sure all the virtual stars looked the part. I ran the game on PS5 opting to use the higher resolution output on my 4K TV and was treated to lots of fine details and high-quality lighting. The skin textures and other facial features look good with all that extra resolution. Performance while engaged in the various fights or mini-games was solid, though transitions during cutscenes could show the occasional hiccup. From a technical standpoint, Lost Judgment is a winner on PS5, even improving on the strong showing Yakuza: Like a Dragon had last year on consoles and PC.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
When I take a step back from Lost Judgment and look at all the individual parts, it feels more like a self-serve buffet rather than a specific meal that a chef made for me. There is a time and place for tossing everything you have at the wall and seeing what sticks, and there are also times when using restraint would be a better option. I am sure that my lack of experience in Japanese culture works against how I perceive many of the sequences in Lost Judgment and I’m sure series fanatics will eat it up. Sega is clearly capable of making a compelling mystery game that could stand in league with the work we see out of studios like Naughty Dog, but that will require a more focused, better-paced approach that Lost Judgement seems eager to avoid. 7/10 beatings with a leather club chair
This review is based on the PS5 release. A digital game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Lost Judgment will launch for PS4 and PS5 on September 24, 2021.
- Intriguing main storyline
- Strong visuals
- Both Japanese and English voice acting options are top-notch
- Will be welcome by series fans
- Hand-to-hand combat feels dated
- Various mini-games miss the mark
- Jarring tonal shifts break immersion
- Uneven direction and pacing
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Lost Judgement review: Patchy procedural