There are two ways of going into Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. You can be a fan of the Yakuza series – the same team that created those games also created this. Or, you can be a fan of the original source material manga from the 1980’s. I am firmly in the former camp, having fallen in love with the Yakuza series since the release of Yakuza 0 early last year. The prospect of a third ‘Yakuza’ game – albeit this one has a different skin – in 2018 is fantastic news. The reality though is a bit of a disappointment
Lost Paradise takes the classic manga and plops it into an alternate setting but retains the general story of protagonist Kenshiro searching for his fiancée Yuria after she is kidnapped. Not long into his journey, he finds Eden, a safe city that is very picky and choosy when it comes to letting people in. This is also where Yuria is suspected to be hiding.
Eden acts as your main world hub, but there is also a very large area outside of the walls known as The Wasteland. This introduces a driving mechanic because the settlements out in The Wasteland are too far away – and far too dangerous – to walk alone.
And yet, despite this much larger area compared to other Yakuza games, the story in Lost Paradise is paper-thin by comparison and frequently relies on padding to elongate the playtime.
Take, for example, a period of the game just over halfway through. Kenshiro is told he needs to get to the top of a mountain to get a better view of an area. To get to the top in the current car he has, he needs better tyres. These tyres can only be found in a village far out in the Wasteland. Travel out to this village only to be told a villager is missing and needs to be found. Find the villager and defeat the enemies, before taking the villager back to the village. Back at the village, you find out they never had the tyres in the first place and instead you need to head back to Eden to enter a race (a race that takes place out in The Wasteland, but the race signup is back in Eden!) Win the race and get the tyres. But then the tyres need additional parts to be able to fit them. Those parts, back out in The Wasteland.
The Wasteland is a large area but missing much stuff to do. Many of the towns and villages are used for one moment in the plot and then no longer required. This extends to some of the characters introduced through the main game as well, almost acting like cameos. Here for a fleeting moment to pad out the plot, and then not mentioned or seen again.
Of course, the beauty of a Yakuza game comes not only from the main plot but from its’ substories and minigames. Lost Paradise keeps this tradition going with 80 substories and minigames ranging from baseball with an iron girder, racing, casino, cocktail mixing, and a simplified version of the hostess minigame from Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 2. There is also an arcade where classic SEGA games such as Space Harrier, OutRun, Super Hang-On and even the original Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star but known as Black Belt on Western shores) that released on the Master System.
Many of the substories are left until the majority of the main game has been completed but those that are introduced early on are weirdly woven into the main story and have to be completed before moving on. Again, it feels like padding and poor gameplay pacing.
It also takes an age to be freely able to explore Eden. You can wander the streets fairly early on, but many activities and areas are closed off until around Chapter 6, over halfway through the game.
After being treated to Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2 this year both looking fantastic and running smoothly on the Dragon Engine, Lost Paradise takes a step backwards in terms of performance by not utilising the same engine. Games seem to have stepped it up another gear in terms of graphical performance this year with the likes of Spider-Man and Shadow of the Tomb Raider but Lost Paradise – in comparison – looks a bit rough around the edges. Loading times when transitioning between areas can also be on the long side.
Character models though are, for the most part, faithful to the manga. Enemy models are good but very repetitive, after only a few battles you will have seen almost all of them.
These comparisons may make the game sound bad, but it is far from it. It is a Yakuza-lite game, so those comparisons need to be made between this and its’ forefathers that have come before it. But it is only because they are light years ahead of Lost Paradise – and many other games – that this may originally come across as a disappointment.
You will spend a lot of time in combat against all sorts of reprobates both inside Eden and outside. It consists of combo’s and building up damage on enemies. Build up enough damage and you can unleash a Hokuto Shinken move; Kenshiro is a master of special martial arts that channels damage through pressure points. These are the bread and butter of combat – and absolutely essential for boss battles – but are contextual depending on enemy placement, number and several other factors. You will see each special move hundreds of times but the animations are high levels of gore are just as entertaining as the first time.
Interestingly, by default, the Western version contains more gore than the Japanese version. It can be toned down in the options menu however if that isn’t your thing.
Lost Paradise also comes with dual audio; both English and Japanese. Japanese features many cast members from Yakuza, even Kenshiro is voiced by the same actor that voiced Yakuza series protagonist Kiryu, Takaya Kuroda. It will be more familiar to previous Yakuza players but unlike the last time an English speech track was offered for a Yakuza game, this one is miles better and can easily stand toe-to-toe with the original Japanese track. Sadly though, these cannot be changed on the fly, instead, having to make the option before starting a new game which audio to listen to.
Fist of the North Star is an iconic manga that has transitioned over to anime and other mediums well but has struggled in video game format. Lost Paradise is a step up from previous entries that have come before, but there are still many issues that prevent it from being a ‘great’ game. The biggest issue is the pacing. It is painfully slow throughout, never really getting going and this is primarily down to the weak plot. Yakuza games are complex narrative, twisting and turning throughout their lengthy plots, and Lost Paradises’ only real change in narrative is to introduce familiar characters from the manga for a brief moment and then never mentioned again.
What it does get right is everything away from the plot. Combat, minigames and voice acting are all as good as they’ve ever been. It’s a Yakuza-lite experience but brings plenty to the table for an overall decent retelling that hardcore fans of either component will enjoy it for what it is. For newcomers to either one or both though, this is not the best representation.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*