Sega’s Take on Fist of the North Star is Everything You Want it to Be
In the 35 years since it first appeared on the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, Yoshiyuki Okamura’s Fist of the North Star has grown to become one of the most celebrated manga and anime series in history. That being said, it’s no surprise that the burly protagonist Kenshiro has adorned the cover of more than a few video games on a wide variety of consoles over the years – many of which of dubious quality. Thankfully, Sega seems poised to break the cycle of suffering later this year with Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise.
I recently had the chance to dive into the wasteland at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. And, after checking out a few of the game’s modes, I’m happy to report that I walked away impressed by the way Sega has managed to fuse the formula of their critically-acclaimed Yakuza series with the bloody, over-the-top action that Fist of the North Star is known for.
“You’re Already Dead.”
While First of the North Star: Lost Paradise features many of the places and faces made popular over the course of the franchise’s history, it’s an alternate story set within the Hokuto no Ken universe. That means newcomers will be able to dive into the game’s grisly narrative without any prior knowledge of the story. The demo portion of the game that I was able to experience included two sections: one showcasing the game’s savage combat system, while the other half of the demo offered a brief look at the game’s story as I explored the desert city of Eden and engaged in some of the minigames it had to offer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I chose to jump straight into the bloodshed. Can you blame me? This is Hokuto no Ken we’re talking about! I’m only human, after all.
The combat demo puts players at the gates of Cassandra Prison as you battle Warden Uighur’s band of thugs. Right from the start, I was surprised at just how similar the combat felt to Sega’s Yakuza franchise’s. If you’re comfortable scrapping with thugs in Kamurocho, you’ll be more than capable of beating back the gangs of bandits and warlords you’ll find here. The square button unleashes a light attack, while the triangle button performs a heavy strike. The two can be chained together to create devastating combos that will stagger your foes.
Once staggered, an indicator will flash above the battered baddie, and this is when the real fun starts. A quick tap of the circle button will then allow you to perform a brutal execution move with Kenshiro’s Hokuto Shinken arts. From head claps that turn your opponent’s noggin into a cloud of tomato puree to throws that cause them to explode in the sky like meat-filled firecrackers, these attacks provide an absurd and sadistic spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed.
In addition to these techniques, Kenshiro also has a number of special abilities at his disposal in the form of “Destiny Talismans.” Mapped to the d-pad directions, these special skills allow you to wield a flamethrower to burn your enemies to a crisp or pound the ground and send them reeling like rag dolls. The coolest one allowed Ken to dash rapidly from enemy to enemy, delivering a single strike to each one’s chest before they all exploded in a synchronized display of destruction – not unlike those flashy death sequences found in Overworks and SEGA AM-1’s fantastic 2002 Shinobi reboot.
All in all, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise nails its combat. It’s incredibly gory and ridiculous in exactly the way fans expect it to be. And the tight mechanics and satisfying combo system make it a blast to boot.
As great as cracking skulls in the arena felt, exploring the city of Eden was hugely entertaining as well. The demo allowed us to take in the sights and sounds of the city. This segment did a great job of highlighting the game’s vibrant Dragon Engine-powered visuals, which do a really nice job bringing the series’ anime-inspired aesthetic to the third dimension. And though I admit it isn’t quite as technically impressive as, say, Yakuza 6, the zany character models and wild architecture really pop off of the screen and do a good job of pulling you into the game world.
The first thing I did was jump into the driver’s seat of my buggy to get my racing fix. In this mode, the goal is to race along the desert roadway, hitting turbo boosters to speed up your buggy while collecting money that can be spent on upgrading your ride. These upgrades aren’t just cosmetic enhancements, either. They’re actually integral to progressing in the story, as traveling to new locales will require Ken to ensure the buggy is able to navigate the wasteland’s harsh terrain. Unfortunately, the racing itself didn’t quite manage to impress thanks to some unimaginative track designs and some brain dead rival AI. Here’s hoping this is improved in the full release this fall.
My absolute favorite activity in Eden was bartending. In this minigame, Ken tends bar at Eden’s prized watering hole, the Rusty Nail. The goal here is to listen to the woes of the local populace and mix them a variety of tasty concoctions to lift their spirits. Sure, the art of mixology is rather shallow. In fact, it’s confined to a handful of joystick waggling and motion-controlled gestures. Still, I have to say it’s strangely satisfying and quickly becomes addicting. Trust me when I say you haven’t lived until you’ve watched Ken mix a Bloodstained Mary so hard he causes a cyclone, or unleash the Hundred Cracking Fist of the North Star to form the perfect ice cube. AH-TATATATATA! (Come on, you know you were thinking it).
Other activities, such as a rather intriguing bounty hunting mode, sadly weren’t available in this demo. But you better believe I’m excited to dive into them later this year.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is already shaping up to be the game fans deserve. Yakuza developer Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has done a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of the franchise while immersing players in a big, bloody and beautiful open world sandbox. That said, I look forward to helping Ken choke, burn, and crush his way to his beloved Yuria when the game hits the PlayStation 4 this October.
So, are you looking forward to digging into Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise this fall? As always, we love to hear what you think. Be sure to let us know in the comments section.