Thursday, August 18, 2022

Open World Action RPG Review: Fist of the North Star - Lost Paradise

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a game by Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio that manages to do the seemingly impossible. It combines the popular open-world action RPG gameplay of the Yakuza series, in which the protagonist gets in fights with punks and solves the problems of civilians in districts of sprawling cities with the post-apocalyptic Fist of the North Star, in which the world has become chiefly deserted.

When I went into this game, the only thing I knew about the series was that it was a super violent take on a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world. After playing the game, I realize this is actually a pretty apt description. Kenshiro is the successor of a violent form of martial arts known as Hokuto Shinken, which allows practitioners to use pressure points in the body to either heal ailments or cause the body to spontaneously explode from the inside. He was made successor as he only uses the violent form of his martial art on rivals that want to kill him and murderous punks that wear very-1980s shoulder pads and often sport mohawks.

Kenshiro has come to the aptly-named Eden, a walled city that is considered a paradise as it exists in the middle of the post-apocalyptic desert. He is searching for his lost love, Yuria, who is rumored to be inside the city. For fans of the series, other major series characters appear although various storylines are retold differently to account for the existence of Eden. The characters of Eden are original, and fit the style of the series. The story does jump right into a confrontation with Shin, the rival of Kenshiro that left the seven marks on his chest.  For people, like me, who aren't fans of the source material, this is a bit disorienting. Thankfully, the rest of the story is easy to follow.

Inside Eden, the Yakuza-style of gameplay Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio is known for is executed remarkably well. There are bars, restaurants, and a coliseum to fight in. More familiar venues can be unlocked, such as an arcade, casino, and even a cabaret club. Various games for the arcade can be found with a buggy you unlock in the main story. Games include the familiar UFO Catcher crane game, OutRun, Space Harrier, and Super Hang-On. The neatest game to be unlocked is also the last. The 1986 Sega-developed Fist of the North Star beat 'em up can be played in Kenshiro's sleeping quarters, complete with a Sega Mark III console, the original Japanese version of the Sega Master System.

The cabaret club minigame is similar to the one in Yakuza 0. You recruit hostesses, which work like card-based RPGs. They are given ranks from common to super-super rare (SSR). Each time a hostess waits on a customer, they are given experience, but her health is depleted based on how the customer treats the hostess. I like the ability to add two hostesses to each table. However, I dislike the training mechanism in this version. It's very superficial in that you have to give them gifts to increase their rank rather than training like in the other versions of the minigame wherein giving them gifts to increase their rank is optional rather than mandatory. That said, i do like the substories of the hostesses, especially the large woman who feels that she isn't feminine because of her looks. The way Kenshiro inspires her is very well done, and as a large woman myself, I appreciate that.

The Japanese voices feature voice actors from the Yakuza series. My personal favorites are Takaya Kuroda, the voice of Kazuma Kiryu, as Kenshiro, and Hidenari Ugaki, the voice of Goro Majima, as Jagi. Those two have iconic roles in the Yakuza series and they bring the same energy to this game. Plus, the stoic attitude of Kiryu fits with Kenshiro and the craziness of Majima fits with Jagi. Even more fun, there is downloadable content that lets Kenshiro have the appearance of Kazuma Kiryu. It's a bit weird seeing Kiryu causing thugs to explode, but the stoic attitude and voice acting of Takaya Kuroda with the appearance of Kiryu are a lot of fun for Yakuza fans. This game also has optional English voices, the first for Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio since the original Yakuza. Thankfully, the script translation works well with English actors, and the English actors fit their roles well.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a mashup of two universes that are so different that it doesn't seem like it should work, but it actually works really well. It's a game that appeals to fans of the Yakuza series and the Fist of the North Star series as it includes characters from both universes with gameplay straight out of Yakuza set in the desolate, violent world of Fist of the North Star. Even if you are only a fan of only one of the two universes, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise should still appeal to you.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Open World Action RPG Mega Review: Yakuza (Kiwami) 2

The second Yakuza game was bigger than the first, with the addition of a new district, Shinseicho, based on the real-life Shinsekai, as well as including the usual Yakuza series hangout spot, Kamurocho, based on the real-life Kabukicho. In the Yakuza Kawami remake, the second district was replaced by Sotenbori from Yakuza 0, which is based on the real-life Dotenbori. In the case of both Yakuza 2 and the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake, in many ways, bigger does indeed mean better.

