Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is difficult to review. As a fan of the Yakuza series who has played nearly every game developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, I probably have a very different perspective of this game than a person who hasn’t touched that series. For all intents and purposes, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a Yakuza game. Though the battle engine has been modified to be more appropriate for the setting, the game plays exactly like a Yakuza game, from the minigames and sub-stories to the inventory system and combos in combat. Even the voice actor for Kiryu—the protagonist from Yakuza—plays the main character, Kenshiro, and other voice actors from Yakuza have roles as well (assuming you’re playing in Japanese, which I recommend). Taken on its own, Fist of the North Star could be considered a new and interesting product, but when comparing apples to apples, this apple isn’t quite so fresh.
I just played and reviewed Yakuza Kiwami 2, and jumping from the latest Yakuza game to this was jarring and felt a bit like going back a generation. Outside of combat, Kenshiro controls horribly. If he needs to turn around in an interior area such as a shop, he stands in place to do so until he’s done rotating, and then finally proceeds to move several seconds after the analog stick was moved in the intended direction. And the camera itself is way too sensitive all around, which makes the game feel oddly like a PlayStation 2 title instead of something modern. Even the save system feels archaic, with no auto-saving and a lengthy save process that had me rolling my eyes and trying to entertain myself with my phone for 20 seconds every time I had to deal with it.
If there is one way that Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise tries to differentiate itself from Yakuza, it’s with the inclusion of a somewhat open world, though this too feels distinctly last gen. When outside the City of Eden, Kenshiro travels the Wasteland on a buggy which seems as though it was purposefully designed to control as poorly as possible. Vast stretches of rock, sand and dunes stand between Eden and… well… not much else, to be honest. There are a couple very small settlements, each of which have a sub-story or two, a couple of races, and large packs of bad guys that like to interrupt whatever you’re trying to do, but that’s about it.
The bad guys do occasionally drop treasure maps, but these make the game more frustrating rather than adding fun. First of all, they have a time limit which starts ticking away the second you pick them up, so if you care about whatever mysterious item might be plopped on some far corner of the Wasteland, be prepared to stop whatever you are doing to drive there, and hope you don’t encounter too many battles along the way. Second, the rewards aren’t exactly thrilling. The most exciting things you can find include music tracks for while you’re driving around and (assuming you’ve started the appropriate sub-story) some games for an arcade back at Eden (pulled straight from the Yakuza games: Outrun, Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and—everyone’s favorite—the UFO Catcher). But more often than not it will just be a broken part for your buggy. Boring.
The buggy itself has an elaborate upgrade system that involves collecting junk that is scattered all over the Wasteland. The junk appears as glowing columns that you just have to drive over, but the buggy controls so horribly that even gathering junk is tedious and frustrating. Beyond that, the quantities of items required to repair the parts is completely absurd, and in my entire time with the game, I only made one or two upgrades beyond what was required to progress the story, even though I had found over 30 different parts to repair. Perhaps there is a souped-up version of the buggy that might actually control well, but it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. Repairs often require tens of items that you may or may not have even come across yet. There are also several races that involve the buggy, so I guess upgrading it for that purpose might be worthwhile for certain players, especially those dedicated enough to want to save up points for prizes or seeking first place on every race, but in my case, I wanted to spend as little time in that thing as possible.
Fortunately, you really don’t have to drive the buggy that much, as most of the game takes place in Eden. After a lengthy, multi-chapter introduction, Kenshiro will be free to explore the city properly, and the sub-stories and minigames will start to become available. This is the moment Fist of the North Star really becomes Yakuza. Kenshiro recovers health by ordering food and as usual, and the game dutifully keeps track of which meals you have eaten so that you can eat and drink ‘em all. There are shops with consumables, equipment, and parts for the buggy. There is a casino with Poker, Blackjack, Roulette and Baccarat. There are also the previously mentioned buggy races, and a coliseum with plenty of challenges to keep you fighting even after the credits roll. All of these systems have lists of prizes to be won, and are entertaining in their own right.
Also returning from Yakuza is the cabaret club, this time described simply as a night club. Kenshiro ends up getting convinced to become the manager, but this time around, things are a bit different. There are only 4 tables instead of 6, but they can each seat two hostesses per client, and the game doesn’t pause when you’re selecting who gets seated where. This makes the gameplay a lot more frantic, and in my opinion, improved. There are visual indicators that make it easy to tell which hostesses the clients would like, and the hostesses have skills that are actually impactful. For example, one hostess might have an ability that restores stamina to other nearby hostesses. Another has an amazing smile that can be used to quickly empty the clients’ wallets. When things get out of hand, the customers really get rowdy, to the point that business can be grinded to a halt. Kenshiro can of course resolve the issue with the usual apologies and discounts, but he can also respond violently if necessary. But there’s also a hostess with a skill that just immediately empties the club, which is useful in circumstances where you need to avoid having angry customers. The night club has four platinum hostesses, and you can get to know them through a series of sub-stories and missions. In the end, the characters and stories aren’t as well developed as those of the cabaret clubs in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami 2, and the visuals aren’t nearly as good, but I think the gameplay is much improved, and I really enjoyed this part of the game.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise loves to take aspects of Yakuza and change them up. Rather than hitting baseballs with a bat, you’re hitting bikers with a 2×4. Rather than singing Karaoke there’s a music game involving healing patients in a clinic… with your fists. And this time around, rather than just drinking drinks, you get to prepare them.
