Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PlayStation 4 Review)
Following on from Yakuza Kiwami 2 just one month prior, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise continues the onslaught of Yakuza games released by SEGA in the west. While not necessarily a Yakuza game in name in English, it’s known as Hokuto ga Gotoku in Japan—a play on the Yakuza series’ Japanese name, Ryu ga Gotoku. Spinoffs in the series aren’t rare, and generally take place in a variety of settings outside of Kamurocho. This particular setting places us in the universe created by manga author and artist Buronson and Tetsuo Hara respectively. This makes for the fifth Yakuza series release in just three years.
You’d be mistaken to believe that five titles in such a short time would lead to fatigue with the series. Lost Paradise appears to resemble Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami more than the recent pairing from this year. There’s less physics involved in the combat, but there’s surprisingly no loss in the brutality. The whole new setting also helps. The title follows the Mad Max / Bruce Lee inspired Kenshiro as he wanders the wastes of post-apocalyptic Japan on his quest to find his lost love Yuria. Lost Paradise is a loose adaptation of the first and most famous part of Fist of the North Star—and I mean loose.
Kenshiro discovers Eden on his quest. The settlement surrounds an inaccessible dome, known as Dome City. From here, the narrative takes a direction more expected from a Yakuza title. Dome City becomes the centre of a mystery, resulting in all the grand conspiracies and betrayals players would expect from any game in the Yakuza format. Key story beats from the original Fist of the North Star manga do make an appearance. Kenshiro will find himself battling his brothers and teaming up with his new friend Rei to protect Rei’s sister. While these elements still exist, they’ve been altered to involve Eden in some way or other. Lost Paradise seeks to tell its own story, but ensures players will revisit a number of favourite moments. It’s a marriage between both properties, and it’s a pretty good one!
Unfortunately, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise does suffer from being restricted as a spinoff. It’s likely that the development team weren’t given the same resources as a numbered Yakuza title would get, and it shows. There isn’t enough material to carry the narrative as long as the game continues. Consequently, chapters are often broken down into just a beginning and an ending, with much of the content between feeling like it’s just padding. One chapter in particular hits the brakes, forcing Kenshiro to progress time by sleeping three times—each awaking to make the tiniest step of progress in the story. At other times, a number of farmable items are required to unlock features that may progress the story further, requiring a small grind on the players part. These moments aren’t particularly terrible, and the RNG isn’t incredibly punishing, but it does hurt the flow. At its lowest, Lost Paradise feels slow and drags its heels; however, at its best the title knows how to land a punch to your gut.
The narrative isn’t the only place where impact can be felt. Kenshiro is a master of the martial art known as Hokuto Shinken, and boy is it a vicious and brutal combat style. While the shell of main series titles can be felt in the battles—Kenshiro will land a series of light attacks with heavy finishers—there’s been a few changes. First, if you punch someone hard enough then they’ll just straight up explode into chunks. It’s a trademark of the Hokuto Shinken style and Kenshiro just feels incredibly powerful with it. Make no mistake, Lost Paradise is gratuitously gory. This is especially true in the western release, and we can thank both the Sega General Producer, Daisuke Sato, and Atlus’ Director of Production, Sam Mullen, for that one.
Beyond foes just exploding, players will be able to increasingly build towards each enemy receiving Meridian Shock—a state in which they become vulnerable to Hokuto Shinken—between Kenshiro’s powerful and rapid blows. Once vulnerable, players can initiate the Lost Paradise equivalence of Heat actions. Kenshiro will use one of many unique, cinematic actions to absolutely destroy his opponent while declaring the action in a similar vein to the 1984 anime adaptation. Unlike the Yakuza heat actions, Kenshiro can only build towards each individual foe becoming vulnerable. Each enemy’s gauge will also deplete over time, rewarding fast and accurate punching of the wasteland punk men. Additionally, perfectly timed presses can also result in immediate explosions without the cinematics if you’re in a rush to rain blood.