In this game, Kiryu Kazuma is approached by the fifth chairman of the Tojo Clan, Yukio Terada, who wishes to broker an alliance between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance. After Terada is murdered, Kiryu decides to take on this goal himself, as he was the one who appointed Terada as the fifth chairman. Thus, he places his adopted daughter, Haruka, in the care of the orphanage where they both grew up, and sets out on the dangerous task to broker peace between the two biggest yakuza organizations in Japan.

The story of Yakuza 2, which takes place a year after the events of Yakuza, is often praised as being among the best in the series and within the top two with Yakuza 0. That praise is well deserved, as it is an exciting murder mystery with a lot of twists and turns thrown in. On top of that, the female detective, Kaoru Sayama, whom Kiryu first meets in this game is written superbly. The writers are good at writing for interesting female characters, but they usually are relegated to the women at the cabaret clubs. It is fun to interact with these women, who range from ultra-feminine to tomboyish. However, they rarely have a tough, yet feminine woman who can hold their own in a fight. That's a shame because Yakuza 2 showed that they could do it well. It took over a half a decade, with the release of Yakuza 5, for another tough, feminine woman to appear in a Yakuza game, and over another half a decade for a playable strong, feminine female character to become playable with the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Another awesome character is the Kansai dragon, Ryuji Goda, who is one of the main villains of the game, as he wants to defeat Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, to stake the claim as the only dragon in the yakuza. He is written and performed so well that he became popular with the fans enough to become a playable character in Yakuza: Dead Souls.

As for gameplay, this game is the one that shows its Shenmue lineage the most. Yakuza showed it with quick-time events, fetch quests, and a puzzle near the beginning of the game where Kiryu had to infiltrate the funeral of the third chairman of the Tojo clan. Yakuza 2 has these as well, but it has an actual adventure puzzle near the middle of the game where Kiryu has to interpret clues to open a safe. The puzzle is done very well, and, as a fan of adventure games, I'm happy that it was kept intact in the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake.

Speaking of the remake, compared to Yakuza Kiwami, the controls are still a bit stiff and there is only one fighting style for Kiryu. In addition, some locations with mini-games are no longer accessible in Yakuza Kiwami 2, such as bowling, pool, and the Club Adam host organization. In addition, with the replacement of Shinseicho for Sotenbori, the Shinseicho minigames have been moved to Kamurocho and Sotenbori or removed entirely. Making up for it, however, some mini-games have been added to the Kiwami remake, including the Majima Construction clan creator and cabaret club management. 

Yakuza 2 is an excellent game with multiple locations to visit, well-written and excellently voiced new and returning characters, and a superb plot. Any version is worth playing, from the PlayStation 2 original, the Japanese-only high-definition versions on PlayStation 3 and Wii U, or the Kiwami remake, although I wholeheartedly recommend playing the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake. Yakuza 2 absolutely deserves its praise as one of the best games in the series, and the remake cements it there, even when compared to later games in the series.

Final verdict:

5 out of 5

Yakuza (Kiwami) reviewYakuza Kiwami 2: Majima Saga review

Monday, August 8, 2022

Arcade Fixed-Screen Shoot 'em up Review: Space Invaders

In 1978, Taito released Space Invaders, the hit video game that established the shoot 'em up genre as a heavy hitter within the video game industry.

I first played Space Invaders in 2000 while working on my arcade emulator, LASER. Unlike Lupin III, I had actually heard of this game before because it was a big-name game. It was and still is being ported to, and getting remakes and clones for, just about every platform imaginable.

Like all games on Taito 8080 hardware, it is a relatively simple game. It is a black and white game, although some arcades placed a color plastic overlay over the monitor to give the allusion that there are red and green colors on certain parts of the screen. There are score and life counters, invading aliens, a ship, and bunkers that can be shot through by the player and enemies alike. Later versions of the game displayed the color parts of the screen with actual color graphics rather than a plastic overlay.

The object is simply to pilot a ship at the bottom of the screen, which can only move left and right, and to shoot the invading forces before they shoot you. When all the aliens are shot, the screen refreshes and another fleet of aliens need to be dealt with. With each new fleet, the game gets progressively faster. To paraphrase a quote from Lrrr in the animated television series Futurama, instead of shooting where the ships are you should shoot where they are going to be.

There is also very little sound. There is the whirring sound when a bonus ship floats by the top of the screen that can award extra points, the zap sound that occurs when you shoot, and a simple four-note progression that acts as the music. These simple sounds work very well, however, and even the four simple notes that are played throughout gameplay surprisingly work well and don't become annoying with extended play.

The whole game is incredibly simple, but it is far from being tedious. Like Pac-Man, it is one of the early arcade games that truly stands the test of time. I was not born when the game came out and I didn't get a chance to play this game until decades after its release. However, even decades after my first time playing, I will still play it whenever I get the chance. Anyone interested in video games should try it at least once. It is a true classic.

