Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise Review
A Tough Boy Rolls into Eden.
Published on October 15, 2018
Release Date: October 10, 2018
Platform: Sony PlayStation 4
Review Copy provided by Sega/ATLUS
Until recently, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has seldom taken on projects outside of the Yakuza series “mythos.” As the team prepares to ramp up development of their “future of Yakuza” titles, their initial showing comes in the form of a collaboration with the ever-popular Fist of the North Star manga/anime series. Abandoning the bustling avenues of Kamurocho, the war-torn expanse of the Wasteland awaits Kenshiro as he wanders for what was lost.
As a surprise to nobody, the brawler-centric battle system experienced in the mainline series carries over into Lost Paradise. This time, however, it has been given some tweaks to accentuate the deadly martial art of Hokuto Shinken. As hits successfully land on an opponent, a meter will fill and, once filled to the maximum, they will become more susceptible to stun and can be put into the next new mechanic, Meridian Shock. Meridian Shock replaces the typical grab action, allowing Kenshiro to be able to target channeling points on the opponent's body, putting them into Meridian Shock and unleash Special Techniques, which are this game's Heat Actions.
The Special Techniques are pure fanservice with plenty of Ken's trademark named arts making an appearance. Since these techniques only require placing the enemy into Meridian Shock with no heat gauge mechanic, they can be utilized very often. This does become a bit problematic after seeing them so many times because many of the animations are quite long and can break up the tempo of a fight. However, they somewhat alleviate this with a QTE prompt ability for the Perfect Channeling Point Strike which causes devastating damage to regular enemies, if not outright killing them.
A welcome change is that many new enemy types are introduced and change up how encounters play out. Normal thugs are typical fodder, numerous but easily dispatched in three to four punches. The larger ones pose much more formidable challenges with access to super armor moves and an assortment of combat styles including highly evasive boxers, spinning hammer bros, and even flamethrowers. The large enemies, in particular, punish mindlessly attacking the front heavily, forcing a bit more strategy to an otherwise normal random encounter.
Playing on Hard, the damage output of these mobs turned out to be surprisingly high which was very welcomed. Without the grab and throw being readily available, it did feel like there was a lack of ways to effectively control the sometimes massive mob encounters. Larger groups also tended to cause Kenshiro to track the wrong enemy, causing channeling strikes to miss and leave Ken very vulnerable during the recovery frames. Otherwise, the combat has a decently fast pace and provides a skill ceiling that allows players to hone their use of the mechanics and see the results as Kenshiro dances through attacks and unleashes punishing counters.
The boss fights are where the collaboration truly shines. Familiar faces, like Rei and Souther, make appearances along Ken's search to find Yuria. Wielding their respective martial arts, these fights are rife with references to the anime, with many of the phase transition cutscenes recreating one of their signature special techniques. They enter Burst Mode upon reaching approximately half health, signaling where the fight truly begins. In Burst Mode, they gain access to new attacks and will often dance around all of Ken's swings. Quick decision making and dodging is instrumental in quickly finishing the fight, but it is still possible to take the fights very slow and wait for them to whiff one of their exceedingly punishable attacks. Unfortunately, the story does not provide much build-up to these encounters.
When speaking of a game that is a collaboration with the Yakuza series, it is odd to say that the story is one of the weakest points. Lost Paradise tells an original story of Eden, a city that has sprung up from the wasteland that sustains itself off the power it receives from a mysterious artifact that survived the nuclear war that changed the world forever. Many of the chapters boil down to one of the great conquerors of Fist of the North Star lore seeking to take over Eden, then is resolved once Kenshiro confronts them. The character then disappears from the game so that the next one can take his place and repeat. It was great to see them and to fight them, but it felt cheapened by the revolving door action of the antagonists. Without spoiling anything, the ending made little sense and just left me wondering if I had glanced over or missed a significant bit of dialogue that thoroughly explained the situation.
New and old minigames are littered throughout Eden, with my personal favorites being the colosseum and doctor activities. The colosseum provides endurance fights through three waves of different enemy compositions which reward battle points that can be traded in for prizes, as well as what is essentially a boss rematch mode, where many rare items can be obtained if one can beat the bosses as they increase in overall power level. Donning his doctor's smock, Kenshiro uses his knowledge of channeling points to heal ailing villagers, whilst delivering beatdowns to rabble-rousers, all culminating in the form of a rhythm game. There's just something delightful about watching Kenshiro bounce around the room healing patients while tapping buttons to songs like “Symphony No. 9 'From the New World'” and “Orpheus in the Underworld (Can Can).” Bandit baseball, bartending, casino, buggy racing, and cabaret club are just a few examples of other minigames available throughout. While the side-activities offer some distraction, they don't provide much new that wasn't already available in previous Yakuza games and, while initially fun, new minigames like bartending get very repetitive.
Eden acts as the hub city where activities, stores, and most of the story events take place, with the other area being the surrounding Wasteland. Aside from getting sub-stories, there's very little reason to ever wander around the majority of the city, since the shops and activities are mostly accessible from the central corridor of Eden. The collectibles have instead been relegated to the aptly named Wasteland. The Wasteland is little more than a vast empty space with the only purpose being to mindlessly drive around collecting upgrade materials like steel wire and rocks, or to get to the next story progression spot. Defeated mobs will sometimes drop treasure maps, which will place a collectible container somewhere in the Wasteland for a limited time. Getting there in the generous time will reward various things, like additional songs to play during buggy rides or extra arcade games. Luckily, there are numerous fast travel points, but they require not only loading getting out of the buggy to talk to the fast travel NPC but also an additional load to get back in the buggy at the new location. Ultimately, it comes across as a questionable addition and implementation that adds little to the gameplay, other than perhaps enjoying the janky handling of the buggy.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise can be appreciated for taking the base combat system and changing up the attack styles and enemy variety to more effectively reflect the established lore of the FotNS franchise. The weak story and somewhat ineffective use of the game world leaves a lot to be desired and may make it difficult for those looking for an in-depth story with a more incorporated game-world. Despite that, it creates a spectacle that fans will likely enjoy seeing as well as attract anime junkies to a more “extreme” Yakuza brawler.