Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise Review – A Paradise?
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Ryu ga Gotoku
Release: 2nd October 2018
Even though Ryu ga Gotoku Studio is known mainly for its Yakuza franchise (they don´t do anything else after all recently), they also try their hands at different games. One of them is nothing less than a game adaption of one of the all-time classic manga ever in existence: Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise. Promising the humour, mechanics and skill known from the Yakuza series, it may very well looked like a dream come true after all these years of bad tie-ins.
In the post-apocalyptic Wasteland of Fist of the North Star Kenshiro is on his quest to find Yuria. In fact, in the beginning it looks like he already achieved his goal, overpowering Shin who kidnapped his beloved fiancee. However, things are never that easy and he soon finds out she already began wandering towards a mysterious city called Eden. So Kenshiro sets out once again, in order to find Yuria, while uncovering many mysterious around the seemingly paradisical city.
As the intro suggests, it´s not recommended to start Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise blindl, as it actually never really explains much about the many system, fighting styles or setting, which make this universe so unique. So, if you´re not acquainted with the franchise, I would recommend at least reading into the general premise and timeline before thinking about getting this game.
This is especially important since the main plot isn´t all that engaging during the first 5-10 hours, mainly focusing on either introducing new characters or fanservice. Generally, Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise is an incredibly great treat for anyone in love with the universe, since it features many iconic characters, concepts or story pieces woven into the chapters. Unfortunately, it seems to lose itself into them way too often, spending minutes in static dialogues without any obvious purpose, making the whole thing way slower than any Yakuza game. Actually, if you expect anything similar to Yakuza´s plot here … don´t. It simply features way too few climaxes to overshadow its bland storyline about Kenshiro and Yuria, that never picks up enough speed. Any subplot is just so often forgotten or clustered with filler material, that many things about its writing feel like hasitly put together, rather than handled by an experienced team with enough time like Yakuza.
Though, why do I keep comparing it to this franchise? Because Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise is, in every regard, a Yakuza game but at the same time, worse in every regard. Let´s thematize the combat next: It´s just your typical Yakuza one. You have yourlight combos you can finish off with a triangle finisher after every attack, there´s a block button, one to evade and the heat mode. However, it´s still inferior to the main series, due to the fact many of the actually important features (like multiple finishers) were locked far away in the ability menu, letting it feel more limited through the most part.
In exchange, there´s actually a revamped heat action system, in order to better reflect Fist of the North Star. Depending on the enemies’ size, you can either directly or after a few hits hit them on their channeling points with typical Hokuto style, dealing massive damage and killing many in one strike. Gameplay-wise, it´s practically the same as heat actions, since many of them are influenced by the enemy´s position etc. and activated with one button press. Unfortunately, for better or worse, there are quick time events now, effectively lenghtening the duration of those sequences since the actions are now synced to button presses. Naturally, this might seems super cool at first but soon one realizes that many of those actions are the same and you´re going to look at them for 15-20 hours and they quickly become repetitive. Even though they´re as over the top as you would expect, making it a pleasure to look at them initially. While Yakuza´s heat actions are way shorter, it doesn´t get so obvious there.
The only thing really able to bring diversity into the mix is the extreme violence, a requirement for a Fist of the North Star game. Every beaten enemy implodes, the special attack deforms them, behead them or impale them and the hit feedback is even better than in the Yakuza franchise. Honestly, it feels the same but looks so much more fun, effectively carrying over many of its flaws. I still can´t believe it’s not possible to use objects or weapons in fights, as coherent as that may be, it was always so fun. Luckily, the boss fights can always impress due to the combined force of Kenshiro´s and his opponent´s absurdity.
Generally, a lot about Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise just feels inferior and inexperienced, the mission design in particular. I was always a big fan of those giant battle levels, where you fight through dozens of enemies with bosses and stuff. Forget most of those, this game doesn´t have many sections comparable to those. Instead, it relies on short, uninteresting environments that give away way too much of their potential. The best example is a pretty early one, where Kenshiro has to free one of his old friends from a giant prison. Would you expect to battle through this heavy-guarded, interesting building? Me too. In reality though, it consists of 3 fights (2 boss battles from them) in front of the prison. You don´t even get to go into it. Pretty much the majority of its level design can be described like that.
On the other hand, another big problem is the constant throw-ins of required side quests. At the start of every second chapter, you will be lead to one of them, costing you 20-40 minutes to complete a side plot, that is neither truly interesting or well-paced. Often side-quests are never as interesting or creative as I would expect from Ryu ga Gotoku studio, who even wrote man-babies into Kiwami 2, it´s just somehow sad honestly. Instead, they often rely on fanservice for series veterans, what´s okay but it simply begins to feel like stretching the main story without writing meaningful problems naturally into it.
Last but not least, the graphics, ranging from fittingly basurd to mediocre at best. As the only recent game that isn´t using the Dragon Engine, Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise looks its part. Characters and cities are still fine, mainly because the artstyle and design don´t require the graphical power of their latest engine to impress the player. Effects and such are also quite well-done and the frame-rate holds up reasonable well. Given, the facial animations and stiffness of cutscenes show the difference quite well but as long as you stay in Eden, it doesn´t look much worse.
Yet, as soon as you enter the Wasteland with your car, it gets worse, a lot worse. For one, the car is one of the msot obsolete things I´ve seen in a long time, feeling like a slow mean of travel through an empty world with no real control over this thing. The wasteland is full of emptiness, only materials you can drive over provide any sort of activity, but Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise tries so desperately to send you in all corners of this world for whatever reason. It´s just one of those things that don´t bring anything new to the table, rather impose a forceful grind. Additionally, the open world is clearly too much for the engine, resulting in huge, open spaces with mushy textures, blocky rocks and lacking identity.
Well, Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise isn´t a great game, often tiring and in love with the unnecessary stuff. I love its over-the-top combat presentation, world and fanservice, I really do, after all, it´s not every day you hear “Omae wa mou Shindeiru” in a video game! Unfortunately, all of this is overshadowed by needless, stuffed in story padding, a tiring open world and lack of real climaxes throughout the whole story. Compared to Yakuza, it just isn´t even near the same level and shouldn´t be considered unless you love the universe or are thirsty for more Ryu ga Gotoku.
[A Review Copy was provided by Koch Media]