Final verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Open World Action RPG Review - Yakuza Kiwami 2: Majima Saga

Included with Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a short side story about Goro Majima. It was quick, but it was fun and it surprisingly added content to the main game while tying things back to the excellent Yakuza 0.

The three chapters of the Majima Saga are unlocked while progressing through the story of the main game. There is also an option to send cash to Kiryu for the main game in a much easier way than Yakuza 0. This time you just simply send the cash through any ATM. Defeating enemies here doesn't actually yield cash, though the stronger enemies will give Majima silver, gold, or platinum plates. These can be sold in the pawn shops for cash, which can then be sent to Kiryu or spent on items or food.

In the Majima Saga, it is better to stock up on health items rather than food, since it is impossible to eat beyond your stomach gauge. Majima is also limited to one move set here, although it's a doozy. You get full access to Majima's Mad Dog move set from Yakuza 0, as Majima doesn't gain experience. This is plenty, as Majima uses his knife with lightning-quick speed.

The combat is satisfying, but the main draw of the Majima Saga is its side story. It fills in the blanks within the story as to why Majima left the Tojo Clan. It's also the perfect game to have a Majima side story within it, since Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio, and Japanese culture in general, features romanticized yakuza that have morals and have left the yakuza life behind them. This is true of Kiryu and Ichiban Kasuga, and it is also true of Majima in Yakuza 0. Since Yakuza 2 is the only mainline Yakuza game where Majima is working as the head of Majima Construction rather than running a Tojo family, a Majima sidequest is a perfect fit.

The parts of the Majima Saga that showed the forming of Majima Construction were fun and were actually laugh-out funny at parts. However, the best parts are the scenes that tie the game into Yakuza 0. I wasn't expecting an emotional story out of this, so it definitely surprised me, in a good way. Hidenari Ugaki is always excellent as Majima, and he really pulled out the stops to give Majima the full range of emotions here.

Majima Saga is short, but sweet. It's a story that fills in the blanks of not only Yakuza 2, but Yakuza 0 as well. Any fan of the Yakuza franchise should check out, as its content more than makes up for its short length. It isn't the main reason to play Yakuza Kiwami 2, of course. However, if you do have Yakuza Kiwami 2, or you are planning to pick it up, you owe it to yourself to play the Majima Saga

Final verdict:

4 out of 5

Yakuza (Kiwami) 2 reviewYakuza 3 review coming soon

Monday, July 11, 2022

Open World Action RPG Mega Review: Yakuza (Kiwami)

Before the release of Yakuza 0, Yakuza was the beginning of Kazuma Kiryu's story. Yakuza 0 proved to be one of the best games in the whole series. With the release of Yakuza Kiwami, which brought the game up to modern standards yet kept the core story intact, the original Yakuza actually holds up quite well.

The game begins in 1995, seven years after the events in Yakuza 0. Kazuma Kiryu, a twenty-seven-year-old member of the Dojima family within the Tojo Clan, has climbed the ranks within the clan. He is just about to become the patriarch of his own family when he takes the blame for the murder of Patriarch Shimano, although he was not the one that killed him.

Ten years later, Kiryu is paroled and he is released from prison. He now has to deal with members of the Tojo clan that want him dead, as well as the usual violent thugs that wander around Tokyo's Kamurocho district. A decade in prison has made his skills rusty, so he has to gain experience so that he can regain his former strength.

In the Kiwami remake of the game, Goro Majima, the Mad Dog of Shimano, vows to help him restore his strength so that he can battle him properly. This is called "Majima Everywhere", and the name is apt since the battles take place all around the city. This is simultaneously both the funniest and the most frustrating part of the remake since Majima will pop up from just about anywhere at any time. The best way to handle this is to keep leveling up, especially health and beast style moves. Defeating Majima will add moves to Kiryu's dragon style. and other than learning moves from Master Komaki, is the only way to do so. Like Yakuza 0, Kiryu can use the aforementioned beast and dragon style move set. Kiryu can also use moves in his brawler and rush styles. Each of these styles can be accessed by pressing a direction on the directional pad.

Kiryu's story picks up steam when he comes across a young girl, Haruka, that is somehow tied to the one billion yen that has been stolen from the Tojo clan. The Kiryu saga of the Yakuza franchise has always been about family, and that is true here as well. Yakuza 0 had Kiryu protecting his adopted father, Shintaro Kazama, and his sworn brother, Akira Nishiyama. Yakuza picks up that trend, as Kiryu does everything he can to protect Haruka, the little girl that ended up in his custody.

