by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Mandatory Violence: The Game
The Yakuza franchise has captured my heart and attention over the last several years, but one of my fondest memories of my childhood is accidentally finding Fist of the North Star/Hokuto no Ken. I didn’t get to watch much of it until a little later on, because anime was hard to find back then. Watching someone’s body explode in a frenzy of gore and violence from a pressure point? I was sold immediately. Kenshiro is the star of this game as well as the anime, an impossibly tall and muscular man, chiseled out of granite and anger. It always seems like his foes are just as mighty, usually bigger than him. It’s such a weird thing to see anyone that’s bigger than Kenshiro, but that’s just how it goes. He’s a mostly silent, taciturn protagonist, and his goal here is the same as it was in the anime: Find Yuria, his beloved. So when I found that the Yakuza studio were going to get their hands on this product? Sure, the Ken’s Rage games were good, but Hokuto no Gotoku is great.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is not the canon story of Fist of the North Star. Many of the characters from the anime/manga show up and are pivotal to the story, but it’s not the same story, which I think is a good thing. It makes the game a little more accessible to people who have not watched the anime before. Kenshiro is still out looking for Yuria, still has a deathmatch with Shin, and comes across the other Hokuto Shinken practitioners. Hokuto Shinken is the martial art that Kenshiro is the heir to, a martial art based on pressure points. Only when he touches the pressure points of someone who he feels is evil or has angered him, their joints flare up and explode in a shower of blood. He can heal the blind, fix people’s spines, or turn their face into an overripe Melon with a few touches of his fingers. It’s a power that he uses responsibly. I mean, I wouldn’t. But Kenshiro does.
Lost Paradise feels very much like a Yakuza game: You have a major hub city, the main story, ridiculous side missions, and tons of mini-games to undertake (like playing the Sega Master System version of Fist of the North Star, which is just dandy). After the nuclear apocalypse, the seas dried up, and civilization very nearly came to an end. There’s still somehow one major gathering of people, Eden City, the City of Miracles. Not just anyone can get in, but Kenshiro will. I mean, he’s the main character after all. There are answers to be had in Eden City, and Kenshiro’s going to get to the bottom of this, find his girl, and save the land. Well, that’s the plan anyway. He doesn’t really care to get mixed up in other people’s problems, but won’t hesitate to help the weak and punish those who use power and strength for evil purposes. Kenshiro’s frankly a fascinating character and really reminds me of Kiryu Kazama in that way. The major difference is Kenshiro has zero qualms about murdering fifty people in one fight if they are in his path.
I won’t spoil any of the story (or as little as I humanly can), but most of the time is spent in or around Eden City, as Kenshiro hunts down clues to the whereabouts of Yuria. The game does take place after the death of Shinn though, I can say that. I mean, it’s the tutorial, so it’s not a serious spoiler. The tutorial takes you through what you need to know about combat. It’s similar to Yakuza’s combat, with a basic attack, a stronger attack, and instead of Heat Actions, you have the Hokuto Shinken moves. When a circle is next to someone’s name, it’s time to destroy them. Pressing Circle will activate a cutscene with an insane move, and if you press the right button at the right time, you’ll increase the damage and skill with these Hokuto Shinken moves. There are dozens of them, each used in a different situation. I don’t really have the answer on what position does what move, but some of them will ultimately be obvious. Major fights will also have these QTE (Quick Time Events) to avoid/deal tons of damage, just like in Yakuza. You will almost always be fighting tons of enemies, and it’s important to learn dodging/blocking, even if it’s way more fun to just wade into the middle of the foes and blast them to bits with your fists and feet.
One of the coolest things about the fight scenes though is after you learn the Instant Kill technique. If someone has a circle by their name after a particular event in the game, you get a QTE where you time a press of the Circle Button perfectly. If you do, that enemy dies a second or two later, no matter how much health they had. Failure means you can just do a Hokuto Shinken move by pressing Circle again for tons of damage. Landing the instant kills are how you collect “Death Cries” though. Under certain conditions, the enemies will belt out some awful death cry, often with some kind of swearing in it. It’s one of the many things you can collect in this game, and occasionally when a Death Cry happens, it will physically drop on the ground. Remember when your parents said to “Use your words”? Now you can use their words. Kenshiro can pick up the Death Cry and belt his foes with literal words. It’s beautiful and ridiculous. Then there’s Rage. When his star meter fills up, you can press R2 to go into Rage Mode, increasing your damage and making it easier to hit your Hokuto Shinken moves. It seems to be easier to break through bigger enemies guard in this time period, too.
