Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has been making Yakuza games for decades now, and the series deals with Japanese organised crime. In 2019 Europe got a spin-off game called Judgment, which looks at events from the law & order perspective. The main protagonist is an ex-lawyer and a private detective Takayuki Yagami working with his friends and colleagues. Judgment was a story-driven experience, that had an enormous amount of dialogue to listen, and text to read. And quite often the dialogue had nothing immediate to do with the actual plot. Because of this, I would have a hard time describing Judgment's story to someone, even after playing it. Nevertheless, Judgment was a successful game, that knew its target audience. Now it's time to have a sequel called Lost Judgment.
Lost Judgment is very similar to its predecessor in terms of gameplay and story. And most importantly very similar to how the story is being delivered. There is an enormous amount of dialogue again, and not everything seems necessary in terms of progressing the bigger story.
There are multiple choices for subtitles, which is always a good thing. Voice acting can be listened to either in Japanese or in English. Western audiences should probably choose English voice acting, because that way it's easier to follow the story. Not just by reading the subtitles, but also by just listening the dialogue. Japanese voice acting is good as always, but so is the English one as well.
The main story involves a murder mystery, just like it did in the original Judgment. A young school teacher is found dead, and clues lead to a local private high school. And as expected, things only get more complicated from there. The interesting thing here is that Takayuki Yagami is actually working in school this time around, while conducting his investigations of the case. In other words, a big portion of the game is to interact with student and teachers. Another big theme is school bullying, and how it effects the whole school, not just the people involved.
Lost Judgment tells its story like an interactive TV series. The story has been divided into separate chapters. And at the beginning of each chapter, you get a short cutscene explaining the previous events, just like you would in a TV series. Another reminder of a TV series is the way the characters, places and other important things are being introduced. It is done via short stories rather than just describing things to the player. And as you might guess, these short stories don't necessarily serve any other purpose in the bigger picture. They can involve, for example, modern dating, and how to help a local high school dance club gain success. This means that you should think of Lost Judgment as an armchair trip to Japanese society and culture. That way you will get the most out of it, at least in terms of story.
There is an RPG element included. Sometimes you get to decide how to proceed by choosing from multiple dialogue options. But not really, because there is no chance of failing, and the story does not proceed until you make the right choice. This kind of illusion of choice is executed poorly, and the developers should have just left it out entirely.
Since this is a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game, there are a bunch of extra missions and tasks to do as well. Usually, they are scattered all around town to different locales. Arcades offer a chance to play real Sega games from the past, and then there is golf, baseball, several types of gambling and so on. The most interesting addition is the original Sega Master System located in Takayuki Yagami's office, and the console has several real Sega games included. Needless to say, you can spend a lot of time just by doing these side activities. And there are, of course, so called real (optional) side missions as well. These offer short stories of their own, like tracking an urban legend about a legendary ramen stall at night, or maybe trying to conduct an investigation about local U.F.O. sightings. Gameplay usually involves going from one place to another, following a lot of dialogue and then maybe looking for an object. And quite often you also need to fight.
The combat system is fast and done in real time. There are several different fighting styles to choose from, and practically always at least half a dozen opponents. Punching and kicking is pretty straight forward, but you can also use items in the environment, like bicycles, sofas and baseball bats. In time you can open new techniques from a separate talent tree. After that you can throw, disarm, counter attack and do flashy finishing moves to your poor opponents. There is not a shred of realism in these fights, but the point is to have fun. Besides, these fights offer a great change of pace after following the dialogue for 30 to 45 minutes straight.
There are several difficulty settings to choose from, and since there is a strong emphasis on story, it is possible to enjoy the game on Simple level. That way the game practically plays itself. I would recommend to choose at least Easy mode, because then you can actually play and not just watch and listen.
Controls are good, but they are not simple. There are so many different functions in different situations, that it is very hard to remember everything. The developers have come up with a simple solution to this. Very rarely a player is in a hurry in any given moment, and on the lower side of the screen there is usually an explanation about what each button is doing at that moment. And if that is not enough, you can adjust all the commands of the different buttons in the options menu. All in all, there should be a way to make Lost Judgment's controls to your personal taste. Navigating the map is also easy, and a separate line on the mini map guides you to your next destination at all times.
Believe it or not, Lost Judgment offers something to do even outside the actual game. The starting menu has "2-player mini-games", which requires two controllers. Here you can play all the mini-games with a friend without having to start the main game itself. The Gauntlet offers a chance to play finished missions again with different parameters. In other words, it is clear, that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has made an effort to offer a lot of content. They have also promised DLC after launch.
Graphically Lost Judgment looks better than its predecessor, although you may have to compare them side by side to notice. Colours are more vibrant and brighter, and the level of detail is something to behold starting with lines and wrinkles on characters' faces. The city feels alive, and it creates the same feeling as Yakuza games do: I want to travel to Japan and take a look myself.
Technically Lost Judgment works flawlessly, which is not that common nowadays, when a new game is launched. I didn't notice a single dip in frame rate, or encounter a single bug. I assume that there are bugs and other problems, but at least not that many.
Should you play the original Judgment before starting the sequel? Not necessarily, because all the proper introductions about the characters, game mechanics and so on are done in the sequel as well. Then again Lost Judgment is very similar compared to the original in terms of execution, game world and its characters. And the original Judgment is only a few years old at this point. So, because of these reasons I would recommend you to play the original Judgment before starting Lost Judgment.
Lost Judgment is a very story-driven, and very much a Japanese game. It follows a path carved by the original game pretty closely. If you have ever played either a Yakuza game or the original Judgment, you already have a pretty good idea about what you are going to get.