When the original Judgment launched, it came at a time when the Yakuza series was gaining momentum in the West. Fast forward to today and the franchise has grown exponentially, resulting in Lost Judgment being the first instalment to launch worldwide simultaneously. With such a gargantuan task ahead for developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, it easily could have been a misfire in a long-standing series. Yet, against those odds, the team has managed to push out another expertly crafted title with Lost Judgment, the latest release which rivals the best of the Yakuza franchise.

Compared to other entries, Lost Judgment tackles some fairly heavy themes. The plot sees a police officer by the name of Akihiro Ehara amidst a groping scandal and when the trial goes to court, it's there he reveals the details of a separate crime - a dead body tied up in an abandoned building. In steps detective Takayuki Yagami, who stumbles into the investigation after uncovering reports of bullying in a school. What follows is a Netflix-esque binge-worthy plot, full of twists, turns and mysteries.

Dealing with complex subject matter such as bullying and suicide, Lost Judgment could easily slip up in its delivery. Thankfully, it's handled with care, whilst also being extremely powerful. There were a few instances where it delivered emotional gut punches that tugged on our heartstrings. For anyone that's previously been affected by its themes, such as bullying, it's worth mentioning some of these moments may hit close to home.

However, it's not all doom and gloom in Lost Judgment. Carrying on from the first game, the main draw compared to the Yakuza series is the implementation of being a detective. The original dabbled in this, but Lost Judgment goes all in to ensure you truly feel like you're solving a crime. One of the biggest new features is stealth, allowing you to quietly and discreetly acquire clues and explore environments, but there's also a wealth of other new features. Parkour makes an appearance, as do a variety of gadgets to help you gain evidence, such as a noise detector. Oh, and there's also a dog you can use to sniff out information.

It's a great step, and while it perhaps holds your hand too much, it feels as though it's going in the right direction. Tailing returns from the first game, and despite some tweaks to make it more engaging such as blending in with the environment, it's still one of the weakest parts of the game. There are some instances where you get a little more freedom, for example, when you present evidence to a suspect, but it's fairly hard to fail these moments when you're allowed to simply try again.

Of course, it's not all stealth, as you'll also have to throw down in some over-the-top action set-pieces. Yagami's signature fighting styles return from the first game, along with a new set known as the Snake. This was easily our favourite and most used throughout the story. Yagami can use a slick set of moves to throw down people, handle crowds and even counter enemy attacks, which is a fantastic addition. It's the best of the bunch and makes the visceral combat feel more fluid than ever before.

When you're not engaging in the main story, you'll be swamped in the ridiculous amount of side activities you can do. Taking place in the series' most famous location Kamurocho, as well as Yokohama, first seen in last year's Yakuza: Like A Dragon, there's a gargantuan amount of activities split across the two. From arcades to gambling halls, all the way to exhilarating skate parks with your new trust skateboard - you'll never be strapped with stuff to do. Some of our particular favourites including walking your dog and Lost Judgment's arcade attempt of House of the Dead. There's even a SEGA Master System in your office stuffed with a variety of games, including Fantasy Zone and Alex Kidd.

Side cases also return and still offer some of the most memorable moments. Unlike the main story, these are often more light-hearted, involving you diving into tasks you wouldn't usually be seen doing. A very early quest sees you skateboarding to a local pawnshop to obtain a figurine for an avid collector. Each is packed with silly, fun tasks which break up the tension with a degree of much-needed humour. That's not to say the main story isn't packed with fun moments, but it helps to separate yourself from the dense narrative from time to time.

If all this wasn't enough, you can even get lost in the new school aspect of Lost Judgment. One of Yagami's tasks is to stomp out bullying in a local school and to do so, he must go undercover to find the root of it all. You can easily lose dozens of hours in here alone, weeding out the bullies through a series of mini-games and additional side quests. You can take part in a dancing club, join a boxing club, race biker gangs or even engage in Robot Wars style battles. This portion of the game could easily have been packaged and sold separately, but instead, bolsters an already meaty experience.

Having played the Xbox Series X version of the game, the performance is similar to the original game and Yakuza: Like A Dragon. You have two options of either prioritising resolution or performance, although we recommend performance for the sake of its fast-paced combat. There are a few frame stutters, but nothing that will detract you too much from the experience. Being the first global release, lip-syncing has also had to be sacrificed in the English dub, and while it could be distracting at times, it's nowhere near as bad as we anticipated.

Conclusion

Yakuza games have been arriving thick and fast over the years, but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio still hasn't lost its touch. It's hard to think of another series with such regular entries that manages to constantly evolve at this level. While most don't add too much to alter the formula, Lost Judgment throws just about everything it can into its world without feeling over-saturated. With the main story, side quests, school stories, mini-games, exploration and other distractions, it's hard not to be impressed with what's on display. There's still an element of hand holding in the detective sections we'd love to see worked on and the lip-syncing may not be the best, but the team's first attempt at delivering a simultaneous worldwide release for the series is a gamble that has paid off and perhaps offers the best entry in the franchise so far.