Looking set to be my game of the year Lost Judgment tells a truly clever story of a corrupted justice system through topical themes of bullying, suicide and sexual harassment whereby it’s hard not to draw parallels between the game and the real world with the more profoundly worded dialogue that plays an integral part in this Sherlock-esque dark noir.
As a sequel to the Yakuza spin-off Judgment, you once again take control of ex-lawyer turned detective Takayuki Yagami as he becomes embroiled in a murder plot designed to poke fun at the flawed justice system as he investigates a string of targeted bullying within a highly regarded private school.
Topics like these are always hard to portray and run the risk of not tackling the subject with enough sensitivity or believably resolve the issues within a coherent narrative. With Lost Judgment however, through every twist, turn and revelation the game is constantly quoting conversation you most assuredly have heard in real life and will hit home harder for any victims of bullying or physically/mentally traumatic events. Even as the antagonists defend their version of justice it’s hard to not sympathise and agree with them despite your better “judgement”, seeing them as unfortunate souls pushed too far in a world where the system is not doing enough to protect them. Complimented by a seemingly well-researched dialogue that uses applied law and psychology to explain the lesser-known intricacies of the courtroom and human behaviour respectively Lost Judgment is telling a story bigger than itself and begs you to take the sensitive topics seriously and thoughtfully accept that we need to do better for each other.
Graphically speaking Lost Judgment is the best the studio has put out to date - every pore, every cut and every texture is phenomenally detailed. With previous titles like Binary Domain that had its fair share of shocking visuals (I’d love to see it remastered) I believe that SEGA could give Capcom a run for their money in the horror department with their ability to dish out some incredibly grotesque visuals.
Being a Japanese game that has been dubbed and re-recorded for the western audience Lost Judgment unfortunately suffers from some poor lip-syncing – the Japanese facial tracking has been retained for the western port and is reminiscent of watching an old kung fu movie. It’s something forgivable but at times has you taken out of the narrative despite the vocal arts of some of the industry’s most notable talents.
With the tried and tested Yakuza style of comedic side stories to tackle in your own time and speaking as a completionist having played all of the mainline games to 100%, my patience is finally beginning to wane. Side stories are uninspired and luckily few; tail this person, fight this guy, collect these things. There’s not a lot of interesting things to do within these side stories and serve ultimately as a means to collecting rare equipment or cheat items for the multitude of minigames that have also made a return from the 9+ games that have come before which leads to my next point.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku studio have never left you short of an assortment of minigames to play from legacy SEGA titles in the arcade like crane machines, fantasy zone, super hang on, virtua fighter 5 and diversions such as darts, golf, baseball, drone races, pool, poker, blackjack, oicho-kabu, koi-koi, shogi and to my personal torture Mahjong. (Having been in every game since the originals Mahjong is a game that still eludes me as the hardest and most time-consuming challenges to complete). While these games are now a mainstay of the series each new title brings along some more meaningful diversions.
With Yagami serving as a club advisor for one of the many schools’ extra-curricular activities to cover his investigation of bullying, he dives into a myriad of the schools more specialist study groups where you can play rhythm games with the dance club, territory control robot wars with the robotics club, snooping on deviant pupils with the photography club, e-sports fighting game tournaments and the high-octane Road Rash style biker club. This being said, the boxing club is the most unique and inspired of the group and has the more investible side-story and easily my favourite of the otherwise “skippable” inconsequential side stories.
One thing I found to be quite surprising was how SEGA seems to be taking some creative inspiration from Persona’s unique musicality right down to the cadence and rhythm of some of the backing tracks during the more light hearted moments of the game. While not unwelcome, it definitely made me think of Persona rather than the one I was playing and that I’d like to not be working through the majority filler of this one.
Introducing a new fighting style to create a trio of kung-fu inspired martial arts, Lost Judgment allows you to take on single targets and multiple opponents with the tiger and crane styles while the new snake style provides a non-lethal way to intimidate and disarm your enemies, all the while changing the battle soundtrack as you swap in and out of these styles on the fly. These features while previously seen in the Yakuza series is brand new to Judgment and provides a more well-rounded battle experience as you brutalise and crush your enemies with the sheer variety of context-sensitive EX special moves that changes the effect of your button presses in regards to being airborne, stunned, running or on the floor.
Being a detective by trade has Yagami using a variety of sleuthing tools to investigate his targets from his trusty camera phone, lockpick, noise amplifiers, drones, disguises and buzzword trackers on the social media proxy “Chatter”. These features aren’t all that well used in the main game unfortunately and I would have liked to have seen more use of the drone outside of the drone race minigame as well as the parkour and stealth set pieces. That being said, when they are utilised they are done well.
Lost Judgment is a game best enjoyed when it stays blinkered on the main track telling the hard-hitting story of one of the greatest plagues of human behaviour while ultimately most of the shortcomings will only be a problem for completionists like myself who won’t be able to ignore side stories. I strongly urge you to pick this up for yourselves or even watch a playthrough as it is sure to provide you with some meaningful takeaway while being an intellectually gratifying experience as you uncover the mysteries for yourselves.