Note: this is a review in progress covering the game's first three chapters (about five hours) and does not currently have a final score. This review will be updated when more of the game has been played.
Lost Judgment is the best-looking photorealistic game I've ever played. When protagonist Takayuki Yagami walks around the streets of Yokohama, the lifelike quality makes me not only invest more in the reality of the situation, but also wish with all my soul that I was walking those streets myself. The level of detail in characters and world alike, are awe-inspiring. It's safe to say this is the first title that really feels like it's of a new generation.
Watch the trailer for Lost Judgment here
Lost Judgment follows the story of the aforementioned Yagami, a private investigator from Kamurocho, Tokyo. Although the game begins in the iconic Yakuza location, it's not long before our boy Tak finds himself on the streets of Isezaki Ijincho, Yokohama; a similar move to Yakuza: Like A Dragon. While Lost Judgment doesn't differ from previous game Judgment as much as the latest Yakuza game veers away from its predecessors, this geographical shift isn't the only significant development.
Yagami is now able to scale buildings, employ more ways of staying unnoticed, and even ride a skateboard at will. These new abilities allow for more vertical gameplay, a more fluid way of tailing persons of interest, and a smoother, more enjoyable manner of traversing the open world respectively. All of these features, and more, lift Lost Judgment to a level far beyond what we've seen in the Yakuza series so far.
Yagami isn't alone in this story. He's accompanied by business partner and ex-yakuza Kaito, who makes the journey to Yokohama with him. The two are in town to visit their friends Sugiura and Tsukomo, who have opened their own private detective agency. All four characters are in the previous game, but even newcomers will appreciate the friendships they share.
Before long, Yagami et al are working on a case in a Yokohama high school. Our heroes are hired to investigate supposed bullying, and the seriousness of the subject is something I can't emphasise enough. Although I was warned in advance by the game's PR company, I have to say that the game's content warning appears only briefly when starting a new story, and it's easy to miss.
The way the subject matter is handled is excellent, though. As someone who can relate to what the in-game victims face, I was struck by how sensitively and bravely the events are depicted by developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Bullying is treated, rightfully, as assault. It's conveyed as individuals heinously inflicting pain on the innocent for no fair reason. In fact, Lost Judgment even takes the time to go into the science behind bullying, and humanises both assailant and recipient in equal measure. I honestly can't praise Sega enough for this.
One area where I do have some criticism of RGG and Sega is accessibility. In terms of difficulty options, Lost Judgment offers four options that range from 'Simple' to 'Hard'. The former is aimed at those who are "new to action games", and lets you use just one button to get through combat sequences. While this is brilliant, it doesn't offer much customisation elsewhere. You can remap most inputs, but you can't double them up so playing through the whole game still requires using the full controller.
There's also the same old subtitle issue we've seen in RGG games before. The text is one fixed size and is only available in white. It's not so bad if you have the audio set to a language you understand, but those who are hard of hearing or not fluent in English/Japanese will struggle to follow the dialogue. A real pity when it's clear after only five hours that Lost Judgment does some incredible storytelling.
Excellent narrative is a hallmark of Ryu Ga Gotoku. From mainline games like Yakuza 0 through to spin-off titles such as Judgment, the cutscenes wouldn't look out of place in the finest HBO serials. Combining the over-the-top drama of The Sopranos with the infectious humour of The Larry Sanders Show, this franchise sits at the top of what it does. So far, I'm delighted to say Lost Judgment continues this tradition.
Another mark of RGG is the open world. Both Kamurocho and Ijincho are full of life, with enemies constantly patrolling and ready for martial arts mayhem. There are plenty of places to check out, from eateries to minigame venues. One particular highlight is Club Sega, which is full of retro video games to play. There's Virtua Fighter, Fantasy Zone and even Sonic the Fighters, which is easily the worst Sega game I've ever played but I still had to play it all the way through again just because it's there.
While I still have much more to go before a final verdict, it's already clear that Lost Judgment is a deserved nominee for Game of the Year. Its unbelievable visual quality, superb characters and daring subject matter all come together in one exquisite, moving, unique experience. If you only play one open-world game on Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 this year, this is the one for you.
Pros: Incredible storytelling, next-level visuals, immersive open world
Cons: Few accessibility options, occasional glitches (will likely be fixed with a day one patch)
Lost Judgment is being reviewed on Xbox Series X with code provided by the publisher. The game releases on September 24 for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. Read a guide to our review scores here.
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