Lost Judgment is the latest entry in SEGA‘s blockbuster Yakuza series, a spin-off from the main-line story that puts players in the shoes of trendy private detective Yagami Takayuki. It’s also the latest in an absolute deluge of games in this series, following a boom in Western popularity that the franchise definitely deserves.
I’ve been playing this series since I picked up the first one on PS2, awful English language dub and all. I’m always keen to return to Kamurocho, and Judgment’s slightly different angle on the series was super refreshing – especially now the mainline games have eschewed the beat ’em up combat in favour of turn-based RPG gameplay. Walking the streets of Tokyo as a private detective, solving cases both silly and grim in nature, whilst availing yourself of the Yakuza franchise’s trademark cavalcade of side activities. It’s an experience in a living world, one you’ll inevitably become intimately familiar with after you’ve played a few.
Lost Judgment has everything you’d expect from a Yakuza/Judgment game. It walks a constant line between serious drama and ridiculousness. It also has… just a ton of unnecessary shit padding it out. Unsurprisingly, we’re returning to the streets of Yokohama this time, following up on a case that spans both cities. Tak can now employ gadgets to collect information – there’s an eavesdropping device, a weirdly timed camera minigame, and a climbing system that pops up from time to time, making use of a Shadow of the Colossus style grip gauge.
Oh, and he can take to the streets on a skateboard to get around faster. You can even hop on this skateboard to race down to the local high school and play a DDR minigame with some teenage girls, all the while playing as a leather-clad middle aged man. With a story split in half across two cities, and perhaps the worst pacing of a series intro yet, all this clutter really gets a chance to shine, and I’m forced to admit that maybe, just maybe, they’re pumping too many of these games out.
With each game taking place in a recycled location – albeit with visual tweaks and new side activities – the series has to keep stepping up all this fluff to keep things feeling new. With Lost Judgment, I feel like we’ve reached the nexus point. There are so many different things fighting for your attention, and the incredibly slow burn of a story allows all these mediocre distractions to bubble up into the light. Seriously, SEGA – I don’t care how relevant the school is to this case, I really don’t want to spend this much time there (I play Persona games for that).
This would all be kind of excusable if the story was of the same calibre of previous entries, but the threads are definitely starting to stretch a bit here. The awkward thing about Judgment is it seems really keen to make Tak look younger and trendier than he really is – floppy hair, leather jacket, now the skateboard – but he just looks like an older guy trying really hard to be hip. Now he’s spending so much time in a school, beating up a seemingly endless amount of schoolkids, and I just wonder how this would go down in actual Japan.
What I enjoyed about Judgment‘s premise was a potentially darker, more grounded look at Kamurocho, and Lost Judgment does offer that at times. The turnaround time on these games is getting shorter and shorter, and the final product is suffering as a result. Yakuza has taken drastic left turns into the surreal before in its main story. It’s not always been believable criminal drama, but those moments have always taken themselves seriously enough to land moderately well.
Despite the flaws, I’ll play Lost Judgment to the end. It’s got enough of what I love from the Yakuza franchise to keep me interested, and it may actually be less of a drag for newer fans of the series. It also seems a bit unfair to imply the series as a whole is losing track when Like A Dragon was so superb, but I don’t know. Most of the good stuff is still here, but, well, so is a lot of tat. Even more so than usual.
Lost Judgment – a bit too on the nose.
It looks like Judgment‘s future is pretty uncertain at the moment – they might struggle to keep the likeness of the actor who plays Tak – and to be honest, I think that’s probably a good thing. The intention seems clear – they want the mainline Yakuza games to be turn-based and Judgment to keep on as a beat ’em up, true to the original – but another game headed in this direction could be an absolute mess. If SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio are forced to pump the brakes and think a little harder about the next one, it can only be a good thing.