We absolutely love Judgment — especially on PlayStation 5. Despite being the starting point of a spinoff franchise, we'd go as far to say that it's hands down one of the best Yakuza games — and so its sequel, Lost Judgment, comes saddled with high expectations. There's no doubt that this is a bigger, and arguably more ambitious release. The sheer amount of varied side content in Lost Judgment is impressive — even by Yakuza standards — and it's a game that you can get lost in for hours on end, chasing all kinds of optional objectives alongside a complex main story. But at times, this anticipated sequel can feel both stretched and bloated; far less cohesive and focused than its predecessor. Bigger isn't always better.

If you've played Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you'll know the main setting of Lost Judgment very well indeed. The diverse cityscape of Yokohama is your stomping ground, slightly repurposed in order to facilitate the adventures of private detective Takayuki Yagami. The protagonist takes a trip to Yokohama to celebrate the opening of a brand new detective agency, but as you can imagine, it's not long until he's back on the job.

As it turns out, Yokohama has a bullying problem. Teenage students from a local school are causing trouble in the halls and on the streets, and Yagami's hired to get to the bottom of things. It's a slow start to what is a typically tangled narrative, full of twists and turns that keep you guessing. Outside of a few references and the occasional flashback, the story of Lost Judgment has no direct connections to that of the previous game. Having said that, multiple characters make a return — some more important than others — and if you're unfamiliar with the original Judgment, you'll be missing out on what makes them tick.

For the most part, the plot's predictably engaging, and it's carried by a cast of intriguing characters. Par for course as far as Yakuza is concerned, but at points, the storytelling is hampered by noticeable bouts of redundant dialogue. Some narrative beats are repeated over and over and over again, as Yagami runs through the current situation with different sets of characters. While it's certainly not enough to ruin the story, it does damage the game's momentum. There are chapters where it feels like the plot has barely taken a step forward, and although reflection is important in detective fiction — often a way to ensure that the audience is up to speed — there's way too much of it in Lost Judgment.

Frustrating stuff, but at the end of the day, this is still a story that's head and shoulders above what you'll find in most other games. The whole thing's peppered with memorable moments and well-acted cutscenes, topped with emotional performances from the central cast. Whether you're playing with the original Japanese voices or the English dub, you're in for a thriller.

The main story isn't short, either — it'll run you a good 20 to 30 hours or so — but beelining it means skipping some of the game's most enjoyable activities. As Yagami investigates the school, he stumbles into the role of an outside advisor, allowing him to dig even deeper into the institute's issues. These side cases are ridiculously in-depth, with Yagami befriending the school's various extracurricular clubs. From helping the dance club reach the national finals to taking pictures for the photography kids, completing all of these optional storylines can easily add another 30 or 40 hours to your playthrough — it's just that extensive.

Almost all of these investigations come with their own minigames, but some are a lot more entertaining than others. For example, joining up with the local boxing gym gets you access to — you guessed it — boxing, and it's brilliant fun. There's honestly enough to boxing that it could be its own standalone expansion — but other activities don't quite hit the same heights. The robotics club, for instance, revolves around puzzle-like matches against other eggheads in which you steer small machines across a grid. It can be a nice change of pace, but as one of the side stories that requires quite a bit of grinding, it loses steam long before it's finished.

Still, despite the ups and downs of school life, there's no denying that Lost Judgment is one of the most content-rich Yakuza games to date. You're getting real bang for your buck here, and the effort that's been poured into even the stupidest of side quests is admirable.

However, it's hard not to feel as though all of this content takes its toll on the game's pacing. Because parts of the main story can be so drawn out — as mentioned — the idea is that you can break things up by immersing yourself in side activities. But the depth of these optional cases means that you can almost lose sight of the core plot. It's a delicate balancing act that Lost Judgment doesn't always get right — especially when it forces you away from the main story in order to introduce a new gameplay gimmick or specific type of side quest.

Speaking of gameplay gimmicks, Lost Judgment's full of them. We get what RGG Studio is trying to do — it wants the Judgment games to be more than just Yakuza spinoffs — but all of the sequel's new gameplay elements are either undercooked or underused. Stealth, for example, is borderline cinematic. Yagami can toss a coin Hitman-style, and sneak past a distracted guard — but this on-rails action is where stealth starts and ends. Meanwhile, there are about three platforming sections in the entire story — little more than trailer fodder.

Just like in Judgment, the opening hours of its sequel promise a lot of gameplay variety — but the reality is that most story chapters and side quests end in classic beat-'em-up violence, as per usual. Not that we're complaining, mind. The action combat system in Lost Judgment has been given some additional depth, and most fights do a decent job of keeping you on your toes.

Yagami's Crane and Tiger stances make a return, but both have evolved in certain ways. Crane is even more evasive than before — perhaps to a near broken degree later in the game — while Tiger can absolutely melt enemy health bars with properly timed attacks. A third stance — Snake — is a new addition, focusing on parries and deadly throws. Snake isn't some massive game-changer — enemy design is largely the same as it was in Judgment — but its inclusion freshens things up, and using a thug's own momentum to send him flying across the screen is always fun.

The bottom line is that the crunching combat system is still a highlight of the experience, and it only gets better as you unlock more of Yagami's abilities. Sure, it can feel a bit sloppy sometimes — as is the Yakuza way — but intense boss battles and fights against huge groups of foes are the perfect answer to long stints of slow, character-driven storytelling.

Before we wrap things up, it's worth mentioning that this is the third RGG Studio release of 2021, following on from the PS5 versions of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Judgment, in March and April respectively. If, like us, you played both of those games earlier in the year, then be warned that Lost Judgment is exactly the kind of long and winding title that could totally burn you out. Simply put, this is not a game for the impatient.

Conclusion

A weaker overall story and some serious pacing issues prevent Lost Judgment from reaching the excellence of its predecessor, but this is still a fantastic character-driven detective drama. Crunching combat and a frankly ridiculous amount of impressively in-depth side content make this one of the most robust Yakuza-style offerings ever — and that's more than enough to outweigh the game's often obvious flaws.