Everything We Know About Lost Judgment
Lost Judgment, the newest game from Yakuza developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and the second in its Judgment spin-off franchise, is out next week, so read our review and watch our episode of New Gameplay Today. To keep the Judgment train rolling, ahead of the game's release, we're running down everything we know about the game, from its story, themes, gameplay, and setting.
It's A Direct Sequel to Judgment
Even though it isn't RGG Studio's first spin-off set in the Yakuza world, Judgment made a comparatively huge splash when it was released in 2018. Telling the story of Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced lawyer-turned private eye, the game is set in Kamurocho, the main open-world location from the Yakuza series, but tells its own story aside from that of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. After the events of Judgment, which had Yagami facing an assortment of corruptions within Japan – including false convictions, pharmaceutical conspiracies, and murder – Yagami has returned to his life investigating petty cases around Tokyo's redlight district. But of course, it's not long before he's pulled into a much larger case.
It All Starts With A Dead Body
(Content warning for sexual assault)
We recently had a chance to play through numerous different levels of Lost Judgment – including its opening. If you want to read the full article, which includes an interview with producer Kazuki Hosokawa, you can find that in the most recent issue of Game Informer. In the meantime, here's what we had to say about the game's opening moments:
Lost Judgment opens in Ijincho, Yokohama, the location from Like a Dragon and the latest open world in the overall series. Firefighters are racing to a scene; smoke billows out of an abandoned building, but there are no visible signs of fire, as one firefighter points out. It strikes him as a false alarm or a prank.
His assumption is not correct.
Once inside, they survey the floor with the smoke, discovering 14 flares arranged in the shape of an arrow pointing in the direction of a large mass covered by a tarp. Flies, hundreds of them, hover around. You can't be sure until one of the firemen musters the courage to remove the tarp, but you have a pretty good idea what lies beneath. It's bad.
Removing the tarp confirms your worst assumptions – a dead body. But not a fresh corpse. The skin is black with decay. The hands restrained behind the back, mangled and broken. The body has been here a while, maggots and larva making themselves at home in the decomposing hole that was once a nose. The camera slowly pans towards the corpse, and right before you can't take it any longer, the screen cuts to black, and in pipes a familiar voice.
"In Japan, 99.9 percent of criminal trials end with a guilty verdict," protagonist Takayuki Yagami says, a declaration of Lost Judgment's themes.
"The reality is, the law is neither as perfect or as fair as it's supposed to be," he says a few moments later. "So I've made it my job to give those without a voice a chance to be heard."
Set in December 2021, Akihiro Ehara is accused of groping a woman on a train. A bystander captures Ehara's attempt to flee on video. It's broadcast by the news, leading to a public outcry for a maximum sentence. However, Ehara brings up the corpse in Yokohama on trial, asking if the court has identified the person. His defense lawyer, Saori Shirosaki, a main character from the first game and one of Yagami's coworkers, asks Yagami to investigate, believing police overlooked important case details. Did Ehara commit two crimes at the same time? If so, how? Was his sexual battery case a cover-up? Or has he gamed Japan's justice system entirely? These are the central questions in Lost Judgment.
It's Dealing With Heavy Themes Affecting Both Japan And The World
If it wasn't clear in the previous section, Lost Judgment's story centers on some weighty topics, including Japan's actual 99-percent conviction rate, sexual assault, murder, and corruption within Japan's judicial system. Whether or not the game pulls any of this off with grace, we'll have to wait and see. But it is worth noting the game isn't pulling punches when it comes to its sociopolitical themes. And that's the point.
RGG's games, especially the most recent releases, have never shied from tackling political and social issues within Japan. And where many western studios tend to avoid these topics – or at least talking about them – Hosokawa is open about what RGG is trying to say in Lost Judgment and the purpose of video games as political platforms, telling us, "Whether or not video games are a good medium for dealing with political issues is not a function of the game itself, but rather a function of the relationship between creators and players."
As he sees it, when video games became a dominating force in entertainment, or as they "became as important as novels and movies as a means for meaningful experiences," it was only natural they would adopt narratives true to the real world. The implication seems that Hosokawa views his audience as a mature one who wants to play games that explore themes about society, not shirk away from the thought of video game creators being politically-minded people.
