Its world is far more vast than its predecessor, it improves on the original entry’s weaknesses, and it offers a compelling narrative to fans — whether they’re drenched in a litany of side quests or tackling the main path head-on. But while Yagami’s second outing is more sprawling and silly than its predecessor, it’s also proof that bigger isn’t always better.
An uncommon take on bullying
The main narrative of Lost Judgment is extremely unique within the pantheon of video game storytelling. When a man named Akihiro Ehara assaults a woman at a train station and is arrested for his crimes, he suddenly reveals the location of the body of a missing teacher at Seiryo High School. It’s a learning institution steeped within a deep culture of bullying and harassment amongst its student body. Working with a local but familiar agency called the Yokohama 99, it’s your job to uncover the mystery behind this man’s untimely demise by embedding yourself within the halls of the school.
While there’s no shortage of Japanese-developed games that take full advantage of a high school setting, this more mature and critical perspective sets Lost Judgment apart from the rest. Even in the earliest hours of the game, you’ll witness scenes in which male and female students alike are relentlessly badgered and ridiculed by others. Scenes like these could easily be mere fodder for shock value in the hands of less skilled developers, but Ryu Ga Gotoku and Sega’s peerless localization team handles the task with an impressive level of care and respect.
If you’re a fan of Law & Order: SVU episodes that highlight crimes experienced in high schools or universities, Lost Judgment feels like a vastly expanded version of one of those plots. As pervasive as examinations of bullying psychology might be across other forms of media, it’s not often discussed in gaming, despite how many teens enjoy the hobby. Certain portions of the connective tissue may miss the mark in terms of tone when juggling side quests, but all the big moments hit the way they should. That setup alone makes Lost Judgment feel immediately unlike its homicide-focused predecessor, and most other games I’ve played.
Too much of a good thing
Outside its narrative trappings, Lost Judgment feels like an absolutely massive game, in stark contrast to its predecessor. There are about 40 different side quests, most of which are welcomingly more obtuse and meaty. That’s in addition to the standard detective-style quests available at Yagami’s base of operations. There are also 10 School Story side quests as well, extensive loyalty missions focused on the various clubs at Seiryo High. Finishing these felt like a grind at times because they require so many repetitive steps, similar to the Reputation Missions from the first game. That said, because they’re focused on the backdrop of the central school, School Stories often lead to some of the most interesting side-narrative discoveries.
Despite there being an abundance of activities to complete, the quests themselves might be one of the biggest improvements of Lost Judgment, because they harken back to the series’ Yakuza roots. While the original Judgment mostly abandoned the wacky subplots of its parent franchise, the sequel embraces the crazy in a way that brings a sense of excitement to all side activities. Instead of completing mundane detective tasks, the opening hours of Lost Judgment has players battling Super Saiyan educators, searching for UFOs, and chasing after a man in a skeleton suit who throws fake body parts at you.
Because the main story of Lost Judgment can be so incredibly serious, I appreciated these moments of levity just as I had in Yakuza games of yore. It’s an absolute joy knowing you can never fully predict what you’re about to encounter next.
These activities take place in a massive Yokohama map that’s far more spacious than the truncated Kamurocho neighborhood Yakuza fans may be used to. Yep, it’s the based on the one featured in Like a Dragon, and that added space has its benefits and drawbacks.
On the plus side, there’s a lot more exploration to be had, and Yagami gets a brand-new skateboard to patrol these expanded streets at a faster pace. And, in the spirit of making everything bigger and better, Seiryo High is, of course, fully modeled and available to enter and exit at any time.
Still, even though the bigger map may feel more realistic, it can become a chore to navigate once the side quests start piling up in far-aflung locations. The skateboard seems like an outright admission of this fault, but it still doesn’t solve the problem completely. At times, Lost Judgment starts to feel a bit crushed by the sheer volume of its content. That being said, if you’re enticed by the pitch Lost Judgment is offering, you’ll likely appreciate all that’s there, especially if you have a taste for semi-raunchy and absurd humor.
A less restrictive formula
Though there’s an absolute ton of stuff to do in Lost Judgment, the quest design across the entirety of the game isn’t as varied as it could be. Mainstay mission types from the first game return with a slightly more open-ended approach. Tailing suspects relies less often on hiding behind prescribed sources of cover, chase sequences have a new health bar mechanic, and searching for clues involves manually switching to vision mode rather than automatically entering it at designated moments. These mechanics account for a majority of the quests you’ll encounter, so it’s a positive that they’ve evolved somewhat even if the adjustments are mostly modest.
The most obvious new addition to this loop are parkour puzzles, which involve Yagami scaling the sides of buildings to find a way inside or to reach inaccessible areas. Mechanically the concept is sound, but the controls in which it is steeped seem unnecessarily stilted in an era where so many games have done parkour correctly. Instead of focusing on finding pathways to the exit, I felt like I was constantly wrestling with how to make the correct maneuver to get the job done.
Underneath all this, of course is a beat’em-up combat system that’s almost entirely uncharged from the original game with the exception of a new violence-restrictive Snake style combat stance. I didn’t find much of a use for it beyond having an alternate path to obliterating punk teens with an endless flurry of punches and kicks. It should all feel satisfying to fighting game enthusiasts, but there are simplified difficulty settings for those who prefer to mash it out instead.
All things considered, Lost Judgment is a solid sequel that’s welcoming to new and returning players alike. Its narrative is compelling, its side quests are often hilarious, and there’s an absolute ton to do. Sure, it feels a bit bloated in ways most recent Yakuza games have not, but it gives players a staggering number of choices. Portions of Lost Judgment could use less grind, but I still very much enjoyed my stint at Seiryo High.
Inverse reviewed Lost Judgment on PS5. It is also available for Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and Xbox One.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its leadership and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)