There aren’t any weapons to wield in Lost Paradise. Well, not really. Timing Kenshiro’s pressure point pressing well for that perfect shot will result in death screams, some of which will take tangible form and lay on the ground, ready to just annihilate anyone nearby. Beyond that, Kenshiro will rely on his fists and an increasingly expanding arsenal of techniques—cinematic and not. Players will also be able to use talismans to deal area damage or receive buffs. In many ways, the combat feels a touch more expansive than the most recent iterations in the Yakuza series.
Almost a trademark of Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s titular series, Eden is very much a veritable playground much like the Yakuza series’ Kamurocho. It’s not as flashy, comprising of mostly rubble and debris, but it’s still drenched in neon at night and offers a variety of distractions. Unlike Kamurocho, these distractions are often a bit more metal. Do you feel like playing baseball? Pop by the baseball stadium and swing a giant steel girder at a bunch of post-apocalyptic bikers and try and beat the last distance you scored. Miss that famous Yakuza karaoke? Pop by the clinic and play doctor to the beats of a rhythm (while, of course, making a bunch of raiders blow up into chunks). Kenshiro can even use his martial arts to mix up alcoholic drinks, deepening his relationships with the locals for various perks including expanded equipment options.
Traditionally, Yakuza titles feature a serious and dramatic scenario for its story, but players will also find the more silly side of the underworld in side stories. The world famous stoic personality of Kenshiro makes the protagonist a positive butt of the joke in the many side stories that lurk within Eden’s walls that can include ATATATATATA’ing some burgers to cook. Lost Paradise can revel in the silly side of a post-apocalyptic martial artist and nothing is lost. Sadly, not all of the new additions are positive ones.
Travelling the wastelands can be a rather toiling task, which is where Kenshiro’s new mode of transport comes in. I don’t recall him using cars very often in the manga meaning Lost Paradise brings us that step closer to the Mad Max inspiration at Fist of the North Star’s core. Players can drive around the wastes, ramming into human trash to initiate (out-of-vehicle) fights or discovering lost junk that can be re-purposed towards something useful. While sometimes feeling a little tacked on—it’s here that players will do the majority of any grinding they do—driving expands the world and connects various out-of-Eden set pieces together. It’s just a shame that the cars control horribly and most of the wasteland is an empty nothing. I get that it’s kind of the point of a wasteland, but we’ve been getting better open world designs for a while. This isn’t helped by the car initially being slow. There’s no sense of being lost or in danger in the wastes, and the only risk is the onset of boredom.
While the wasteland doesn’t look too appealing, the rest of the game does a great job with its aesthetics. The cel shading provides a better representation of the manga’s artwork than the currently airing CG adaptation of the prequel, Fist of the Blue Sky. Watching the various enemies deform and explode is also very satisfying, and there’s clearly been a lot of great work put into the title’s visual style.
Lost Paradise toes the line between adapting and being original fairly well. While recreating the manga, the title isn’t afraid to be its own entity and stand proud. As part of Fist of the North Star’s marriage with Yakuza, there’s a lot of strong acting involved. Takaya Kuroda, previously portraying Yakuza’s now retired main protagonist, returns to give a fantastic performance is Kenshiro. He fits the role brilliantly, and continues to balance being silly and serious with great finesse. Many other cast members from the Yakuza series return. Especially notable is Hidenari Ugaki’s (Majima Goro) brief appearance as Jagi. Speaking of audio, the soundtrack continues to be a strong highlight, though many of the tracks are buried in later parts of the game. It’s a shame that Ai Wo Torimodose—the opening theme for the Fist of the North Star anime—doesn’t make an appearance in the Western release, but the power metal variant of Receive You makes for a nice, subtle reminder that this is very much still a part of the Yakuza series.
Daisuke Sato noted that many of the development team’s members are new to the studio. With that in mind, this is a solid effort from their new additions. Given release schedules, Lost Paradise must have had to have a quick turnaround, and the general scale of the title being smaller than recent Yakuza games makes sense in context. That being said, it brings its own distinct flavour to the series, and is easily standalone—an impression given by Sega’s own marketing approach. If you’re looking for a bit of gratuitous violence, then Eden sounds like the perfect home for you, but fans of either series should be able to get a great kick out of this as well.