The Yakuza series is beloved for its uncanny ability to bounce between absurd humor, deep pathos, and brutal violence and making it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Lost Judgment, the sequel to 2019’s detective-focused spinoff Judgment, marks a rare misstep in that regard. In many ways it’s much improved on its predecessor and spins a more ambitious story — but it can’t quite deliver on its themes.
Lost Judgment picks up after the first game with Takayuki Yagami — played in droll, deadpan fashion by Japanese megastar Takuya Kimura — returning to his work as a private detective. Yagami is hired to investigate an incident of bullying at a high school in Yokohama, but soon enough the case becomes entwined with a groping conviction in Tokyo and a murder nearby.
The plot is more than a little far-fetched, as is the case with most Japanese crime procedurals, and the inevitable shoehorning in of gang warfare feels like the writers were overly beholden to the Yakuza series. But it’s told at a briskly entertaining pace and feels more focused than the previous game’s spiraling Big Pharma conspiracy. I generally appreciated the effort to tell a more intimate, smaller-scale story, even though it doesn’t ultimately pay off.
The detective elements of the game are much improved. You’ll still have to tail enemies through the streets and go through some pointless on-rails stealth sections, but they mostly serve as palate cleansers rather than points of frustration. With its streamlined talking-heads cutscenes and emphasis on presenting meaningful evidence, Lost Judgment sometimes feels more like Ace Attorney than its predecessor, which was essentially Yakuza with an occasional gumshoe mini-game.
Speaking of Yakuza, Lost Judgment will be worth playing for anyone turned off by the series’ shift to turn-based RPG-style combat with Like a Dragon. The brawling is as smooth and satisfying as it’s ever been, with three distinct combat styles that all have clear uses. It helps that Lost Judgment is by far the best-looking Yakuza-adjacent game to date, with a dramatic lighting system, realistic characters, and solid 60fps performance (at least on the PS5 I used for testing).
Kamurocho has never looked so good, and this time Yagami gets to play in Yokohama, too, with the much larger Ijincho district returning from Like a Dragon. Unlike most recent Yakuza games, the original Judgment only took place in Kamurocho and felt quite cramped as a result; the sequel gives you far more to explore. As ever, Sega’s Yakuza team does a great job at reusing locations and packing them full of new detail. You’re now able to skateboard on streets to get around faster, for example, and in Yokohama you can take a cute shiba inu for walks and discover side quests in return.
The breezy vibe is offset by the main storyline, which deals with some of the darkest subject matter yet seen in the series. The plot centers around high school bullying and suicide, which is certainly a topical and contentious issue in Japan; just last week a case involving a sixth-grade girl who died by suicide made news as the school denied that bullying was the cause. But Lost Judgment takes a flippant approach to the problem, with Yagami resorting to preposterous methods like placing remote speakers under classroom tables to vocally stand up for bullied kids when their classmates won’t. Other characters, meanwhile, get killed off or make jarring heel turns in endless twists that don’t feel earned by the plot, and the game often makes ham-fisted attempts to get you to sympathize with some pretty clearly terrible people. It’s good that Sega tried to highlight the central issue, and I don’t think anyone expects a video game to solve it altogether, but it doesn’t feel like a good match for Lost Judgment’s otherwise schlocky tone.
You can look at Lost Judgment in two ways: an often clumsy attempt at serious storytelling, or a technically accomplished sequel that much improves on its predecessor. It’s both, really. The plot doesn’t fully land, and I found there to be more awkward moments than in Judgment or other Yakuza games. But I also can’t ignore the big leaps this game makes in other areas, and it still keeps up the irreverent charm of the series for much of its running time. Overall, I think this is a much better game than Judgment and I would like to see where it goes next.
The future of the Judgment series is unclear, however. Various rumors suggest that Yakuza creator and executive director Toshihiro Nagoshi may be leaving Sega, while Kimura’s notoriously protective talent agency Johnny’s is reportedly refusing to allow future games with his likeness due to a dispute over a PC version. I’m hoping none of this stops Sega from working on the next installment, though — while Lost Judgment would be an unfortunately messy ending, I could see it as the ambitious middle part of a trilogy that finds its feet in the end.
Lost Judgment is out now on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S / X.