- Ambition recreation of the anime
- Plentiful side content
- Satisfying progression system
- Terrible enemy AI
- Awkward camera
- Destiny Talisman system feels pointless
- Review Price: £44.99
- Publisher: SEGA
- Genre: Action RPG
- Release Date: Out Now
- Developer: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
- Platforms: PS4
Fist of the North Star – or Hokuto no Ken to purists – is a real titan in anime and manga history. The original manga by writer Yoshiyuki ‘Buronson’ Okamura and artist Tetsuo Hara has inspired numerous anime series, a hyper-violent 1986 movie which became a global cult hit, and more spin-offs and side stories than can easily be counted. Even if, somehow, you’ve never encountered any of the franchise’s many works to date, chances are you’re aware of protagonist Kenshiro’s catchphrase of “you’re already dead”, courtesy of an ungodly number of memes.
Essentially, the series is A Big Deal, but despite its gaming friendly scenario – a post-apocalyptic future where mutants, bandits, and marauders terrorise survivors, and where wanderer Kenshiro employs a deadly martial art known as ‘Hokuto Shinken’ to protect the weak – and multiple attempts over the past three decades, it’s never really translated into a great game.
Most past efforts have erred towards the fighting genre, either one-on-one beat-’em-ups or Dynasty Warriors-style horde brawlers. With Lost Paradise, Sega attempts to break this pattern, opting for a semi-open world action adventure with RPG overtones, leaning deeply into the actual story of Fist of the North Star to deliver something slightly deeper.
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I say “slightly” because, despite following Ken’s journey to the walled city of Eden in search of his lost fiancée Yuria, Lost Paradise is still about a Mel Gibson lookalike wandering a Mad Max dystopia and punching people so fast they explode. If there’s a chance for Fist of the North Star to do something gloriously over-the-top, it will take that chance – including an early boss fight where you beat up a 25 foot tall giant with your bare hands.
What makes Lost Paradise stand out from past games is that it’s effectively a heavily retooled Yakuza game – Kenshiro is even voiced here by Takaya Kuroda, the actor behind Yakuza’s Kiryu Kazuma. The shared background means all the distractions and side content fans of Sega’s underworld crime saga have come to expect are carried over here, leading to some interesting, if unlikely, diversions from the wasteland setting. A casino full of gambling mini games, or a hostess bar that needs Ken to do some recruiting work feature heavily, and you can even unlock the original Hokuto no Ken Master System game (heavily retooled for the west as Black Belt in 1986) to play.
However, Lost Paradise doesn’t use the more recent Dragon engine employed on Yakuza 6, and the difference shows. It’s not quite as sharp visually nor as technically versatile, although the cel-shaded anime look and intricately detailed spaces make up for it. The game looks fantastic, capturing Hara’s character designs well while building environments that feel lived in. It’s also brilliantly cinematic, with cutscenes and even basic dialogue exchanges framed in the most dynamic ways possible.
With mythical martial arts so prominent a theme, it’s no surprise combat plays a large role here. Unlike Yakuza, encounters are a lot more scripted, especially within the walls of Eden, with most battles handed to you as you progress through the story. It’s not until several chapters in when you can start having more randomised fights with Ruffians – that’s an actual class of enemy, by the way, not old-timey lingo – or other troublemakers, and later still until you can explore the wasteland beyond Eden, inviting scraps with motorcycle gangs.
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Sadly, the fight system itself is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it’s hugely respectful of the source material, with all of Kenshiro’s techniques being lifted from the manga. Pummel an enemy with a flurry of punches to stagger them, hit circle, and you can pull off one of a series of ‘Secret Techniques’ – administered by quick time event – to grisly effect. Deliver enough damage, and you’ll charge up a Seven Star Gauge, which delivers an explosive burst of ki energy upon activation, powering up regular attacks and making more impressive attack chains available.
There’s a huge host of moves to learn, too. Abilities are upgraded through four menu boards – Skill, Mind, Body, and Fate – not dissimilar to Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, with Kenshiro earning orbs for levelling up or completing certain side objectives.
Combat can be further modified with ‘Destiny Talismans’, tokens that channel the attributes of other characters to various effect. For instance, the first one you get, based on Yuria, allows you to briefly enter Burst mode without a full Seven Star Gauge. Mapped to the D-pad, these can be activated at any point, and a related ability on the skill board allows you to have multiple groups of four talismans active at once to switch between. However, the cooldown time on these modifiers is ridiculous – 30 real-time minutes for Yulia’s talisman action – rendering them often useless.
On the downside, fights are all incredibly repetitive. Combos are all a fluster of tapping square, occasionally mixed up with a couple of taps of triangle. Sega tries to mix things up with a guard system and slower, heavier attacks that break the defence of larger enemies but, for the majority of fights, it’s just hammering square then unleashing a head-popping special on your opponents.
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That in itself may not be too bad, except that enemy AI is almost uniformly terrible. You’ll typically be fighting groups of foes at once, but usually only one will attack at a time. Opponents with ranged attacks may interrupt with a flung dagger or crossbow bolt, but mostly they take it in turns to be hammered. The camera also frustrates – after using one of the aforementioned flashy finishers, it’ll frame the shot facing towards your next target, only to reset to whichever way Ken was facing before triggering the move and leaving you to reorient yourself manually.
These factors, along with Kenshiro’s generally stodgy movement, undermine the ranking system that scores your performance in each fight. The game clearly wants you to chain attacks between enemies, unleashing hell on one before shattering the spine of the next in a whirlwind of pain, but the unimaginative AI and problematic camera stymie this. I rarely got higher than a B rank, even in fights where I took no damage.
Still, most fights are short but brutal affairs, with enough spectacle to keep players’ interested. The mediocrity of battle is made up for by the strengths the game possesses elsewhere, with its expanded world, wasteland exploration, and surprisingly engaging story. Hardcore Fist of the North Star fans will also appreciate the numerous nods to the original series, which the game manages to deliver without alienating any potential newcomers – and bonus points, too, for including both the original Japanese audio and an English language dub.
Lost Paradise isn’t a perfect Fist of the North Star game, but it very well may be the best the series has seen to date.
Sure to appeal to Yakuza fans as much as Fist of the North Star aficionados, Lost Paradise provides an absorbing trek around a captivating post-apocalyptic universe. Appropriately enough, Sega doesn’t pull any punches in adapting Buronson and Hara’s gratuitous and violent world – definitely don’t play this around kids, though.
While it’s decidedly sub-optimal that the combat in a Fist of the North Star title is so shonky, it doesn’t undermine the wealth of content elsewhere. If gaming can be said to have an exploitation sub-genre similar to film, Lost Paradise is a great example of it.