As most gamers old enough to remember when licensed games were fairly common will tell you, licensed games made to tie into the release of a show or movie are generally pretty bad—rushed affairs that usually lack any of the character of the source material outside of art and sound assets, churned out for a quick buck. But licensed games unrelated to a specific current project are often quite good. So, how does Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, based on the manga and anime from the 80s, crossed over with Sega’s excellent Yakuza franchise, stack up? Very well for a licensed anime game, though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the mainline Yakuza entries.
While the game is playable in English and Japanese, as a Yakuza fan, one of the major draws was the iconic voice actors of that series portraying Fist of the North Star characters, usually with some sort of similar storyline role, so there was really no decision for me. They do an excellent job. Giving a quick look at the English voiceover cast, a few favorite dub actors in anime and video games make an appearance: Robbie Daymond, Kira Buckland, Xanthe Huynh, and a handful of others I recognize, and all seem pretty well matched to their roles. If you’ve played Yakuza, I strongly recommend the original Japanese cast, but if not, I expect the English cast is a great alternative.
While the storyline holds very few surprises, its mixture of Fist of the North Star’s post-apocalyptic martial arts fantasy with Yakuza’s personal nightlife drama and underworld thriller is pretty well done. The game takes place in its own version of the Fist of the North Star universe, rather than squeezing its storyline into the continuity of the manga or anime. This is definitely to its benefit, allowing new characters to be integrated smoothly with various characters from Kenshiro’s wanderings of the wasteland reimagined in or around the created-for-the-game city of Eden in ways that feel faithful but fresh.
Combat mostly follows the Yakuza format: unarmed fights using simple light and heavy attack combos, with more unlocking through play, and standard block and dodge defense, spiced up with the occasional special move or weapon. At its best, this combat really evokes the feel of classic brawlers like Streets of Rage or Final Fight in a 3D environment, allowing the player to flow through fights that carry the perfect mix of responsiveness and weight. However, some decisions made to reflect the license keep this title from reaching the heights of other franchise installments.
As fans of Fist of the North Star know, a defining feature of the franchise’s action sequences is the use of highly stylized special maneuvers, highlighted with name call-outs and dramatic extended death sequences for the victims of each maneuver. A number of these are reproduced in Lost Paradise and can be great fun to pull off and watch. However, the issue comes in with how heavily they’re weighted in the combat system compared to other Yakuza games. All of those attacks, which play out in the form of a quick time event and short cinematic, do tremendous amounts of damage, while normal attacks do almost none, only really serving to fill the meter that allows for a special attack. While this works well enough on its own, it does throw the balance off between regular and special moves that can be key to flow in an action game, and most importantly, slows down play dramatically. Being attacked in random encounters is nothing new to the franchise. But what could be resolved with a couple basic combos in seconds in other installments here requires a short cinematic setting up the random encounter, enough combos to allow special moves, performing the special moves and their quick time events, and letting the call-out and death sequence play after each such special move, then seeing any items recovered or whatever, and then returning to normal play gets extremely tiring in a way that the quicker affairs of the main series do not.
This works as a pretty good summary of my feelings on the game in general. It’s very much like a Yakuza game, with plentiful side quests and minigames, but it just doesn’t come together like a Yakuza game. The minigames aren’t up to par with those in more recent Yakuza entries and feel more bolted on than a key part of the experience. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of many of the substories. They’re mostly fun but don’t really come together into a whole with the main game like they do in Yakuza.
Don’t get the wrong impression from the above. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a very fun game, particularly for fans of both Yakuza and Fist of the North Star. If you’ve not yet played Yakuza 0-6 and the Judgment spinoff, I’d recommend those instead, but if you have and are looking for something with a similar feel, Lost Paradise is a great option.
Find a copy of Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
**Written by Jason Peters, Adult & Teen Services Specialist