In Yakuza Kiwami, the Japanese voices are left in the western versions, but in the original western release of Yakuza for PlayStation 2, the English voices were dubbed by famous voice actors. It pains me to recommend the Japanese voices, as the English cast was amazing. Among others, it included Mark Hamill giving Joker vibes as Majima and Bill Farmer doing his best Sam the Canine Shamus as Detective Date. The English voices are actually really good. It's just the janky script that let them down. Not only is the dialog in the original English PlayStation 2 version clunky. but names of places and people have been shortened or even changed for little reason. To this day, no one but the translator knows why the Florist of Sai was given the name of Kage in English. He certainly never received a given name in the original Japanese version. Thankfully, Yakuza Kiwami has a much less awkward translation with the original names intact.

In the original Yakuza, the minigames were regulated to the UFO catcher, visiting with cabaret club hostesses, hitting baseballs at the batting center, blackjack, pachinko slot, and roulette. Yakuza Kiwami keeps the UFO catcher, batting center, blackjack, and roulette and removes the pachinko slots as well as four of the six hostesses. However, it adds minigames from Yakuza 0, including billiards, bowling. cee-lo, cho-han, darts, a karaoke button-based rhythm game, koi-koi, mahjong, oicho-kabu, Pocket Circuit slot car racing, poker, roulette, and shogi. The Sega game centers in Yakuza Kiwami also contain Battle Bug Beauties: MesuKing,  based on the Catfight Arena from Yakuza 0.

All of the minigames are fun diversions, but the best part of any Yakuza game outside of the main story is the side missions. There are many sidequests, and Yakuza Kiwami thankfully doesn't remove any sidequests from the original. Kiwami also adds a few new ones to tie the game back to Yakuza 0. Like any Yakuza game, some of them can be quite off-the-wall hilarious. There's nothing like the adult baby gangsters seen in later games, but the wackiness the series is known for definitely started here. As with any Yakuza game, the last side mission is an extremely hard fight with a member of the Amon family.

Yakuza is a great game regardless of which game you are playing, even if it is the PlayStation 2 version or the Japan-only Wii U and PlayStation 3 high-definition versions. However, the best way to play is definitely the Kiwami remake. It does remove 2 out of 6 hostesses and the pachislot games, however, it adds 12 minigames, adds three fighting styles, and brings the presentation up to modern standards. In doing so, it restored the original game's status as one of the best games in the series.

Final verdict:

4 out of 5

Yakuza 0 reviewYakuza (Kiwami) 2 review

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Arcade Maze Game Review: Lupin III

In 1980, Taito released Lupin III, the first video game based on the popular Lupin the Third manga and anime. It was developed on the same Intel 8080 hardware platform that powered Taito's classic Space Invaders. That game stood the test of time, but does Lupin III fare nearly as well?

I first came across Lupin III in 2001 while working on my arcade emulator, LASER. As it is a deceptively simple game, like all games on Taito 8080 hardware, I did not expect much of it. However, as I worked to get the graphics and controls working properly in my emulator, I began to see that it actually is very enjoyable.

It is one of the first maze games, as it was released three months before Pac-Man, the seminal game in that genre. The purpose of the game is to clear out all of the money bags from the bank while avoiding the police. Like most early maze games, once the screen is cleared, it keeps repeating at a faster rate until all player lives are lost. Like Pac-Man, despite sounding boring, it is a lot of fun in practice. This is especially true in the international version.

The original Japanese release was a simple affair as all characters were colored yellow and the game contained no sound. The international version had multiple colors for the various characters, stage music, a stage clear jingle, and messages when stages are cleared. It also replicated the intro in an expectedly simple, yet amazingly effective, style. This makes the international version quite fun to play, and, like Pac-Man, it is infinitely replayable.

The international version of Lupin III is available in the Taito EGRET II Mini console, making it available to the home market for the first time. Although it has simple gameplay mechanics and simple, yet effective, animations and sound, the international version is extremely replayable. It is one of my favorite games on Taito 8080 arcade hardware and it is well worth playing if you ever manage to come across it.

Final verdict:
3½ out of 5

Monday, April 18, 2022

Return to Monkey Island Announced

I apologize that I haven't been around. I've been ill for a while. I still am, unfortunately. But news has happened that caused me to want to post here again regardless.

Ron Gilbert's take on a Monkey Island game that tells the story about what happened after the cliffhanger ending of Monkey Island 2 is no longer hypothetical. It will be released later this year.

Return to Monkey Island