Bearing the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio logo, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise feels like entirely like a Yakuza game even from the main menu. While this may seem like a compliment, Fist of the North Star ends up coming across as a cheap spin-off rather than a game that can stand on its own.
Omae wa mou shindeiru
Throughout Fist of the North Star you play as the giant muscular bad-ass Kenshiro, the 64th successor of the ancient martial art Hokuto Shinken.
Fist of the North Star is a great beat ‘em up brawler on the surface. The combat system is almost straight from Yakuza 0. Kenshiro has a light and heavy attack that can be chained together to form combos. Yakuza’s heat moves have been replaced with “secret techniques.” Each secret technique is basically the bloody end of every enemy.
Pulling one off is as easy as hitting an enemy enough to trigger the secret technique’s quick time event. Nailing the button prompts boosts the damage to the technique, and if it’s a fatal attack that brain-confetti will be sure to follow.
Luckily the game knows you’ll probably get a little tired of watching heads explode over and over again every fight, and eventually you unlock a quicker way to trigger secret techniques. This method, which requires a little more mid-fight finesse, rewards Kenshiro with the ability to use his enemies last words as a weapon.
The enemy’s final scream manifests into a speech bubble that Kenshiro can grab onto and bash enemies with. Doing it for the first time was tons of fun, and I’m glad to say it never really gets old.
All the bells and whistles of a wasteland
One of the staples of the Yakuza series is the vast amount of activities in the world. Sadly, Fist of the North Star doesn’t quite deliver in this department. There are a good amount of mini games in the city and wasteland, but it takes so long to discover all of them that its too little too late.
By the time I unlocked Fist of the North Star’s rhythm game I was already halfway through the main storyline. This alone isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the minigame unlocks are spaced so far apart that it’s a little strange to be in the open world knowing there could be other locked features.
Dated tech means dated looks
It’s pretty hard to make a wasteland look good, and that remains a solid fact here. Fist of the North Star doesn’t do anything very special graphically. At times the games cell-shaded anime inspired graphic style shines, but other times textures are murky and models have poor aliasing.
The game is running on the dated Yakuza 0 game engine, and the graphics (among other similarities) make this apparent. Just like the late PS3/ early PS4 Yakuza titles, graphics aren’t breathtaking, but there are moments of beauty.
Issues with the dated engine really arise when in the wasteland. Detail draw distance is extremely low, and the entire environment is painfully bleak.
Driving me crazy
Of the new features this game brings to the table compared to the Yakuza series, driving is the biggest.
After some time, you gain the ability to drive freely through the wasteland. Normally I’d be all in to drive, but after my first time in the wasteland I dreaded going back.
The open-world wasteland is dull and lifeless. The main things that fill the sandy dunes are enemies driving around looking for a fight, save stations that double as gas stations, and beams of green and red lights signaling items to drive over and collect. It’s a dreary place to be and having only 3 songs to listen to makes tolerating being in the wasteland even harder.
Driving mechanics are also a huge issue. Driving my car around the wasteland felt more like playing an NHL game, except I had more grip on the hockey rink. Driving cars is beyond “arcade-style handling,” it’s downright laughable.
It feels like the developers watched an episode of Initial D and thought turning the steering wheel just made your car go sideways.
A pacing nightmare
Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise really falls apart is in its story. If you’re a fan of the manga and anime you’re in for a treat, but if you’re fresh to Fist of the North Star then the story is weak.
Throughout Kenshiro’s journey you’ll meet characters from the classic anime, but the game does extremely little in explaining their significance to newcomers. Luckily, I knew a little bit about the lore before coming into the game, because playing through this without studying up on some of the source material may feel like starting an anime on season 2.
On top of this, there is some terrible pacing going on in Fist of the North Star. I was pulling my hair out at times as side quests jammed themselves down my throat at the most random of times.
Multiple times in the middle of main quests a side mission would trigger. One instance occurred about 5 feet from a mission checkpoint.
I was running normally to a newly unlocked area when right before I got to the door I was instructed to run to the other end of town to fight someone. Fist of the North Star interrupts its gameplay time after time, and it gets more and more frustrating each and every time it does so.
A lesser Yakuza
Fist of the North Star just doesn’t fill the big shoes of the Yakuza game series. While its able to dazzle its way through its fight sequences, it never seems to find its footing in its story. It feels like the potential is there, but it doesn’t quite hit the high notes.