Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise review

It’s Yakuza: the exploding heads edition. Our review of Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise…


 

The thing you have to understand about Fist of the North Star is that it’s dumb – gloriously dumb. For those who haven’t heard of the original manga, it stars Kenshiro – officially the hardest bloke in the world – who travels around post-apocalyptic Earth and punches thugs until they explode. That’s it. That’s the entire premise.

The heady mix of Mad Max, Bruce Lee, and extreme gore made Fist of the North Star an enduring classic in Japan. Serialised in the legendary Shonen Jump (the weekly manga anthology) back in 1981, it was an instant hit, and led to a long-running TV series, movies, and video games. Lost Paradise isn’t even Sega’s first attempt at adapting the series, with entries gracing numerous 8-bit and 16-bit systems. What makes this incarnation of Fist of the North Star special, though, is that it comes from the team behind Sega’s cult hit, Yakuza.

Like Yakuza, Lost Paradise features an open-world-like structure of a main quest, complete with side stories and minigames, all largely taking place within an enclosed area. Though at first this may seem like a random approach to what’s essentially a basic spin-off from a well-loved series, it actually proves to be a perfect match. Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro and Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu have tons in common: both are brooding anti-heroes with a strong code of honour; both love nothing more than kicking seven bells out of thugs who prey on the defenceless.

After a brief intro setting the scene, Kenshiro is thrown into the town of Eden. A literal desert oasis, it’s plentiful in food and water – two commodities far more precious than money. Constantly under attack from various roaming bandit armies, Kenshiro sets out to prove himself to the people of Eden by single-handedly defending them while simultaneously searching for his lost love Yuria. What follows is a remix of the original manga saga, as bigger and more powerful enemies line up to take on Kenshiro’s mighty fists of doom. Again, that’s the entire premise.

For a game that’s chock full of fighting, Lost Paradise’s combat is a bit stiff and simplistic. While plenty of moves can be unlocked, inevitably it boils down to button mashing when you’re facing off against 20 foes. The one-on-one boss battles all follow a similar pattern of blocking your foe’s attacks then retaliating with your own, wearing their life down until you’re able to pull off a special move. It feels like a step backwards after recent Yakuza titles, and you never really feel completely in control of what you’re doing. All the same, it’s incredibly satisfying pulling off one of Kenshiro’s extremely bloody techniques with its accompanying, ridiculous, flourish.

It’s not all punch-punch-punch for Kenshiro, though. Throughout the game there are quests involving upgrading a jeep you find and taking it out for races. And, like stablemate Yakuza, there’s a few minigames providing welcome diversions. Becoming a temporary barman or nightclub manager, trying your luck at the casino, or – in a unique twist on baseball – defending Eden by batting away would-be invaders with a giant steel girder.

The world of Eden itself is well realised with plenty to discover; substories pop up with regularity, helping to flesh out both the world and Kenshiro’s stoic character. Despite all this, there’s not much here to challenge the likes of Assassin’s Creed or GTA. Lost Paradise exists on a smaller scale and – most likely because of its post-apocalyptic setting – lacks Yakuza’s intricate detail.

Pacing is another big problem: the first few chapters are irritatingly linear, and it wasn’t until I was about two-thirds of the way through that I felt I had full freedom to explore Eden as much as I actually wanted. It’s not just the story that suffers, though – there are four skill trees to unlock, but progress is frustratingly slow when you only earn one orb per level. Upgrading the car is bogged down by having to find repair materials placed at random points around the wasteland. Even on a technical level, there are a lot of awkward pauses for loading, which really add up as you’re playing.

While I can’t hand on heart recommend Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, I can’t deny there’s a lot of fun to be had with it. The colourful cast and irreverent tone are a much needed break from the pomposity of triple-A games. Like Yakuza, Lost Paradise refuses to take itself seriously no matter how melodramatic it can get. And, frankly, nothing can beat the base thrill of seeing your opponents swell up and explode in a shower of gore that would make Mortal Kombat blush.

What makes Fist of the North Star, though, is the dev team’s clear and obvious affection for the source material. Character models look exactly like their manga counterparts, and the whole package serves as a remix of Kenshiro’s greatest battles with his best-known opponents. There’ll be caution from the uninitiated and elation from North Star fans – but one thing there won’t be is a shortage of daft, over-the- top fun.

Highlight

As a manga, anime, or game, Fist of the North Star’s appeal lies in its copious amounts of gore. Kenshiro’s martial arts skills involve attacking pressure points to make his foes’ heads explode – and this latest outing gets this part hilariously, gruesomely right.

Verdict: 77%

A shallow-but-fun spin-off that’s ideal for fans of Yakuza and the original Fist of the North Star manga.

Info

Genre: Action-adventure
Format: PS4
Developer: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
Publisher: Sega
Price: £44.99
Release: Out now

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