Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
Originally published in the mid-‘80s, Fist of the North Star is a successful, post-apocalyptic manga that follows a martial artist named Kenshiro who has the power to make heads explode with a single punch. Lost Paradise tells a new story in the Fist of the North Star mythos but borrows known characters and story elements from the source material and structures the experience to play like the developer’s other game series, Yakuza. In some ways, this weird amalgamation of franchises works, but it’s not without shortcomings.
In a world ravaged by nuclear destruction, Kenshiro is a master of the Hokuto Shinken style of martial arts, which focuses on attacking pressure points on his opponents’ bodies. When done correctly, this causes them to explode in violent displays. This makes him a very powerful person in the apocalyptic world, but he has a heart of gold and cares only about finding his fiancée. He tries to avoid violence as best he can, but sometimes the only way to do that is to punch people so hard that their bodies burst like over-inflated balloons. In that strange paradox, Lost Paradise builds up an interesting, melodramatic, and sometimes humorous story. Kenshiro explores a large city full of quest-givers and minigames, beats up groups of thugs, and sometimes takes a car out into the nearby wasteland to find materials and explore other, smaller towns.
The narrative is built around soap-opera-style twists from severely serious characters who like to keep secrets. People you think are dead rarely are, and if they wear a mask, you better believe they’re hiding a revelation under there. The surprises drive engagement but are doled out at a snail’s pace. Walking from one story revelation to the next always involves getting sidetracked against your will, and a number of annoying missions force you to travel great distances to figure out what you need just so you can turn back around and get it.
Between (and during) the story and side missions, you drive around a large open wasteland and fight thousands of bad guys. The clumsy driving suffers from awkward physics, but as a way to diversify the mission structure, I appreciate its presence. You can upgrade your car with new materials, but they mostly offer underwhelmingly minor changes.
Creativity is not Kenshiro’s strong suit, and it shows in his fighting style. Plenty of unlockable combat upgrades are available, but few changed the way I approached combat. This makes health and power upgrades the most useful options. Though the upgrade system left me wanting more, I enjoyed the fighting despite the occasional difficulty spikes and repetition.
Fist of the North Star is an old property, and that age is reflected in how the world of Lost Paradise is rendered. The main female characters are underdressed, and the male characters are walking muscle towers who deliver one-liners like, “Villains don’t need graves.” Plus, the violence is glorified in a way that would make the original Mortal Kombat proud. Yes, this is faithful to the original manga, but that didn’t keep me from feeling embarrassed about playing it in front of others.
The melodrama of the main story is fun, but Lost Paradise shines brightest when it doesn’t take itself seriously. You can tackle minigames like one on a baseball field where thugs on motorcycles drive toward you and you knock them back with a giant piece of rebar. Another has you donning a lab coat and playing a rhythm game where you beat up bad guys trying to steal medicine from a clinic. These minigames and side missions (like one where you have to track down the “shoulder pad killer”) are a highlight, and it is always a treat to see the super serious Kenshiro participate in some bizarre frivolity.
The narrative moves slowly and side missions eagerly pull you away from the main story whether you want them to or not, but I was engaged throughout. I wanted to see what would happen next and was happy to beat up bad guys in order to do so. Shortcomings in the pacing and the lack of diversity in the combat pull down the experience, but I liked the time I spent with Kenshiro. The Fist of the North Star franchise feels dated in many ways, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better representation of its strange and violent world in a video game.
This isn't the first Fist of the North Star video game to make its way to North America, but it may be the strongest.