It’s all so Japanese. One of the most Japanese video games ever made has been crossed with one of the most quintessential Japanese manga/anime around to deliver something that is, well, super Japanese.
Fist of the North Star and its stoic hero, Kenshirō might not be household names in the West, but he was part of that initial wave of anime movies that made it to our shores back in the early 90s on the back of the success of Akira and was my first taste of ultra-gory Japanese animation. It might not seem all that shocking now, but to 10-year-old Liam, that kind of hyper-violent animation was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Kind of like a Japanese Mad Max, Fist of the North Star has always been a relatively simplistic premise, but one that has withstood the test of time thanks to its super cool aesthetic (there are so many shoulder pads!) and a compelling dystopian future. It might not be all that original, but what it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with style.
A big part of that is the combat. More violent, visceral and visually dramatic than its peers, Fist of the North Star’s bloody violence and exploding heads remain a major part of its enduring appeal. Luckily, it is something that has been captured in all of its outrageous glory by the Ryu ga Gotoku Studios team.
Saying that, it’s not like we should be all that shocked – the Yakuza series for which they are famous for is basically a contemporary brawler living within the confines of a relatively small, but beautifully dense, open world. The same is true of Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise; it might lack the polish of the Yakuza games and The Wasteland understandably lacks the variety of Kamurocho, but the inclusion of Lost Paradise’s Yakuza-style trappings are what ultimately elevates it above recent takes on the Fist Of The North Star franchise.
It’s a bit of a shame that the game overdoes the Hokuto Shinken abilities (the cool moves that lead to many an exploding head) to the point in which they no longer feel all that special, but like the anime and manga, it looks incredibly cool on-screen and adds an extra dimension to the solid arcade-style combat. Taking on the unruly gangs of The Wastelands remains entertaining throughout with the developers’ clear love for the source material evident in the array of subtle visual cues that successfully bring the combat in line with the anime and manga.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and its all but identical sequel were decent enough brawlers when they were released on the PS3 and 360, but like the majority of the Musou games upon which their structure was based, they were one-dimensional and often painfully repetitive. By adding a real sense of characterisation and an array of suitably ludicrous but surprisingly diverse mini-games and side missions to proceedings, Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise comes as close as any game before it to delivering the quintessential Fist of The North Star experience.
The combat can get a tad repetitive and the comparatively limited budget certainly shows at times, but as odd a marriage as this might have sounded on paper, in practice, by moving the Fist Of The North Star franchise directly in to the Yakuza template, Ryu ga Gotoku Studios have delivered an enjoyable and, outside of the Yakuza games, somewhat unique gaming experience.
It’s still a bit repetitive and, unless you’re a huge fan of the series, the story is unlikely to make any sense at all, but the ability to interact with the world around you really does elevate this experience effortlessly beyond its Musou-based predecessors. The Wasteland delivers a genuine sense of place while the mini-games and the inclusion of classic Sega arcade machines provide plenty of things to do outside of the core narrative.
Sure, fans of Yakuza and Shenmue will have played Outrun, Space Harrier and Super Hang-On at virtual arcades before, but come on, do those games ever get boring? Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise also includes some very familiar crane games, and best of all, a very cool throwback to the Fist Of The North Star game on released on the Master System way back in 1986 (it was later released over here as the rather less interesting, ‘Black Belt’). Again, it’s hardly game changing stuff, but it’s a cool inclusion that adds some genuine character to the world created (even if their presence doesn’t actually make any narrative sense whatsoever).
What does make a difference however are the mini-games and side quests. The odd sense of humour and bizarre tasks will be familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, but the ones included here, while arguably out of touch with the tone of the source material, are varied and enjoyable enough to provide a genuinely entertaining alternative to the more po-faced story. Whether it be mixing cocktails or working at the local hostess bar, the mini-games here are certainly up to the high standards set by Ryu ga Gotoku Studios’ previous work.
It might lack the polish of the Yakuza series and the limited budget is visible via the relatively basic open world, but thanks to its fantastic combat, great source material and brilliant selection of mini-games and side quests, Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise proves the closest we have come to a perfect adaptation of the much-loved anime and manga. The poorly told story will invariably be a barrier to those unfamiliar with Kenshirō and co., but for fans of the series, the games’ minor issues will likely prove easy to overlook.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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