The biggest problem with games that are made as adaptions of specific series, like Batman or Spider-Man, is whether or not you really even like them. If someone does not like Batman in the least, it doesn’t matter how good the game Batman: Arkham Asylum is, they’re not going to like it. And this can always be a conundrum when reviewing a game based on a franchise with its fans and haters, like Fist of the North Star. We all should remember that I’m a huge fan of the series, and that already puts me in a bias. And yet, I think that a game like this may actually be a good test for if you like the series.
If you didn’t read the retrospective already, Fist of the North Star is set in a near-future scenario where nuclear war has devastated the Earth. Humans struggle for survival, and there are all manners of evil people preying on the weak. Into this world walks Kenshiro, successor of the martial art Hokuto Shinken (Divine Fist of the North Star). His body has been trained to superhuman levels, and he knows techniques that can literally make your body explode. Initially, Kenshiro is on a quest to find his stolen fiancee Yuria, taken by his insane former friend Shin. His journey that initially has him only helping people as he meets them turns into a mission to be the true savior of the post-apocalyptic world.
There are two play modes: Legend and Dream. In Legend mode, you replay all the events and major battles from the original manga. As you play through as Kenshiro, you unlock more characters for both modes. Legends eventually swells to include Rei (the right hand to Kenshiro during most of his journey), Mamiya (an action girl who doesn’t use the two martial styles of the series, Hokuto Shinken or Nanto Seiken), Toki (Kenshiro’s honorable and frail healer brother) and Raoh (the final opponent and Kenshiro’s eldest brother). The Dream mode adds Shin, Jagi and Souther to the mix. The difference? Dream mode allows characters to take part in Dynasty Warriors-like squad battles that let all the various character meet-ups that never happened in the manga occur. I’ll detail how this works out later.
Graphics are great, with the original artist coming in to redesign the characters for the new game. The character models are great to watch in battle, even the slightly overacting generic thugs. The environments are alright, if slightly bland. Then again, this is the same setting the original manga had, so it fits. The music also has its moments, especially when it suddenly ramps up the tunes from the various anime series and films based on Fist of the North Star. Voice acting is pretty good in the English mode, but you want that authentic experience by putting it in Japanese. And now we get to gameplay.
Legends mode is basically a story driven brawler. As your chosen character, you are thrust into an environment following a cinematic and text intro for each chapter. You then run about a ruined cityscape, killing everything that challenges you while making your way to the inevitable boss encounter. Sometimes, the game throws a bonus mission at you. They either are already part of the game’s established flow, like defeat this character or find that gate, and sometimes they are more along the lines of “protect the civilians”, and can be failed. Enemies are mostly cannon fodder, dying very easily. The only threat they really pose is because they will gang up on you, sometimes like 30 at a time. Thankfully, you will often be playing as a ruthless killing machine. You can combine regular and strong attacks into various combos that will often cause people to die in massive bloody explosions. And then there’s the special moves, one of four that you can pick prior to each chapter and switched out by hitting the d-pad. These often will kill whole crowds in torrents of blood. There’s also the ability to go into a super mode that opens up a super special move. So, yeah, awesomeness occurs. The bosses are often very powerful, but if you can get them to their weakest point, you can hit them with a finisher that requires rapid pressing of the buttons on screen.
In Dream mode, you lead a unit and battle through an environment, eventually having to claim territory and defeat a boss from any of the major character. This is the weaker of the game modes, since it’s basically a Dynasty Warriorsrehash. The only appeal is the what-if factor of seeing Shin team up with Souther and such.
I can’t say that it’s a bad game, because it’s so fun and satisfying to just walk through an army by yourself and make them all explode. And the game is such a faithful adaption of the manga I like. And yet, that may be the biggest fault against this game. You may need to be a huge fan to truly appreciate. And yet, I can’t tell you to not play it, because there’s some good story and good fun to be had here.
So, here’s my honest opinion. I love this game. Fans of the original manga and anime will love this game. If you play this game and love it, odds are you will love the original source material. But if you know for a fact that you don’t like Fist of the North Star, you probably won’t enjoy it. That said, I say try it out, see how you feel. If anything, you’ll at least get some cathartic destruction out of the deal.