Back in 1987, I was at a bookstore with my brother looking at science fiction magazines. I came across an ad for a brand new anime/Japanese animation movie called Fist of the North Star: The Movie. I remembered that the artwork of the muscular Kenshiro and the destroyed city behind him was on such an epic level that I immediately wanted to watch this gore-fest. However, it was perhaps five or so years before I would work my way back to North Star. I remembered that the movie was above average, but was infused with a cool ultra-violent charm that just put a smile on my face.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is the newest video game based on the property, brought to us by Tecmo KOEI in Japan. This would be the fourth North Star game that had been domestically released in the West. Unfortunately, Kenshiro’s rage will seem like it is more from being the star of an average Dynasty Warriors clone game then simply being in a post-apocalyptic world.
The first thing that you will notice about North Star is that all of the men look like walls of muscle and killing is the main hobby of choice. The second thing that you will notice is that the lead character, Kenshiro controls like a tank from the late PSOne or early PS2 era of game controls. As you traverse the destroyed metropolitan cities in the game, you will feel as if you were walking through a swamp.
Just like Dynasty Warriors, Kenshiro is always surrounded by gangs of thugs who look like they drink steroid milk for breakfast. It’s up to you to make these low-lives pay and in a red destructive fashion as well. You see, Kenshiro is the baddest mo-fo in any Japanese property; his powerful techniques are good for literally blowing up the bad guys in fountains of blood and flesh. Kenshiro will bring the pain, however you will be feeling pain as well when you get cheaply killed off due to horrible navigational mechanics and sloppy hit detections. The camera control is also an unfortunate subject that needs to be addressed. You always have control over the camera; however this game badly needs a center button and an enemy lock-on. You can make do with the controls, however it’s difficult to do just for the fact that modern gameplay has evolved so much in the past ten years.
Another aspect of the game that will have many people on the fence is the visuals. North Star takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that had been ravaged by nuclear war, and most of the journey will take place in run-down cities. However, most of these cities all look the same the whole time that you are playing them. Granted the texture work is good and the world has its own charm, but a lot of them seem to be just running together and will quickly put the player in a, “been there done that” state of mind.
The narrative and presentation of North Star is one of the game’s strengths. As Kenshiro, it is up to you to destroy evil while you are on the lookout for your lost love. You will face many crazy and over-the-top villains as well as many villagers who are just trying to live in this destroyed world. North Star also has a lot of mystical and supernatural elements that go well with the post-apocalyptic power fantasy.
One thing that North Star does very well is that the game has a lot of moves and added features to unlock. As you progress though the game, you will obtain Skill Points that will allow you to buy and unlock new moves and undated status effects, this is presented in an almost simplistic version of the Final Fantasy 10 Sphere Grid. Along with unlocking new moves, you will also be able to unlock playable side-stories of most of the characters in the game. This is really cool because you can see the many points of view of the overall narrative of the game.
As a whole, Fist of the North Star feels like an underachiever who just turned his life around, but has yet to make real progress in any way but his spirit. However, if you love the property and are in the mood for some head busting good times then you may want to see if you can get this game at a discount price. Unfortunately, non-fans of the North Star will find very little in this waste-land of below average gameplay mechanics.
Review copy provided by publisher.