However, one of the parts of the game I really need to talk about, because it makes me physically nauseous, and after a while, I have to stop playing thanks to motion sickness. You will eventually get a jeep to drive around in the Wastelands to, jamming to music, collecting items, and fighting bad guys when they try to run you off the road. The first jeep, with the basic parts, slides and sways a lot, and the motion combined with the constant swinging of the vehicle and landscape makes me feel dizzy and uncomfortable. I’m sure when I equip better parts it won’t be so bad, but the current state of it makes my stomach turn. Another purpose of being in the wasteland are bounties and treasure hunts. Occasionally, after beating a group of enemies you can receive a Treasure Map, meaning you need to head out into the wasteland to find it. The treasure will have a grade (D, C, et cetera), a time limit, and will be marked on the map. They typically give you new parts for your jeep but can have lots of other things in them.
Bounties are your major source of income, in my estimation. None of the other mini-games seem to have the same amount of currency. When you go to the Guard HQ, you can enlist to tackle bounties, each one giving more money than the last (alongside some minor bounties). Many of these are tied to side missions/are side missions, so it’s key to do these too for completion’s sake. At present, my bounties give nearly 1 million IDL a piece, and I also have a side mission where I need 1,000,000 IDL. On a personal level, I hate that side mission because money doesn’t come quite as easily as it does in Yakuza. If I had to get 100,000,000 yen in Yakuza, it would be easy as pie. I’m still learning how to maximize my IDL (money) though. The Bounties get stronger as you go, and since this is a level-based system, you’ll want to do some grinding on packs of enemies. They are not your only mini-game though. You can bartend, play baseball (by swinging a steel girder at dudes on motorcycles. Yes, really), run a Cabaret, and gamble. There’s never a time when there’s nothing to do in this game.
When Kenshiro levels up, he gets an Orb, which can be used on certain stats and abilities. Kenshiro has four branches, each with their own Orb -Mind (Blue), Skill (Green), Body (Orange), Star (Gray, and Shining (Gold). Star and Shining Orbs appear in all four trees, Star Orbs being the generic traits, and Shining Orbs being for more potent, powerful abilities. The colored Orbs are used for traits specific to that tree. Skill Orbs are used on new Hokuto abilities, Body is for Strength/Health, Mind increases what you can do with your Rage, and Fate is tied to the Talisman System. Talismans are equipable items that you can activate with a press of the directional pad and give temporary, but powerful buffs to Kenshiro. Most characters he meets will unlock a Talisman, and most of that board is locked behind the gameplay.
Omae Wa Mo. . . Shindeiru. “NANI!?”: 4.5/5
When I heard this was coming to the States I was a little worried that only hardcore Hokuto no Ken or Yakuza fans would pick it up, and the game would be doomed. But honestly? Any fan of open-world/action games really would find something to enjoy about the game. The story isn’t so obscure that only Hokuto no Ken fans would get it, either. I was hoping it would be based deep in the original story, but it’s better that it’s a new, alternate story. This makes it more accessible while offering a lot for the hardcore fans. Major characters, incredible moves and moments, and more than enough violence and gore, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise really brings the Hokuto no Ken characters to life in an all-new way. It’s got a bit more difficulty compared to Yakuza, and that just feels right. But it is also satisfying to lower the difficulty and just smash thugs, lowlifes, and vagrants into tiny crimson pieces of blood and flesh. It’s a loving tribute to a classic anime franchise, and I can tell that the Yakuza team did their homework. I cannot recommend this game enough to action fans, Yakuza fans, Fist of the North Star fans, and honestly, anyone that will listen. The only drawbacks I’ve had so far is the driving, and the distinct lack of “Ai o Torimodose!!” – the original theme of Hokuto no Ken. There are so many things in this game that I don’t want to spoil, but rest assured, lots of the important characters show up. Hokuto no Gotoku is easily one of my games of the year. Everything is so visceral, and so damn enjoyable.
A key was provided for review/editorial purposes.