'Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise' Doesn't Live Up to the Promise of Its Pedigree

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, the latest brawl-happy RPG from Sega's Ryu ga Gotoku Studios (the team behind the Yakuza games), takes inspiration from a beloved post-apocalyptic manga series. You'll step into the shoes of Fist of the North Star's Kenshiro, "the man with the seven scars" and master of a super-deadly martial art known as Hokuto Shinken, which allows him to strike hidden meridian points in his enemies. (This essentially means Ken can punch someone, only for their head or body to explode in a volcanic geyser of goop moments later. Hence his catchphrase: "You are already dead.") Lost Paradise serves up striking visuals, over-the-top boss battles and amusing minigames, but is let down by repetitive combat, limited possibilities for exploration during the early game, and a one-note story.

The brief demo of Lost Paradise I played at E3 back in June rocked my socks off. The laughably excessive gore of Kenshiro's finishers made for loads of giddy thrills. It's still fun in the full game—at first. The combat system will feel immediately familiar to those who've played Yakuza (it's the same button layout for punching, kicking, blocking and quickstep), with one major tweak. Once you manage to land a few hits on a baddie, the skull icon displayed next to their health bar will take the form of the Circle button, indicating the enemy is now vulnerable to Meridan Shock. Attack with Circle and Ken will be able to use a Hokuto Shinken technique by pressing Circle a second time, triggering a mini quicktime event that will usually lead to an outrageously violent, splattery death. But a couple hours into the game, you'll already have seen these moves too many times. Yakuza players will find themselves longing to pick up random objects and weapons scattered around the environment, and including the option would have added some much-needed variety to fights.

Fist of the North Star Lost Paradise review secret tech
You'll be seeing a lot of Kenshiro's Hokuto Shinken moves in "Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise." Perhaps more than you'd like. Sega

Adding to the frustration, Lost Paradise keeps players on training wheels far too long. Many areas of Ken's main stomping ground, the city of Eden, are inaccessible until Chapter 4 or 5. As you take care of various fetch quests around town, you'll open the in-game map to see a host of red Xs: places you can't go and things you can't do yet. What's more, though the game includes 80 substories, there isn't a clear way to find them on the in-game map, which means you can easily wander around Eden in search of a diversion, only to come away empty-handed.

Those flaws would be easier to let slide if Lost Paradise had a more engaging plot. It's billed as a standalone story, an alternate version of the Fist of the North Star canon narrative. Even so, those who are familiar with the manga or anime (which I am not) will likely find Kenshiro's story arc a bit more satisfying. The central thrust of Lost Paradise is Ken's search for his missing fiancee, Yuria. For much of the game, all we know about her is that she is a human female of winsome visage who was kidnapped by a blonde jerk named Shin. Because we know so little about their relationship, it's hard to have much investment in their reunion.

Other than hitting people over the head with bicycles—which I really, really enjoy—the missing Yakuza element of Lost Paradise is undoubtedly the humor. Routinely weird, risque and just plain off-the-wall, the Yakuza games are hilarious, with straight-laced Kiryu reluctantly conscripted into all kinds of ridiculous situations, like solving the relationship problems of strangers, directing music videos and managing a cat cafe. Lost Paradise has its moments in this regard, particularly through substories, but it takes too long to get to the goofy goodness. Perhaps it's too difficult to find humor in a world where everyone wears leather leotards and murders for beef jerky?

FOTNS bartending
Even practitioners of deadly martial arts need hobbies, right? Kenshiro gets behind the bar at the Rusty Nail in one of the minigames in "Lost Paradise." Sega

On the brighter side, Lost Paradise's visuals are wonderfully distinctive. Massively jacked dudes contrast to willowy ladies in gossamer gowns, just as barren wastes clash against blazing neon. Character models, cutscenes, environments and lighting all look stellar, despite being on the older Yakuza 0 engine instead of the spiffy new Dragon Engine built for Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2. In keeping with the game's manga-inspired setting, boss fights tend to emphasize verticality in ways real-world stories simply couldn't allow for, pitting Kenshiro against literal giants and super-powered baddies able to zip across the battlefield in the blink of an eye.

There's some pretty solid minigames to be found in Eden, too. The controller-rattling action of tending bar at the Rusty Nail is good fun, as is playing "baseball" by whacking thugs with a steel beam as they zip past on motorcycles. Unsurprisingly, the standout here is Lost Paradise's riff on Yakuza's cabaret club minigame, where you'll match hostesses with clients in order to bring revenue to the nightclub. There's a few tweaks to keep things lively this time around, like the ability to assign two girls to a table.

If you're new to the Yakuza series and looking to give it a try, this spinoff probably isn't the best place to start. But even with its shortcomings, Lost Paradise isn't a bad game. It just doesn't meet the high bar set by the mainline entries in the series.