For nearly two decades Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio toiled away on a lush vision of the Japanese criminal underworld with Yakuza. With its sprawling cast of characters, heightened drama, and multi-generational storytelling, Yakuza was a telenovela that also happened to be one of the best 3D brawlers around.
In 2018, RGG Studio balanced its universe with a new spinoff titled Judgment. If Yakuza focused on the seedy underbelly of the fictional city of Kamurocho, Judgment spent its time focusing on the criminal justice system. A sort of Law and Order to Yakuza’s The Sopranos.
Now, with news that the Judgment spinoff will also be RGG Studio’s main 3D action series going forward after Yakuza went full turn-based RPG, the upcoming sequel Lost Judgment is where folks will want to go if they enjoy the sweet brawler action Yakuza is known for.
Lost Judgment once again stars Takayuki Yagami, a former defense attorney-turned private investigator. In the first Judgment, Yagami was tasked with tracking down a serial killer targeting Yakuza members. In the sequel, an impossible crime was committed where the prime suspect in a grisly murder case has an airtight alibi.
If you’re expecting something like Ace Attorney meets Yakuza, however, you’ll be disappointed. While Yagami is asked to put his investigative talents to use, these gameplay portions are often rote point-and-click affairs where you look at clues and press “X.” There are also new platforming mechanics like climbing ledges, but these feel the same as similar parkour mechanics from other games.
That’s not why you’ll want to play Judgment. As the inheritor of the RGG house-style of 3D beat ‘em ups, the combat is a stone-cold stunner.
If you’re familiar with the Yakuza series you’ll know what to expect here. Utilize your combos and switch between three different fighting styles to take down mobs of bad guys or bosses in absolute style.
What sets Lost Judgment apart is the feeling of taking down your foes. There’s a smoothness to pulling off a successful chain of attacks and a real crunch to laying a finishing blow. Lost Judgment truly feels like a next-generation take on the RGG brawler formula.
The haptics on the PS5 DualSense provides that little bit of extra zest that really makes the combat such a satisfying home run. While it’s not as intuitive as some of the other ways DualSense haptics are utilized, it’s leagues better than your simple rumble feedback.
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Truth be told, I’m not worried about how Lost Judgment can hold itself up in a fight. My brief hands-on time was enough to confirm that RGG still knows how to make a fantastic action game, even after transitioning its marquee Yakuza franchise into a turn-based RPG.
Instead, let’s talk about Yagami and the ways the Judgment sets itself apart tonally from its sister series. As a detective mystery story, Lost Judgment very much feels like a procedural crime show on cable.
There are crime scenes to investigate, rival cops to deal with, and scared witnesses who know more than they let on. And trying to solve this mystery is Yagami, a smooth-talking, hard-hitting private eye.
Yagami is cooler than Yakuza’s other protagonists in the conventional sense. Where characters like Kazuma Kiryuu and Ichiban Kasuga are gangsters with hearts of gold, whose appeal comes from their earnestness and sense of honor, Yagami has a more rogue-ish feel about him.
Yagami’s internal monologues go a long way in showcasing how this is RGG’s thinking-man protagonist. Where Kiryuu might speak with his fists, Yagami will spend a fair amount of time processing new information and the twists and turns of the mystery. Yagami’s voice actor Greg Chun brings out this coolness in this fully-voiced sequel.
In one scene, Yagami is caught sneaking around the crime scene by two detectives and what follows is a quid pro quo information exchange where even though neither Yagami nor the detectives fully trust each other, they realize working together is the only chance they might have of catching the killer. Yagami gives the detectives just enough information to get their trust while digesting all the new information they reveal to him in turn.
And speaking of the killer, Lost Judgment is no watered-down murder mystery. The crime at the center of it all is violent and the story doesn’t pull any punches in showing you either the maggot-ridden corpse or paper over the gory details of the murder. I said Law and Order, but Lost Judgment might belong more on HBO than NBC.
It’s not all serious moments though. Lost Judgment includes plenty of side-adventures and minigames that, tonally, don’t make any sense but are still fun as hell. As part of your investigation, you’ll go undercover to a local high school where you’ll, what else? Help the school’s dance team reach nationals complete with rhythm mini-game.
If Judgment is to be RGG Studio’s action game flagship going forward, it seems to be in good hands.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s News Editor.