A retelling of the classical story first brought to life in the manga Hokuto no Ken – which spanned 245 chapters that were initially serialized by Shonen Jump before being collected into portable tankobon trade volumes – Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise pays deep homage to its source material while offering something novel and genuinely enjoyable.
The game begins with the muscular and stoic protagonist Kenshiro – the titular “Fist of the North Star” – hot on the trailer of his brother, Shin. As is revealed in flashbacks that will be very familiar to fans of the original manga and anime, Shin is one of Kenshiro’s three brothers, and the sibling responsible for nearly killing Kenshiro in mortal combat over their shared love of Lady Yuria.
As the player controls Kenshiro through the short tower sequence – one that also acts as a combat tutorial introducing gamers to the core controls – several things become glaringly apparent.
First, this title will present gratuitous, almost comical levels of violence to the player. Bodies explode with gleeful aplomb as gamers apply the lethal martial art of Hokuto Shinken to the hapless thugs attempting to stymie their progress.
Second, Kenshiro is a big, brutal bad-ass. Manipulating pressure points and delivering bone-crunching blows to all who stand in the way of his quest to be reunited with his stolen lover, the first five minutes of gameplay make it crystal clear that your character is not one to be trifled with. As enemies are weakened – be they mooks with marginal health bars or bosses with big ones – their defense slowly slackens, providing an opportunity to hit them with channeling attacks.
Channeling attacks are the bread and butter of advanced combat tactics in FotNS: Lost Paradise, representing the precision strikes that are the heart of Hokuto Shinken. Kenshiro draws on his ability as the successor of the martial arts style to target the vulnerabilities of any opponent he faces, hitting them in such a way as to produce bombastic results. Heads explode as Kenshiro turns his back coolly, uttering his famous catchphrase of “You are already dead,” or “Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru,” much to the delight of long-time franchise fans.
After an epic showdown against Shin, which sees Kenshiro learning that Yuria has been taken by her disciples to the gated city of Eden – a city of utopian plenty – the game begins in earnest. Players are faced with the challenge of gaining access to the towering metropolis, and even greater dangers within once they do finally breach the gates in a wholly unexpected fashion.
The city of Eden can be considered, in and of itself, a primary character of the proceedings. By day a dystopian desert jewel – sun-bleached and silent except for small mutterings of merchants and passersby – Eden undergoes a stunning transformation as the sun sets over the dunes. As night falls, neon lights splash out over the facades of several dance clubs and revelers take to the streets to forget the horrors of the blasted and depleted world that they all now inhabit.
The game’s graphics draw some inspiration from other cataclysmic science fiction infused properties such as Borderlands, and most particularly Mad Max – both the film series as well as the most recent video game iteration. This is unsurprising, given that the entire aesthetic of the Hokuto no Ken manga was in part influenced by the character of Max Rockatansky and the setting in which said film character is realized. Edges are drawn with thick black lines reminiscent of manga and comic books, with brawny, bulky character designs belonging to most of the cast present, major and minor.
While the wasteland may seem barren and somewhat nondescript, points of interest show an attention to detail and artistic direction that shows a level of craft and care undertaken by the development team. Ambiance has always been a strength for this section of Sega’s developmental arm, and it shows here nearly as much as it does in the congested urban sprawl that is presented in Yakuza 0 and the Kiwami remakes.
Borrowing from the dynamics that the development team had refined during the crafting of Kamurocho and Sotenbori – cognates for real-life neighbourhoods of Kabukicho in Tokyo and Dotonbori in Osaka, respectively – Sega’s small team of developers have crammed a plethora of sidequests and mini-games into the proceedings.
Kenshiro can become a bartender in one particularly prominent mini-game, engaging with regular customers and making small talk while serving them in order to get to know them – and their individual tastes and personalities – a bit better in the process. Sometimes said customers will really open up to “The Man with the Seven Scars,” providing plenty of fodder for intriguing quest lines and unlockable rewards. In another, the brawny protagonist shoulders an huge steel girder, swinging it like a baseball bat to unseat motorcycle riding gang members for points and glory. Eden must be defended, after all.
The city’s guardsmen are also overworked, increasingly so as the plot of the game advances. Calling upon Kenshiro to shore up their stretched resources, bounties for notorious criminals and murderers are offered up with extremely lucrative cash rewards. The currency in Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, known as IDL, is somewhat hard to come by in the early game – and so taking bounties is the quickest and easiest way to make some much-needed money. Punching and kicking outlaws never felt so good, and players will appreciate both the process of tracking down their targets – which sometimes involves some basic investigation – as well as the payoff for having done so.
Not all of the high-octane action takes place within the walls of Eden proper, however. Those who prefer a fuel-injected thrill ride can hop onto their jury-rigged dune buggy to traverse the wasteland in search of bounties, scrap, and substories. While the driving mechanics are admittedly a bit unpolished – with drifting being so common as to become distracting and even frustrating at times – the freedom to fully explore the ruined remains of the planet’s surface is so starkly different from what came before that the novelty alone is impressive in its own right.
The plot is direct, containing just enough nuance to lend a bit of gravitas to an otherwise straightforward revenge narrative. Kenshiro is a messianic warrior, perfectly matched to his previously illustrated iteration, and is motivated as much by a desire to improve the world as he is by his unquenchable desire to be reunited with Yuria. The other members of his family – Shin, Raoh, and Toki – are fleshed out in detail as well, lending deeper drama rooted in lethal sibling rivalry to the martial arts action.
Tertiary characters come and go, often leaving talismans – or items bearing massive stat boosts with an equally enormous cooldown period – as they exit the stage. Kenshiro is voiced by Robbie Daymond in the English dub, delivering a deadpan but convincing performance. In the Japanese dub, Takaya Kuroda takes over voice duties, his famous bass-infused line readings also notably being summoned to portray the protagonist of the Yakuza series, Kazama Kiryu — also known as the Dragon of Dojima.
Developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio – the same small studio dedicated to producing the cult-classic Yakuza series – it is immediately obvious to those who have sampled the studio’s previous offerings that Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise leans heavily upon what has come before. Borrowing the best elements of the Yakuza franchise – tight and elaborate fighting controls, quirky characterizations and dialogue, eccentric sub-stories, and compelling mini-games – this post-apocalyptic brawler beats up the competition to become the best video game adaptation of the source material so far.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is available now for PlayStation 4. This review is based on a copy of the game purchased by the writer.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
- Great martial arts action based combat.
- Kenshiro is a compelling cipher for anime fans who enjoy gaming.
- Fairly faithful rendition of the original story with some deep twists and novel additions.
- Exploding heads and bodies everywhere.
- Soundtrack is somewhat forgettable.
- Driving mechanics are underdeveloped.