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'Fish of the North Star': A well-crafted game

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, November 14, 2018  /  08:59 am
'Fish of the North Star': A well-crafted game

Bring it on: Sega’s Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is absurdly vicious but that is part of its appeal. (Courtesy of Sega and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio./-)

First published in the early 1980s, the manga series Fist of the North Star (Hokuto No Ken) featured cartoonish hyper-violence set upon a backdrop of post-apocalyptic wasteland — somewhat like Mad Max but even more absurd, gory and somehow with even more leather-getups and horrible haircuts.

And indeed, there have been numerous video game titles based on this legendary manga (and one very, very bad 1990s movie adaptation that is thankfully lost in time).

For young male manga fans starting to get into more serious titles, Hokuto No Ken was insanely attractive in the way it presented violence and cruelty, in a world of uber-machismo, black-and-white morality and ultra-sexism (the women in the comics were barely characters). It offered danger, but with an element of over-the-top quality that somehow acted as a buffer to it feeling too real.

Who can resist? That bloodiness stems as a result of the series’ key component — the fictional Chinese martial art skills of title character Kenshiro, known as the Hokuto Shinken, which focuses on the enemies’ hidden vital points.

Once Kenshiro starts throwing out his characteristic blitzkrieg of punches, whatever helpless soul happens to be at the receiving end can’t do much but stand there stunned as their body enlarges into cartoonish proportionality, like a blown-up balloon before finally exploding into splinters of guts and regret. No wonder Kenshiro remains one of Japan’s most recognizable fictional characters.

Size matters?: Developed by the same team that made the famous Yakuza video game series, Lost Paradise features a good amount of humor in between all its violence.Size matters?: Developed by the same team that made the famous Yakuza video game series, Lost Paradise features a good amount of humor in between all its violence. (Courtesy of Sega and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio./-)

The new video game Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is the best example of the series’ strength and why it works as a game. It also happens to be the best Fist game.

Based on the same mechanics and gameplay as Sega’s popular Yakuza game series, Lost Paradise manages to be more than an endless row of silly steam-punk minions and supremely-brawny characters receiving ridiculous beatings from Kenshiro.

Oh don’t worry, there’s still plenty of those. But the game is also larger than ever before, with tasks and missions that stray away from simply beating the pulp out of criminal gangs and thuggish lowlifes. These range from the seemingly-pedestrian like bartending or playing baseball, or more involved ones such as tending to a hostess club.

Kenshiro can also play a lot of old-school Sega arcade games (apparently the post-apocalyptic wasteland still has room for arcades), which provides a lot of fun, and plenty of variation from the main gameplay.

These activities should be familiar with those used to playing the Yakuzaseries. Like the games in that series, Lost Paradise balances its more “serious” side with some doses of humor. There’s some acceptable awkwardness in seeing Kenshiro engage in some of the activities, but it certainly adds a lot of color to what would have otherwise been a more monotonous game.

Imagine trying to pair up hostess ladies with patrons, figuring out which personality suits each particular guest; or using those muscled arms to make the best cocktail and coming up with bad mixes (making patrons throw up) or making good ones (making patrons happy); or simply playing a game of darts.

There’s even a cool “baseball” games that have Kenshiro bashing out incoming thugs on motorcycles with a huge steel beam. That’s another good time.

Attack mode: One of the series' key components is the fictional Chinese martial art skills of title character Kenshiro, known as the Hokuto Shinken.Attack mode: One of the series' key components is the fictional Chinese martial art skills of title character Kenshiro, known as the Hokuto Shinken. (Courtesy of Sega and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio./-)

It certainly is worlds away from gore-laden criminal beatings. Yes, this is essentially Kenshiro playing in the Yakuza universe, but that gimmick somehow works.

The game’s story is a standalone, meaning that it takes elements of the Hokuto No Ken story but builds its own story. It’s a simple tale that’s not particularly engrossing, involving Kenshiro’s attempt at finding his lost love, but it gets the job done in tying everything together.

For those unfamiliar with the Hokuto No Ken lore, it is workable and exciting enough, while old time fans may wish for something that provides more in-depth tales.

The battle gameplay is straightforward and is fast paced and visually exciting. There’s a good amount of weight to Kenshiro and the enemies’ attacks, with the same nuance as some of the Yakuza series. It does take time to engage a perfect attack, and involves a good amount of memorizing, but most players — and Yakuza fans — should have no problem doing so.

And of course there are a lot of great boss battles with a lot of popular characters from the manga, all with their own individual styles and attacks.

Stunned: Kenshiro (left) starts throwing out his characteristic blitzkrieg of punches in a battle.Stunned: Kenshiro (left) starts throwing out his characteristic blitzkrieg of punches in a battle. (Courtesy of Sega and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio./-)

There’s an option to turn off the amount of gore that will likely not be used by most who buy this game, as the spraying waterfalls of blood red are undoubtedly a big part of the visual appeal.

The cell-shading and background retains the elements of anime and manga graphics strongly, without forcing too many awkward 3D elements onto the environment. There is also an option for either English or Japanese language (with English subs), with the latter definitely feeling more real and even more “emotional”, even for non-Japanese speakers.

While it being released in the same months as some big titles like Spider-Man and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 may make it something of the underdog, this is still a game that offers plenty of difference from those titles’ particular appeal. And who can say no to bust baddies up with some magical martial arts?

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Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action-adventure game
Mode: Single-player video game
Directors: Nobuhiro Suzuki; Jun Orihara
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developers: Sega, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio