I don't think this game was supposed to happen. I don't mean that in a negative way, but like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, occasionally you run into a game where you say to yourself, "I'm surprised this all came together." Hokuto Ga Gotoku, coming to North America as Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, is one of those titles. I can see the pitch, I'm just surprised everyone along the line said "Yes".
At its core, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is an extensive reskin of the Yakuza series of games. It replaces Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu with Kenshiro, a successor of the mostly-fatal Hokuto Shinken martial arts style, and the bright lights of Kamurocho with post-apocalyptic desert towns. The basic idea is still the same though, you're a near-invincible warrior with a heart of gold, who uses his considerable strength to protect the weak. The only difference between Kenshiro and Kiryu is the former clearly kills everyone who steps to him, while Yakuza wants me to believe that those hit by Heat Actions are still alive.
While the city in the E3 2018 demo is less than surprising or visually interesting, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise's combat did win me over. You can meet roving bands of criminals and lowlifes out on the city streets, denoted by their rippling physiques and spiked armor. Pissing them off takes you to a location battle, unlike the free-form combat of Yakuza 6. Kenshiro can do everything Kiryu can: block, dodge, and pull off various simple combos. Kenshiro is a bit faster than Kiryu though, with the ability to make a short range teleport to a new target mid-combo.
Kenshiro also has his own version of Yakuza's Heat Actions, cinematic-style finishing moves that do big damage to foes. Each of these attacks are begun by putting an enemy into a vulnerable state and then hitting the O on the PlayStation 4 controller. Most are quick-time events, tasking you with hitting timed-button prompts to commit maximum violence. And most of them end with your enemies exploding in a shower of black blood (in the demo, screenshots show red blood is available) and Kenshiro striking a pose while the finishing move's name is flashed on the screen. (Sometimes, it feels like Kenshiro is making up some of these names on the fly.)
Unlike Yakuza, Lost Paradise is more focused on hand-to-hand combat and these big, showstopping attacks. Picking up random weapons and objects doesn't seem to be a gameplay mechanic here, though it looked like I'd be able to grab a fallen manga-style sound effect and use that as a weapon. (I don't get it either.) The game even grades you on your combat prowess after each encounter.
I fully got on the train to Nonsenseburg when I first experienced Kenshiro doing anything that's not combat. The art of Fist of the North Star co-creator Tetsuo Hara is very unique; full of these hulking, massive, hyper-masculine figures with tiny faces. I'm not sure Kenshiro and those he fights were ever really meant to do anything else. In combat, Kenshiro is a fearsome whirlwind of destruction; outside of combat, he's an NFL linebacker trying to build a model ship in a bottle. The juxtaposition of size and power versus these delicate, sometimes mundane actions is funny. Case in point, Kenshiro wasn't meant to run down stairs. In normal stride, he's a majestic, powerful buffalo; running down the stairs he has these dainty footsteps like he's afraid of shattering every step with his mighty feet.
Given that this is a game from the Yakuza Studio, there are alternate things to do outside of combat. In the E3 demo, there was only one: bartending. This mini-game puts Kenshiro's considerable bulk in a full suit and has him whipping up drinks for thirsty patrons. You have not lived until you have shaken the Dual Shock 4 in an up-and-down motion to mime Kenshiro shaking up a drink. Successful mini-game actions reward you with cutscenes similar to Kenshiro's combat finishing moves, where he presents his finished drinks with their names burning in bright colors. I laughed out loud when one of the drinks was revealed as "You Are Already Drunk".
And that's only scratching the surface of Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. Outside of bartending, there's a music-based mode with Kenshiro dispatching foes in a Doctor's Clinic, a Cabaret Club, a merchant mini-game involving some children, and a racing mode with Kenshiro's desert buggy. All presented in the same wonderful, straight-faced style as the Yakuza games. "What? None of this is weird," the game says to you.
Will Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise supercede the Yakuza games? Probably not. But the game will give Yakuza fans a palette cleanser after the release of Yakuza Kiwami 2. I only played for around 20 minutes before I had to leave, but the game put a smile on my face and I'm not even that big a fan of Fist of the North Star. Looking forward to tearing into the meaty center of the full release.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is coming to PlayStation 4 on October 2, 2018.