****this is your spoiler warning****
People can change. But also, maybe, sometimes they can’t.
We can do things differently. Better. Even though we spent hours – in-game time and out-of-game time – beating up bullies in their high school to teach them a lesson.
Vengeance is bad. But also, we let this angel of death stagger away, audio overlaid of news reports detailing his exploits, a proud smile twisting his face.
Murder is okay. Sometimes. Maybe.
Listen, if the game said, full-throated that, “revenge is justified,” I’d be fine with that. I wouldn’t agree, but at least it’d be saying something with confidence.
This game is about bullying. Except no. It’s actually not. That’s set dressing.
This game is about how, when you hurt people, someone will hurt you back. Except no. It’s not. That’s just how the plot goes.
This game is about two men feeling emotions about an innocent, pure woman who was killed, and it was all their fault, and she wouldn’t have wanted this, let me puppeteer her corpse like a prop and tell you what she would have wanted.
There we go.
It’s not that a game has to moralize at you. A story doesn’t have to model model behavior. Entertainment doesn’t even always have to make you think about anything!
But Lost Judgment likes to act like it has something to say. Yagami makes speeches. Swelling music plays. But there’s nothing substantial there. The only counterargument that Yagami can offer to Kuwana’s crusade of justice (besides “you just can’t, okay?”) is the fact that it ended up getting an innocent person killed. And believe me, he will make that point whenever he can. He will pull out his phone and hold it out dramatically, showing one of many pictures of Sawa-sensei alive and happy that I can only assume he’s downloaded just for this purpose.
But then, really the message here is: “We don’t want to say that murder is okay, but if it only harms bad people…well. We’re not saying that though.”
Yagami insists that there must be another way, he preaches for patience, he says lots of words with powerful inflection, but he doesn’t actually offer any alternate solutions. At least, not in the main story.
In the School Stories, Yagami is always extending a hand. Sometimes the help is asked for. Sometimes it is offered. Sometimes it is forced. But Yagami sits beside his students. He listens to them. He suggests solutions. He gently corrects when something is wrong.
All the kids in the School Stories were cruel to someone else, in one way or another. Maybe it was silly high school drama. Maybe it was petty revenge. Maybe it was thoughtlessness. But all it takes was an adult to calmly offer a hand and pull them out of there. Maybe still with a fist. But in the boxing ring. With gloves on.
I want to shake this game by its shoulders. Why all this posturing when the solution is right there? When the solution is good teachers and good mentors and supportive communities where kids can learn to be better? The whole issue here is that Kuwana is not a good teacher. Didn’t try to be a good teacher when things went bad. He went petty and small and lashed out, blaming everyone but himself, plotting for years to ruin his students’ lives just because he didn’t want to admit responsibility.
The story never makes him reckon with that.
Kuwana says that he and Yagami are the same. Yagami agrees. The narrative agrees. The writers agree.
He and Yagami are not the same.
Yagami did his job, got an innocent man off the hook, and ended up “punished” due to a wide-reaching government conspiracy that he couldn’t have known about, and that it wasn’t part of his job at the time to know about. He did what a lawyer should do. His arc in the first game is realizing that he isn’t suited to the job of a lawyer. That he has to know the truth.
Kuwana did not do his job, ignored various warnings about the bullying going on his class, and ended up “punished” because of that conscious choice to ignore it. That was part of his job. He failed in his job. He was a bad teacher. And instead of admitting that, instead of trying to be a good teacher, to change, to help his students change, he turned his face away and refused to accept the blame.
They are not the same.
RK is a cool concept. Perhaps this was not the right game for them, but there were pieces to work with. What happens in Kamurocho when the yakuza no longer exists? What rises up in its place? Is it really any different from the yakuza?
RK wants to believe they’re different. Part of Akutsu’s sales pitch is that you can re-enter civilian life afterwards, once you’ve done enough to be able to. That’s very different. That’s interesting.
I thought this would be important when it was brought up at first. I was still working on a theory where Sawa-sensei was behind the murder of Mikoshiba. I held onto this theory for a long time after she had died. I thought that statement would coalesce somehow with my theory, into a message of: “yakuza or not, once you step too far into the underworld, there’s no way back.” That maybe Yagami would offer a counterpoint, that you can offer a hand to someone drowning in their mistakes and pull them back out.
Yagami does let Kuwana go, but he doesn’t offer a hand. RK is over and done with. Sawa-sensei is just a dead woman.
This is a disjointed piece. Sorry about that. I have disjoined thoughts about this game, so it was the only way I could think to write it. Also I haven’t written a blog in…a year outside of Split Screen, so I had to start somewhere. Gonna try to do better than that. Also gonna try to post Split Screen more often.
It did still help me get my thoughts in order. There’s a lot I found disappointing here. Or, maybe tiring. I can only hope Yakuza 8 doesn’t fall into this pattern too.
One last note, since I didn’t know where else to put it: please stop hiring Todd Haberkorn, at the very least in main roles. He has done nothing to make up for his past actions. Any chance I was going to have sympathy for Kuwana went right out the window.
Lost Judgment is a good game. Yagami has a skateboard. He can dance, drive a motorbike, box, build robots. The fighting is responsive and fun with styles that work well in different situations and flashy animations that make each hit satisfying. The music is great. I listen to Viper when I want to feel stressed. There’s a Pawpularity meter for feeding cats on the street.
Lost Judgment is a hollow game. The main story has no heart, treats its men like faceless pieces, treats its women like jokes or props. It says “the system is bad” like that’s a revolutionary new concept and declines to offer solutions outside of Kuwana’s own creed. And even that one, it can’t commit to.
Murder is okay.