As part of my continuing efforts to pay tribute to Hokuto No Ken on its 35th anniversary let’s take a look at Kenshiro’s latest videogame outing and see if it’s worth your time and money.
First up let me just say it’s impossible to review Lost Paradise without talking about Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku (Like A Dragon) series which we know in the west as Yakuza. The series has long been a favourite of mine since I discovered the original PS2 game in a bargain bin in an electronics store. For many years the series never sold very well in the west and it wasn’t until the recent platinum selling Yakuza Zero that the franchise’s continued localisation has been assured.
Many gameplay elements of Lost Paradise will be very familiar to fans of Sega’s flagship franchise. The game essentially follows the same semi-open world RPG formula but set in the post apocalyptic universe of Fist Of The North Star instead of Tokyo’s fictional Kamurocho district. It also stars many of the same voice actors and the Japanese title is even a portmanteau of both series original names (Hokuto Ga Gotoku).
That’s not to say its without its own identity or is a re-skinned Yakuza game though. It contains quite a few elements to set it apart enough to make it feel like a true Fist game rather than another Yakuza entry.
The story is an alternate timeline to the original manga series with considerable differences. We start in familiar territory with Kenshiro laying waste to Shin’s guards and confronting Shin himself to free his beloved Yuria. Shin’s goons don’t offer a lot of resistance since the fight against them is the battle tutorial that shows you how the game’s combat system works. After this there’s a pretty easy but fun boss battle against Shin himself and then quite a lot of story and exposition with only minimal gameplay for the first few hours as Kenshiro arrives in the city of Eden.
Eden is a walled utopian city with its own water and food supplies where Yuria was apparently last sighted. This is where things deviate from the source material quite a bit: much of the game’s story is focused on Eden and its inhabitants. The story of the Hokuto brothers and their battle for succession is simplified considerably in favour of the Eden storyline, losing a lot of the drama of the manga in the process. However on the flip side it’s nice to get some new material for such an old franchise and the overall story is decent and has a few intriguing mysteries. Soon a masked villain called Kyo-Oh and his henchmen known as the “army of ruin” are making trouble for Eden’s inhabitants. However who exactly is Kyo-Oh? and how does he seem to know so much about Eden?
The fact that Eden is filled with remnants of past civilization makes the setting quite different from the always barren locales of the manga and anime and means some moments are downright surreal. For example there’s a boss battle that involves you fighting Thouzer in a nightclub of all places!
You can upgrade Kenshiro’s exisitng moves and acquire new ones by doing a number of different tasks that give you experience points. Get a certain amount of experience and you gain orbs that you can trade in on the upgrade screen for more abilities.
Also there are talismans that can be acquired throughout the story after key events. These can be set to the D-pad and allow you to use a special skill temporarily. Most of them are for use in battle and do RPG-like things like increasing your defence or filling up the “burst” gauge that allows you to do certain special attacks. However some can be used in different ways such as decreasing the amount of damage done to durability of your buggy when boosting or increasing your chances of finding rarer items. The talismans are based on different characters and feature series creator Tetsuo Hara’s artwork which is a nice touch. They can also be upgraded in a talisman store to give them shorter cooldown times and improve their effects.
Eden even has its own currency called IDL and while old money is obselete out in the wasteland IDL can be used within Eden (or at gas stations run by people with connections to Eden) to pay for goods and services.
Like many a Yakuza title before it the first few initial chapters involve a quite linear path of going from A to B and talking to certain characters, advancing the story and the occasional fight as well as introductions to mini games and teaching you game mechanics. In around the fourth chapter though the game opens up significantly allowing you a lot more freedom in how you approach things.
It’s around this part of the game that you gain access to the buggy. After a few fetch quests you can get your sidekick Bat to make a custom buggy from spare junk you salvage. From then on you can traverse the wasteland and travel to different places like Cassandra (the prison where Toki is being held) and small villages that need Kenshiro’s help granted by “substories” (small sidequests with their own short storylines).
Substories are often filled with knowing humour and quite a few are genuinely funny. There are some that long time fans will enjoy because of the way they poke fun at the source material including one about a guy who makes shoulder pads for a living and a recurring one about an anti-violence committee who try to get Ken to solve his problems without fighting…..you can imagine how well that goes!
Substories, mini-game locations and main story missions are clearly marked on your map and so you can control how much time you spend on fun distractions or tackling the main storyline.
You can customise your ride throughout the game adding and swapping out parts by first finding the part and then the necessary junk items to repair it. Parts and junk items can be found out in the wasteland by using treasure maps acquired by defeating enemies and car parts can also be picked up from glowing icons on the tracks during a car racing mini-game.
Speaking of mini-games there’s quite a lot of variety on offer to break up repetition. The aforementioned race mini-game feels a bit like an old 80’s or 90’s Sega arcade racer. You race 4 other cars for just 1 lap and you can use a turbo boost, ramps and speed arrows on the track to gain advantages but you also have to avoid hazards like explosive drums and metal crates because your car can be destroyed outright if it takes too much punishment. Winning at certain difficulty levels grants you particular items as well as IDL currency.
