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August 2022

Lost Judgment

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Lost Judgment'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 16, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Lost Judgment weaves noir narrative and action-packed investigations into a mystery thriller.

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Lost Judgment returns us to the shoes of Takayuki Yagami ("Tak" to his friends). A former lawyer turned private detective, he is hired to investigate rumors of bullying at a prestigious local school. Immediately after he arrives, he is embroiled in a complex case. A man accused of groping a woman on the subway announces during his sentencing where the body of a missing teacher can be found. All signs point to murder, except for one fact: The accused has been in jail the entire time. Now Tak must find out exactly who killed the missing teacher and how it's connected to the tragic fate of a young student several years ago.

For the most part, I enjoyed Lost Judgment's story, but there's an issue with tone. Yakuza titles always straddled the line between serious crime drama and absurdly ridiculous side stories. That is a big part of their charm. In Lost Judgment, the school setting is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. It wouldn't be the game it is without it, but it adds a level of dullness that might just not sit well with every player.

Part of the story involves Tak's undercover job as a student club advisor, and that is the standout of the game. Japanese high school settings are a dime a dozen in games, but taking on the role of the "cool" teacher who teaches people how to enjoy things again is distinct. It might sound like the plot of an '80s movie, but there's something undeniably delightful about teaching kung-fu to a dance club to improve their moves. The plots are straightforward but enjoyable, and witnessing the resolutions usually left me feeling pretty happy.

The other part of the story suffers because of the school setting. The story focuses heavily on bullying and the mental and physical impact on the bullied people and those who care for them. The situation can make it harder to relax and enjoy the story. Excessively manly crime dramas are divorced enough from reality to be fun to watch. A story about kids who are bullied into suicide while everyone around them pretends that it isn't happening? That's realistic enough that it can be difficult to ignore. I respect Lost Judgment for taking on something that would normally be ignored, but I'm not sure it's a good fit for the same franchise where you compete in dance competitions and robot battles.

I enjoyed much of Lost Judgment, but it had one of the least enjoyable main plots in the series. It worked against what I love about the franchise, which is how it mixes the serious and the surreal to create something greater. It was never particularly tough for me to go from a dramatic manly battle between two criminals to going on an epic fishing cruise, but many of the cut scenes in Lost Judgment left me feeling down enough that the wacky segments fell flat. It made it harder to lose myself in the game world.

Perhaps fitting for the setting, the game's most intriguing features are clustered around the school. A majority of the side stories are special School Stories, which have their own distinct plotline revolving around a mysterious "professor" who lures children into a life of crime. Each school club has an associated minigame. There's a surprisingly in-depth boxing simulator, a robot battle game, a rhythm-based music game, photography, motorcycle racing, and even eSports. The latter consists of playing a few rounds of Virtua Fighter, but it's still there.

I really enjoyed the variety of gameplay mechanics in Lost Judgment. When I got bored of one plot, I could swap to another, and there was enough content to keep things interesting. The robot and boxing minigames even have their own customizable leveling systems. This isn't unheard of for Yakuza, but it felt like Lost Judgment had more variety than previous games.

The downside is that everything outside of the school feels like a standard Yakuza experience. Despite borrowing the settings of both the classic Yakuza titles and Yakuza: Like A Dragon, the cities feel less lively. They're not empty, but with so much of the side content revolving around the school, fewer encounters pop up around the cities. There's still an absurd amount to do, ranging from collectible Mega Drive games to an adorable pet dog detective. This is not a game that's lacking in content, and if you like the Yakuza play style, it is here in full force.

Thankfully, the detective gameplay from the first Judgment is back and has been gussied up. You can still chase and trail people, but both have been made more interactive with additional actions you can take. There are also new detective gadgets, the ability to sneak into places like a prettier Solid Snake, and a variety of tasks built around Tak's night job as a detective. A lot of them are familiar, but the emphasis helps Tak stand out from his fellow protagonists.

Combat is also fairly similar to the first game. It retains the action combat system that was the franchise standard before Like A Dragon, and not a huge amount has changed. It's still a fast-paced beat-'em-up with special "EX Actions" that unleash cinematic special attacks. Tak retains his Crane (multi-target) and Tiger (single-target) combat styles from the previous game, and he gets the new Snake style.

Snake focuses on disarming, countering and intimidating foes. By tapping the block button at the right moment, Tak can push them aside and leave them open to counters. He can also grab and break weapons that belong to enemies (except for certain bosses). By far the coolest feature is the EX Surrender attacks. Deflect enemy attacks or beat the crap out of them, and surrounding enemies may become terrified. Once terrified, they are vulnerable to "instant win" attacks, where Tak launches a few attacks that leave the enemy so overwhelmed that they faint. You're even rewarded for finishing off every foe without knocking them out. It's a minor thing, but it feels neat in the long run and fits Tak's character to a T.

Of course, Lost Judgment looks and sounds great. The usual high-quality animation, direction and voice acting is all on display. Like the previous game, the English dub is good enough that you don't lose anything from swapping to it, and there are some funny jokes you'd miss if you don't speak Japanese. My only real complaint is that Lost Judgment probably has the worst case of untranslated side dialogue to date. Like other recent dubbed games, the main dialogue is dubbed, but side characters are only occasionally dubbed. This leads to an absurd mishmash, such as the minigame where Tak is chatting up a woman at a bar. He speaks English, and the woman speaks Japanese, and it feels tremendously weird. I understand the cost-saving measures involved, but if a minigame revolves around dialogue, then it should probably all be dubbed.

Lost Judgment can best be described as The Yakuza Game With The High School. It's familiar and comfortable, and it's likely to please fans of the franchise who weren't thrilled with the JRPG style of the last game. The storyline is sometimes too grim even for a Yakuza title, and it plays things a bit safe, but it's still a darn fun experience. If this really is the Judgment spin-off's last entry, then it's a fitting send-off to the sub-franchise.

Score: 8.5/10

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