"It’s also probably true that the market has changed from one centered on children and enthusiasts to one that is open and diverse enough to include people with various preferences and ideas," Hosokawa says. "For this reason, I feel that game creators should be strongly encouraged if not required to have a good understanding of and to be cautious about the way they depict certain themes and motifs when considering the diversity of their players."
Yokohama Is Back
While the Yakuza series has featured numerous different open worlds throughout the years, by and large, it's known for its central Kamurocho setting, which takes close inspiration from Japan's real-world Kabukicho entertainment district. Until 2020, when Yakuza: Like a Dragon moved the series to Yokohama with its Ijincho setting.
While the game also features Kamurocho, Ijincho is making a return for Lost Judgment, but not without some subtle and specific changes. Like a Dragon is a turn-based RPG, and so the large Ijincho map is built with this gameplay in mind. Lost Judgment, however, is a brawler, sticking with the Yakuza series' historical gameplay. When RGG was developing Like a Dragon, Hosokawa says he was already thinking about how the developer would use the map in Lost Judgment. And in fact, numerous changes have been made to Ijincho to serve the game's difference in gameplay that the player might never notice at all.
Except for one significant change the player can't miss.
"Ijincho is also a vast city, created on the premise of being an RPG, so we also introduced the skateboard as a means of transportation to make navigating the city feel more comfortable," Hosokawa says.
While playing Lost Judgment, we took the game's new skateboard for a few joyrides, and for what it is, it works well enough. Don't expect Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but there is a fun novelty to skateboarding around the city, even if the controls are limited.
Run Back To School
As part of his investigation in Lost Judgment, Yagami has to infiltrate a Yokohama high school undercover. Which, of course, means you also are going back to school.
Lost Judgment features a fully modeled Japanese high school for you to explore, with its own story beats, minigames, and characters. When we played Lost Judgment, we didn't get too much time with the school, but one level did give us a glimpse at combat within the setting.
Here's what we had to say:
Our time exploring the school shows a beautifully realized level full of classrooms and courtyards. Our objective is to head to the third floor, though we're stopped by a group of kids connected to the local Chinese gang, the Yokohama Liumang. A fight ensues. Which, Yagami beating the holy hell out of a group of children is a bit of a weird look, but here we are. Combat within the school, specifically in the classrooms, makes great use of the environment; grabbing a student's desk to pummel an enemy is as funny as it is absurd.
Combat Feels Fantastic
Historically, RGG's games have been beat 'em ups, and it's here that Lost Judgment shines. Combat is instantly fluid and chaining fast combos with heavy and light attacks combined with grapples and throws feels excellent. But with Like A Dragon, the core Yakuza series is now a turn-based RPG, meaning Judgment, the spin-off, is now carrying forward the main games' legacy as a brawler. It's an interesting position for a side series to be in, and Hosokawa says Lost Judgment's combat is a legitimate evolution of RGG's action systems.
"I would also say the battle system is the most advanced form of RGG Studio's action combat yet," Hosokawa says.
And There's Also Stealth And Parkour
When we were playing Lost Judgment, we got to see the game's new parkour and stealth systems. Both systems are relatively rudimentary in terms of gameplay. Still, they work well enough, and there's something to be said about how they break up the tried-and-true RGG gameplay, which remained relatively the same for several years. We didn't get a lot of time with either system but enjoyed what little we got to play.
It's RGG's First Global Release
Historically, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's games have come out in Japan upwards of a year before other territories – or in some cases haven't come out at all outside of their home country. That all changes with Lost Judgment. For the first time in the company's history, it will launch a game worldwide on the same day. Publisher Sega will release Lost Judgment on September 21. It will be available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One.
What About PC?
Good question! RGG has been bringing its games over to PC in recent years – except for the Judgment series. According to a report from Japanese entertainment site Nikkan Taisu, Johnny & Associates, the talent agency representing Takuya Kimura, the actor lending his face and voice to Yagami in the Judgment series, does not want any of their talents on "a PC platform that is not a game console platform and connects directly to the internet" due to privacy concerns. Due to publisher Sega and Johnny & Associates not reaching an agreement, the entire series will reportedly end after Lost Judgment. However, Sega has yet to say anything official on the matter.