On the subject of driving it’s really weird to see Kenshiro driving a car. In the manga he walked everywhere and occasionally hitched a ride with someone while in the anime TV series his little buddy Bat drove him around in his dune buggy. At no point did we ever see him drive or get any indication that he could. Obviously I can see why they changed this (would have been a bit strange having a young child driving you everywhere in an open world game) however as a long-time fan of the franchise It is strangely jarring nonetheless.
A simplistic but fun mini-game (and one of my favourites) is “Death batting”. If you’ve read the manga you’ll recall the infamous scene where Ken uses a steel girder to take out an army of bikers. This is basically that scene turned into a batting game that lets you see how far you can send said bikers hurtling through the air. Connecting with them at just the right time during them jumping can trigger an “Ultimate hit” where you send the hapless rider soaring into the stratosphere.
Eden also has a clinic in which both patients and thugs gather every day. Ken gets tasked by a local doctor into helping out now and again using the healing abilities of his Hokuto Shinken techniques to heal patients while killing the trouble makers that get in the way of his clinical duties.
When you agree to work at the clinic you’re presented with a rhythm action game that tasks you with pressing the face buttons in time with the music to dart from one person to the next striking their pressure points as you go. Get a good or at least okay ranking and you can get upgrade orbs from this that strengthen your abilities. You can also unlock some new music tracks after a few good scoring sessions.
Another little job that’s fun in Eden is the “Bartender ken” minigame. In it you listen to customer’s stories and then prepare a drink for them by using various Hokuto Shinken techniques. One requires you to place the controller vertically in your hands and rapidly shake it (it uses the PS4 controller’s built in Sixaxis motion sensor) while another has you pressing buttons in sequence to carve ice or rotate the analog stick rapidly to stir up a special cocktail. The scenes that play out once you fill the meter and win the mini-game are priceless and just never get old for me. Also the names of some of Ken’s cocktails are absolutely fantastic and will put a smile on fan’s faces.
You can also play a variety of gambling games at a casino in Eden as well as visiting an arcade to play old school Sega games. The way this is handled in the story is that there’s a guy who dreams of creating an arcade but has no machines since they’re rarer than hen’s teeth since the apocalypse. The aforementioned treasure maps can lead you to the location of certain machines. I love the way the game describes these machines when you find them (See screenshot below).
Once they’re taken back to the arcade owner he fixes them up and installs them and you can play them any time you visit. If you keep on recovering them you end up with Outrun, Space Harrier, Super Hang On and a UFO catcher (claw machine). If you’re a Yakuza fan you may already have played a title that featured these games before. it’d have been nice for Sega to include some more exclusive back catalogue titles since there are already quite a few places you can get these games these days but nevertheless they’re all still really good titles and they’re a welcome inclusion for me as an old school Sega fan.
One game however that is exclusive to Lost Paradise is a home console Sega game that is a lot harder to get your hands on these days. If you keep on acquiring arcade relics out in the wasteland after you’ve found Super Hang On you’ll come across a Sega Mark 3 (the original Japanese model of what became the Master System in the west) and a copy of the very first Hokuto No Ken videogame from 1986. The exchange that follows when you take it back to the arcade owner is priceless. The localisation team obviously had a lot of fun with this scene referencing the fact it was stripped of the Hokuto No Ken licence in the west as well as its notorious difficulty.
The 86 Hokuto No Ken is definitely the game that’s aged the least gracefully among all of the retro games featured in lost paradise (and I say that as a gamer who often enjoys old school games much more than some modern ones) however it isn’t without its retro charms. It’s easy to play and it does a good job of resembling iconic characters and scenes with limited graphical capability. Also it’s amusing to see Kenshiro sit down at a Mark 3 console and play his own game. I hadn’t actually played this one before and while it’s far from the best HNK game it was nice to finally play it for myself after hearing a lot about it online over the years.
So there’s certainly a lot to like about Lost Paradise but what about the negatives? Well there are quite a few but nothing that soured the experience too much for me.
Because the game was created in the older Yakuza engine there is a lot of text in the game, particularly during in-game character dialogue that needs to be advanced by pressing X once read. It’s not too much of a hassle but with hundreds of lines of dialogue in the game you press X a hell of a lot. Pressing R2 and X advances to the next line quicker but it’s still a bit of a chore. Traditionally the older Yakuza games had spoken dialogue in key scenes and cinematic sequences and that’s exactly the deal here. If we see a sequel it’ll likely be built in Yakuza 6′s Dragon engine so most of the dialogue will be spoken. It’s kind of a minor complaint and one I’m used to after playing the hell out of the Yakuza series but worth mentioning for those going in without prior experience of this.
While the game does do a good job with its portrayal of the classic characters and all the key elements of the series it does fall down on one point. Kenshiro could’ve been given a bit more of an emotional arc in the story. If you’ve only experienced stuff like the movie and videogames you’d be forgiven for thinking the character of Ken is always stoic and unemotional but in the manga and TV series that’s not the case. For the most part his expression in the game rarely changes besides a little bit of surprise and bewilderment at certain story revelations but it always seems small and subtle and we never really see his trademark rage at a villain’s misdeeds. Also he doesn’t cry his iconic tears, not even once.
