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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lost Judgment

The second game in the Judgment series sees Yagami and his allies return for another complex crime drama story, this time taking place largely in Ijincho.  But does it keep the faith of the Yakuza format in fine fashion, or is this one judgment that should just be lost itself?

The second game in the Judgment offshoot series from the larger Yakuza/Like a Dragon franchise, Lost Judgment once again stars Yagami, Kaito and several allies returning from the last game.  This time they're out to untangle another complex mystery involving several seemingly unconnected elements - a school with a serious bullying problem, a police officer arrested for groping, and a man found dead in an abandoned building in Ijincho.  Per Yakuza standards the story only gets more complex as it goes, though it never introduces any severely outlandish elements (unlike some of the mainline games) and ultimately remains credible and relatable.

As in the last game, Yagami is a more versatile fighter than most in the series.  He retains his two fighting styles from the previous game - Crane for a faster style with sweeping attacks (better suited to fending off groups of enemies) and Tiger (a harder-hitting style better suited for single combat), and additionally picks up two more.  One is the Snake style, based on counterattacking and disarming armed enemies (based on aikido), and the other is Boxer style, based around evasive footwork and heavy strikes. The latter is available during one of the game's many minigames, although if you purchase the School Stories DLC you can also use it during normal battles.

Being a more detective-oriented experience, the gameplay works in some related elements.  Yagami gets the aid of a directional listening device, a bug sweeper and a detective dog during various missions, which adds a little more variety to the proceedings than just walking to the next waypoint and seeing another cutscene.  Stealth and parkour segments also come into play periodically - while not particularly deep, they're also never overly long or irritating, so they're a decent if not amazing addition.  One also gets a skateboard to get around town faster than on foot, which lends itself to a couple of minigames, as well as being able to collect icons for points to trade in for various prizes.

Per series standards, there are numerous side-stories to do in Lost Judgment, with many having little bearing on the overarching story but providing a bit of levity in an otherwise fairly serious-minded game.  As much of the action takes place around a high school, though, many can also be considered an extension of the overall story, having Yagami get involved with various school clubs that all have their own subplots to untangle and minigames to complete.  Doing so of course also earns you plenty of SP and bonus items to utilize, further incentivizing their completion.  on top of that, the series' usual plethora of minigames return - mahjong, shogi, poker, blackjack, arcade games, etc.  Yagami even gets a Sega Master System in his office (oddly a western model rather than the Japanese Sega Mark III) and can play a handful of classic titles for it, with four more available if you purchase the Detective Essentials DLC.

Speaking of DLC, it's probably the best-handled DLC the series has yet had.  In addition to the story-based expansion The Kaito Files (starring Yagami's long-time ally), there are two more - the Detective Essentials pack adds a number of extras to many of the game's side missions, including new Extracts (strong temporary powerups), side stories, a new skateboard and drone frame, and a new super boss to fight at the end of the Gauntlet.  The School Stories pack, as the name implies, adds more content to each of the game's school-based minigames and side stories, including the aforementioned Boxing style becoming available outside of its school club.  Basically, while you may not want every single thing they give, they provide enough variety in each pack to make them worth a purchase overall (and aren't just lame costumes or similarly superfluous things).

So, while Lost Judgment doesn't change up the formula of the Yakuza series overly much, it does end up being one of its better entries in many respects.  With a strong and relatable story, a web of complex characters and interactions to experience that still ultimately remains grounded and human, and probably the most polished take on real-time beat-em-up styled combat the series has had to date, it's a quality game in most every respect.  And of course, it has no shortage of content to complete for die-hard series fans and completionists, with enough there to last you well over 100 hours of playtime if you want to do it all.  If you're completely worn out on Yakuza by this point this one may not do a lot to change your mind, but if the series continues to have you hooked, it's one you'll definitely be well-served by playing.

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2021, 2022
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 5, XBox One, XBox Series, Amazon Luna, PC
Recommended Version: All versions seem to be identical as far as I can tell.