(Content warning for mentions of sexual assault)
Is revenge ever justified? Can a person take justice into their own hands and live with the weight of their choice, or should it always be left to a flawed judicial system that can and will betray the people it’s designed to protect? These are the core questions at the heart of Lost Judgment, the latest game from Yakuza developer Ryu Ga Gotoku and sequel to its 2019 detective-action brawler Judgment.
Lost Judgment’s story focuses on two major topics: justice and revenge. Yagami’s journey explores how these two concepts are intertwined. Throughout dozens of hours, the game examines what people are willing to do in search of justice, the failings of the criminal justice system, and how society often fails victims of violence and abuse.
Lost Judgment tackles difficult topics like bullying, murder, and suicide. While it shows the often brutal and tragic realities in excruciating detail, it approaches sensitive issues with care and empathy. Lost Judgment highlights real-world issues, how they affect people, and offers potential solutions for these problems. The game’s cast, full of new and returning characters, brings the story to life through well-acted cutscenes. I especially loved the antagonists, who were always painted sympathetically despite doing evil things. I found myself commiserating with them, even if I disagreed with their actions. Lost Judgment’s care and grace in navigating these topics is refreshing, and I enjoyed playing through a story that treats them maturely and smartly. With one major exception.
Lost Judgment’s handling of sexual assault is a mess. Following the #MeToo movement, a plot point that casts doubt on the truthfulness of a victim’s story is, frankly, irresponsible and reinforces negative views towards women who come forward with stories of abuse. Using sexual assault as a plotline, in this case, feels weak and shocking for the sake of shock. This is especially egregious when the narrative tosses that character aside once her usefulness as a plot device is over, forgoing any resolution to her character arc. I found this plot beat incredibly disappointing in a game that otherwise took care in sensitive storytelling. This cast a shadow over the rest of my playthrough, souring me on a story I otherwise enjoyed. I truly hated engaging with all of these moments in the game.
The action should be familiar if you’ve played RGG’s other games, such as the Yakuza series or Judgment. You spend a lot of your time walking around two open worlds – Kamurocho and Ijincho – getting into brutal street fights and chasing story threads around town. Judgment’s investigation mechanics carry over from the previous game and largely remain unchanged; you look around for clues and later present those clues as evidence, which like the first game, is a nice way to break up combat-focused sections.
Lost Judgment introduces two new mechanics to the series: stealth and parkour. Both are poorly implemented and tedious. Stealth is rudimentary and linear – go to this hiding spot, throw a coin to lure guards away, rinse and repeat. Parkour is somewhat engaging, but the game frequently forces you into investigation mode to find the handholds you need to get around an area. This kills the pacing, especially during the climax of the game where I was constantly stopped so I could search around for where to climb.
Combat is the highlight of Lost Judgment’s gameplay. Yagami is fluid and fast, and the inclusion of the three different fighting types from the first game, which you can swap between on the fly, feels fantastic. I loved encountering a room of enemies and using the three fighting styles to take out each person systematically – especially Snake, which allows for quick take-downs and the ability to disarm enemies. RGG’s iconic heat actions return, and they are as brutal and over-the-top as ever. I loved the combat in Lost Judgment so much that I often found myself just walking around the open world looking for trouble.
By the time credits rolled, I had trouble sorting out my feelings. On the one hand, Lost Judgment’s story is very moving, and I enjoyed exploring the characters’ emotions. And there were parts I simply loved playing, such as beating the holy hell out of bad guys. But at the end of the day, Lost Judgment commits a few unforgivable sins. Its handling of sexual assault is wildly irresponsible, and the new gameplay mechanics do little to help it stand out over RGG’s other games. If you’re already invested in the Judgment series or RGG’s games in general, then I’d say still check it out. But don’t expect this journey into Japan’s underworld to have nearly the impact of a game like Yakuza 0 or Like A Dragon.