Lost Paradise has some good music however none of the classic tunes from either the TV series or the 1986 anime movie are in the game by default. I’ve heard you can unlock “Ai No Torimidose” and “Tough Boy” (two of the TV show’s opening themes) however you need to find them out in the desert and I haven’t been able to locate them just yet.
Another minor thing is that I don’t feel that the abilities menu explains enemy states very well. In order to kill enemies with particular Hokuto Shinken techniques the enemy must be in a certain kind of state. For example it might require them to be stunned or be on one knee or in the air before the move will work. The explanation that appears next to the unlockable move in the menus might say something like “press circle when the enemy is on one knee to perform stone mountain splitting slash” however it doesn’t tell you how to first get the enemy into that state. Thankfully the abilities list you can access by pressing triangle button in the menu does tell you how to achieve each state and which button combos activate them. To me it would’ve saved a lot of time if all instructions had been in the same menu and it had told you all commands required to perform the move in the same list.
I saw a review on Amazon complaining that the moves were really repetitive and that he was sick of seeing Kenshiro doing Hyakuretsu Ken. You really need to familiarise yourself with the moves list, you can’t just press anything and hope to see all the coolest moves in the game by chance. I can only think this person didn’t really invest much time in reading and researching the moves and how they’re performed.
Learning dodges and counter attacks and when they can be performed is also really vital to your success against more difficult bosses later in the story. Also it’s essential to train with Toki when you find him as he teaches you some of the best and most useful moves in the game.
If you care about re-used character animations I’m sure you’ll have a grumble or two about this game. I noticed a few of the punks animations as they walk towards you and raise their fists or ready weapons as being lifted from Yakuza Zero but honestly there’s not that much of it and the game mainly has its own unique animations and the character models are all different.
One thing that did bother me though was a few weird inconsistencies between the way Kenshiro’s techniques are used and the “canon” story itself in the game. For example when Kenshiro is forced to battle the monstrous giant Devil Rebirth in a Colosseum duel he ends the fight by using the “seven stars of death” technique on him which as you’d expect from the name is supposed to be fatal. We don’t see him die (he just falls to the ground) but presumably he’s dead just like in the manga and anime. Except he’s not! later he’s walking around in the Colosseum and is involved in a pivotal scene where he helps protect Eden from Kyo-Oh’s men. I wouldn’t have minded this if it was shown that Devil wasn’t dead however without this context it seems a bit silly if you’re a fan with a knowledge of Kenshiro’s abilities.
There are also a few substories where you kill enemies onscreen and see their heads or bodies explode (every enemy is killed in the game, none are just beaten up like Yakuza) yet the substory ends with the character alive during the dialogue scenes despite the fact that you’ve clearly just annihilated them. To be fair there aren’t many substories where enemies survive but there are a few and it’s extremely jarring when you experience this.
Before I go let’s talk about the ending. While I won’t give anything away it’s interesting how radically different many things are from the manga. There are of course a lot of iconic characters who don’t even appear in the game or appear briefly (Mamiya is in a substory which is optional for example) and the game ends with many of Kenshiro’s toughest foes and strongest allies who are traditionally doomed to die still very much alive. My guess is that they wanted to leave a lot of the story elements about the successor of Hokuto Shinken, the history of the art and Ken, Raoh and Toki’s backstory for a sequel. The game does focus very much on the inhabitants of Eden rather than the classic characters. In fact with a few exceptions such as Rei you could say that many iconic characters have little more than an extended cameo and then disappear again. I imagine a newcomer to the series may be scratching their head over more than one character’s brief role in the story.
So all in all I enjoyed Lost Paradise a great deal. It has some annoying and slightly niggly things I kind of wish had been worked on a bit more but ultimately it’s a lot of fun and definitely has a lot of replay value with all of the sidequests, unlockables and a harder difficulty. Word of warning though: being an open world game you kind of need to mix things up a lot and explore everything the game has to offer to find new game elements and avoid repetition. It doesn’t just hand it all to you on a plate. It’s your sandbox, you have to figure out which stuff you like the best in order to have fun in it.
I hope we see a sequel to Lost Paradise made in Yakuza 6’s superb Dragon engine with a seamless open world with no loading screens and a focus on the core characters. Also Sega please include a post-game section after Raoh’s defeat where you can wander around the wasteland on Raoh’s horse Kokuoh (Black King) and stomp punks into the dirt without even dismounting. That would be brilliant.
As a huge fan of both Yakuza and Fist I bought the game at launch at a bit cheaper than RRP but if you’re not a fan of either series but like the look of the game I’d say wait for a price drop just in case.
CRAIG’S RATING: 8/10
A fun and fitting tribute to the franchise and much better than the dull Ken’s Rage series from Tecmo. Non-fans may not get as much out of it though and have probably played much more technically impressive open world games. As a Fist Of The North Star or Yakuza game it’s definitely got a lot going for it and is my second favourite game based on the series after the 2005 arcade game.