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 series, in which the world has become chiefly deserted.
When I went into this game, the only thing I knew about the Fist of the North Star series was that it was a super violent take on a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world set in a vague time period known as 199x. 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 the 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 Fist of the North Star series, other major 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, for which Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio is known, is executed remarkably well. There are bars, restaurants, and a coliseum in which to fight. 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, she is given experience, but her health is depleted based on how the customer treats her. I like the ability to add two hostesses to each table. However, I dislike the training mechanism in this version of the cabaret club minigame. It's very superficial in that you have to give the hostesses 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, which is the first time this happened for a Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio game since the original Yakuza. Thankfully, the script translation works well with actors that speak English, and those 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 ends up working 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. The gameplay is straight out of the Yakuza series and it is 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 or just a fan of action RPGs in general, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise should still appeal to you.
Addendum April 17, 2023: The connection with the Like a Dragon series, formerly known in the West as the Yakuza series, is more apparent in Japan. There the title combines the two series together as Hokuto Ga Gotoku, or Like the Big Dipper. If that title was more closely localized into English, the title would be Like the North Star.
4½ out of 5
4½ out of 5
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