Fist Of The North Star
Ataciturn hero using his considerable fighting powers for good in a lawless world – could there be a better choice to develop a Fist Of The North Star game than the Yakuza team? You’ll see quite a bit of Kazuma Kiryu in protagonist Kenshiro, though since Buronson and Tetsuo Hara’s manga predates Yakuza by a good couple of decades, it’s probably more accurate to say there’s always been something of Kenshiro in Kiryu. Naturally, there are a few key differences. Despite the hostess bars, the neon signs and the general whiff of testosterone, this post-apocalyptic world – a kind of manga Mad Max – is no Kamurocho. And while Kiryu’s moral code prevented him, at least in theory, from killing others, Kenshiro has no such qualms. Using the martial art of Hokuto Shinken, he applies a kind of violent acupressure to his enemies, deploying a variety of techniques that make his opponents’ limbs and heads explode in geysers of blood.
Otherwise, Lost Paradise is pretty much exactly what you’d expect a Fist Of The North Star game developed by the Yakuza team to feel like. Which is to say it’s essentially a Yakuza spin-off, right down to Takaya Kuroda, Kiryu’s voice actor, who plays Kenshiro here. At least, that’s assuming you stick with the Japanese dub and subs: an English-language option is available, though for some reason once you’ve made your choice it won’t let you switch between the two. It’s just one of a number of odd little quirks that make Lost Paradise feel strangely old-fashioned. Indeed, it’s built upon the foundations of Yakuza 0, rather than the newer Dragon Engine – yet its rhythms and structure make it feel like even more of a throwback. For better and worse, it often reminds us of a late-era PS2 game.
The setting is certainly part of it. Compared to Kamurocho, the central hub of Eden is sparse: there are only a handful of stalls, stores and leisure facilities to visit, though that’s arguably in keeping with the plot’s relative single-mindedness. You’ll also notice it in the oddly rigid feel of it all: Kenshiro basically looks like a walking piece of vacuum-packed steak, and frequently moves like one, too. And when you get a buggy to drive around the wasteland beyond Eden’s boundaries, you shouldn’t expect anything like Avalanche’s Mad Max. It’s a throwaway side dish compared to Lost Paradise’s main course of claret-soaked hand-to-hand combat. For a while it seems as if your Square and Triangle buttons are going to take quite the beating – though the benefit of following two Omega Force games is that these brawls are, relatively speaking, a model of variety. In any case, your Circle button steadily becomes the MVP. In Yakuza parlance, Kenshiro is capable of pulling off Heat moves with little effort: sometimes a single punch, or even a preparatory flex, is enough for him to walk up to an enemy and launch an instakill attack. Depending on when and where you press the button, a cutscene of a Hokuto technique will begin, with timed button-presses boosting its effectiveness. After several hours, you can cut out the middleman, with one tap of Circle producing another prompt. Time it right, and you’ll kill your opponent without breaking your flow. It’s a system that prizes efficiency as much as variety, in other words: though you’ll earn bonuses for mixing up your finishers, taking out a group quickly and without taking damage is the easiest way to that initially elusive S++ rank. You can tip the scales further in your favour with unlockable talismans, selected via the D-pad. A few of these are hilariously unfair – though there’s a lengthy cooldown on them, even once fully upgraded.
The fights come thick and fast, and so it’s no great surprise that Lost Paradise takes care to integrate its side activities into its story. Yakuza’s baseball has been amusingly repurposed: rather than hitting pitches inside batting cages, Kenshiro swings a giant girder to smack speeding bandits off their bikes. There’s an armknackering bar minigame which invites you to prepare cocktails for Eden’s residents to either expand the stock in their stores or to reveal new side stories. Best of the lot is a wonderful bit of nonsense where you play a doctor in a busy clinic, darting between patients in rhythmic fashion, prodding pressure points to the beat of various songs, most notably a fantastically terrible take on Ode To Joy.
Lost Paradise is very funny throughout, in fact, tapping into a rich seam of deadpan humour. During an early jailbreak, Kenshiro simply walks to the front of his cell to be greeted with a prompt – ‘Exit’ – which sees him instantly bend the bars apart and stride out. The comedy isn’t always intentional, mind. One character is told he looks thin after a long stretch in prison, the camera cutting to reveal a physique that would make The Rock envious. But the story’s flaws are rather harder to forgive. In trying to cover as much of the manga as possible, the developer only ensures that several key characters are given short shrift. If you’re not familiar with the source material, meanwhile, you’ll find most fights are poorly contextualised: you’ll often be asked to beat up someone you’ve only just met. The Yakuza games have always understood the value of delayed gratification, creating characters so detestable you’re itching for them to get their comeuppance at Kiryu’s hands. While the combat remains enjoyable, the catharsis of beating even the most annoying damage-sponge bosses proves hollow.
Still, if you’re in the mood for a palate cleanser between winter’s biggest banquets, you could do a lot worse. This is a pizza-and-a-six-pack kind of game: sit back, crack open a cold one and get ready to grin your way through the most gleefully stupid 20-odd hours you’ll spend in front of a screen all year.
Lost Paradise is very funny throughout, tapping into a rich seam of deadpan humour