Bartending really isn’t that complicated, but somehow it ties into almost every aspect of the game. The customers that come in are NPCs from around Eden, and it’s interesting getting to know them as they drown their troubles in alcohol. Serve a vendor enough times and they might expand their inventory. Stick with a customer and that could lead to a sub-story. It’s all connected, and it’s done in a very cool way. The only problem is that the bartending gameplay itself is, well… odd. It’s all motion based. To stir drinks, you have to rotate the right analog stick in perfect circles. To turn a block of ice into a ball, you have to press circle, square, cross, triangle over and over again in that specific order. And to shake a drink, you have to literally turn the Dualshock 4 on its side, grip it with both hands (BOTH hands, specifically… the game tells you to do this), and begin shaking vigorously. At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal; it’s a fun little distraction. But as the drinks become more challenging, the amount of effort required becomes extreme to the point that you’re intensely jerking off your Dualshock and pleasuring your right stick for up to 20 seconds at a time! Also, it is RNG that determines which customers come in, so trying to simply max out each customer takes a bit longer than it should, so the minigame does overstay its welcome, but it’s still a positive aspect of the game overall.
You’re Already Dead
But no matter what you are doing in Fist of the North Star, you can be sure that Kenshiro will be solving problems by blowing people up. If you’re not familiar with the character or the universe, Kenshiro is a master of a martial art called Hokuto Shinken which involves him precisely targeting pressure points on the human body. He can use this to cure headaches, stomach aches, and to save the day in general, but more often than not he presses the explode button instead, and people just… pop. It’s quite a spectacle of blood and gore, true to the original anime movie and the anime series the game is based on.
And combat really is mostly fun. It still has my usual gripes from the Yakuza series, like bosses that dodge way too much, and basic enemies that block so much that it’s infuriating, but as a whole, it’s fun to play as Kenshiro, and to fight through massive crowds of enemies. He moves around the battlefield quickly, usually dispatching one enemy after another, and has a variety of skills and abilities that unlock slowly throughout the game via 4 separate skill trees. There’s even one oversized boss fight that is unique to Fist of the North Star, and it makes me wonder what else Ryu ga Gotoku Studio could do if they got to make a game with non-human enemies.
If there is one thing I enjoyed about Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, it was seeing Kenshiro so fully realized in video game form. His movements in combat, his high-pitched battle cries (ATATATATATATA), and his classic lines of dialogue are all perfect. And it’s fun to control him in combat, and to see all the different ways he can explode a person. But as a Yakuza fan, hearing Kiryu’s voice coming out of Kenshiro’s mouth was just weird to me. I think I would have preferred another actor for the basic dialogue. This is another situation where I might have enjoyed this game more had I not been so familiar with the Yakuza series. There’s even a DLC to turn Kenshiro into Kiryu!
Oh the other hand, I can’t say that the story itself is all that great. I have not seen the anime series, but the movie was one of my first experiences with anime, so it has an important place in my mind, and triggers a lot of nostalgia for me. I was a bit disappointed that the main villain from the movie played a small role in the video game’s story. It seems they used more of the series storyline than the movie, and it honestly didn’t reach very many high notes for me. I did enjoy many of the sub-stories, but those too were hit or miss.
Also, the nature of Kenshiro’s abilities are very at odds with the Yakuza formula. Kiryu may have been capable of kicking ass, but he was also a pacifist whenever possible. Kenshiro on the other hand is very willing to explode people that give him shit, and so, people explode… everywhere. They explode on the streets, at the bazaar, in the nightclub, in the bar, at the clinic, in front of children… literally everywhere. And no one blinks an eye. You’d think a little kid seeing a human pop right in front of him would cause some distress. Nope. When a customer in the nightclub gets rowdy and ends up popped all over the tables and chairs, the hostesses and other customers don’t mind. There’s no need for a cleanup crew. If Kenshiro gets in a fight on the street, and the scattered remains of 25 random thugs are littered about, the people just thank him for saving the day again and again. So suspension of disbelief isn’t just occasionally necessary to enjoy this game, it’s a constant requirement.
If you’re okay with that, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is likely to hold your attention for quite some time. The main story can be rushed through in 15 or so hours, but if you explore all the minigames and sub-stories fully, you can expect well over 30 hours of gameplay. Maybe even longer if you love the combat so much that you explore the entirely of what the coliseum has to offer, and there’s a long series of bounties to go after too. Who knows, you may even like racing the buggy! If you are already a fan of Fist of the North Star, this is probably the best game ever made using the license. If you’re a fan of Yakuza, I can’t recommend it quite as easily, as it’s just a step back in so many ways. But if not a buy, it’s still worth a weekend rental at the very least. It’s definitely not perfect, and it’s dated in many ways, but it’s still a pretty good game over all.
Ari completed First of the North Star: Lost Paradise in 32 hours having completed 71/80 sub-stories and thoroughly exploring most of the optional content. He received a copy of the game for review purposes from Atlus U.S.A., Inc.
+Great visual representation of Fist of the North Star
+Several fun minigames
-Weak main story
-Driving the buggy isn’t fun
-Simply doesn’t compare to recent Yakuza games
Available on: PlayStation 4
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4 (Pro)