Ahead of Lost Judgment’s September release last year, SEGA revealed that the game would receive a handful of DLC packs along with a season pass. Some of this DLC was perhaps expected, such as a new fighting style and different skins for your canine companion. But the most interesting item on the list of paid additional content is definitely The Kaito Files, a bonus story starring Takayuki Yagami’s ex-yakuza partner. This kind of DLC is unusual for the Yakuza series, which has never really offered story expansions before now, but after playing it, you may agree with me that more adventures like this would be welcome. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio brings their usual charm and writing prowess to the table, crafting a well-paced and engrossing mystery that also fleshes out one of the Judgment series’ most-beloved characters.
Players have known Masaharu Kaito, formerly of the Matsugane family and now a detective working in Kamurocho, for a while. He often takes on the role of the strongman to Yagami’s more nimble thinker, but he’s no slouch when it comes to deductive logic either. With Yagami out of town, it’s up to Kaito to staff the office and handle any incoming cases. When a rich executive asks him to find his missing wife, Kaito discovers that the woman in question is Mikiko, an old girlfriend of his, and things quickly get personal. Over the course of his investigation, he meets and bonds with Mikiko’s son Jun — who might actually be Kaito’s own child — and uncovers a deadly conspiracy that forces him to revisit his yakuza days and confront long-buried feelings.
With only four chapters and a roughly 10-hour runtime, The Kaito Files is significantly shorter than the main game. But for the most part, that works in the DLC’s favor. Judgment and Lost Judgment both suffer from pacing issues related to their longer length, so having less time to work with results in a tighter story that still has a satisfying buildup and conclusion. It’s not perfect, of course. The game heavily hints at who the ultimate villain is early on, and there are some smaller plot developments and dialogue that feel out of place and don’t make much sense. But once the pieces start to fall together, the game is difficult to put down. There are some genuinely dark and shocking twists toward the end, and a few characters managed to subvert my expectations in thoughtful and unexpected ways. Mikiko, in particular, is fantastic. She’s the kind of strong-willed, ball-busting female character that the Yakuza series needs more of.
Gameplay is nearly identical to Lost Judgment, with almost all detective activities represented in some fashion. Thankfully, there’s only one tailing and one chase sequence, but like the main game, The Kaito Files overrelies on the first-person investigation mechanic. One sequence has you sneaking through a familiar office building from the first Judgment, and you have to investigate each door in first-person mode on every new floor before you can proceed, which needlessly interrupts the player’s natural sense of exploration. You also have to use this mechanic to find cats, various trinkets, and even memories around Kamurocho, which unlock some of Kaito’s skills. I understand that this is one of the defining features of the Judgment series, but I feel like RGG missed an opportunity to distinguish Kaito from Yagami. Even though they rebrand the mechanic as Kaito’s “Primal Focus,” it’s still the exact set of skills that Yagami employs in the main game. And frankly, the explanation that Kaito has a superhuman sense of smell and hearing is kind of a weak excuse to use the same skills when they could have instead given him something more unique.
Speaking of stealth, the mechanics are mostly unchanged, though the game holds your hand slightly less this time around. There are a few sequences where you aren’t given hiding spots and instead have to time your movement and use line of sight to avoid detection. Kaito can also knock on doors to lure enemies out and then bash their faces in, though the game introduces this in the first stealth sequence and then literally never uses it again, which feels odd. One of the most frustrating things about the stealth in this DLC, though, is that when an enemy spots you, their detection meter fills incredibly quickly. To the point where you probably won’t be able to react in time to hide. You can counter an alert enemy if they’re a thug — though the timing still seemed way too fast for me — but if you get caught by a cop, you have no choice but to start over. This isn’t really a huge issue because stealth is extremely basic and easy, but it’s still an unfortunate annoyance.
Combat is where the gameplay shines brightest. Kaito has two styles to pummel his foes: Bruiser and Tank. These are essentially evolved forms of Kiryu’s Brawler and Beast styles from Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami. While it is again a little disappointing that Kaito doesn’t have something totally unique to him, it’s easy to forgive because the combat is so much fun. It certainly makes sense that an ex-yakuza from the Tojo Clan would have fighting styles influenced by the Dragon of Dojima. Players who are used to the brawler-style combat of the Judgment games and earlier Yakuza titles may want to bump up the difficulty a notch or two, though. I played on normal and found encounters to be a fair amount easier than in the main game at the same difficulty. I also feel like most combat sequences are a little on the short side, though I can imagine this may have been an intentional choice to keep the overall length of the DLC down.
Length and development time are almost certainly also the reasons why there are no side quests to speak of in The Kaito Files. You can still engage in most of the minigames around Kamurocho, but there are no side cases to distract you from the main story. While this does facilitate the brisk pacing that I applauded earlier, the flip side is that it makes the experience feel a bit smaller and incomplete. Personally, I think this DLC would have been the perfect opportunity to reintroduce a pared-down version of the friend system from the first Judgment. It likely wasn’t feasible in Lost Judgment proper because of Ijincho’s larger size, but also because the main game jumps back and forth between Yokohama and Tokyo. But The Kaito Files is set almost entirely in Kamurocho, and having at least a small selection of shopkeepers or other NPCs you could get to know would have been nice, especially because you’re still running around buying food to heal up from fights.
As for performance, visuals are essentially identical to Lost Judgment. The anti-aliasing issue I mentioned in my review does still appear to be present, but it’s much less noticeable because the story is largely confined to Kamurocho (where the issue is, for some reason, not as prominent). Voice acting is just as strong as other entries in the series, and while most of the music is reused from the main game, there are a handful of new pieces that sound great! Here’s hoping we get a mini-soundtrack at some point, because I would love to add this music to my Yakuza collection.
One final thing I want to mention about The Kaito Files is the price. At a whopping $30, it’s a little hard for me to recommend that players buy this DLC separately when the season pass for Lost Judgment is only five dollars more and comes with a ton of additional content for the main game on top of this story expansion. I think The Kaito Files is worth playing, but considering you have to own Lost Judgment to access it, the standalone price doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The Kaito Files is a first for RGG, but I honestly hope it isn’t the last. There are so many characters in this long-running series, and the field is ripe for exploration of other protagonists and events. Case in point: Kaito makes a fantastic lead. With the future of the Judgment series uncertain due to disagreements with the talent agency representing Yagami’s Japanese actor, Takuya Kimura, this DLC is almost like a proof of concept in a way. While I would hate for Yagami to no longer be involved in future games, Kaito could clearly take the main character role if need be, and that gives me hope that we haven’t seen the last of this spin-off series.