Most gamers will have heard of the Dynasty Warrior games by Tecmo Koei. Or seen them in the bargain bin at some point or other. Believe it or not, this mindless hack-and-slash series has sold 18 million copies worldwide to reign as Koei’s most successful franchise by far. While DW has a rather niche audience in the West (and is rubbished by those who don’t appreciate it), the games are generally met with frenzied appeal in Japan, like Call of Duty does in the US. It is not uncommon for new DW titles to attract review scores of 36/40 by established gaming authorities like Famitsu magazine. Different cultures, different tastes.
Fist of the North Star (or Hokuto no Ken in Japanese) is one of the latest IPs to be adopted by Tecmo Koei, after the flyaway success the company enjoyed with the DW: Gundam games. For the uninitiated, FotNS is a popular 80’s manga set in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by a devastating nuclear war. The story follows the travails of Kenshiro, a strong and kind-hearted warrior schooled in a deadly martial art style called Hokuto Shinken. The cool bit is that Ken can literally make his enemies explode by hitting their vital internal points in their bodies. The ultra cool part is that his opponents don’t realise they’re dead until Ken walks away from them, seconds after applying the killer blow, when their bodies will swell like a balloon and explode violently. Who needs bullets anyway?
Gives Fans Plenty of Punch
The good news for FotNS fans is that the Story Mode follows the manga storyline closely. So if you’re even remotely interested in the series, this is a fantastic opportunity to jump into Ken’s world, recreated gloriously in 3D (though much of it is an apocalyptic wasteland), and trade blows with his many friends and foes. Due to Ken’s fighting style, you’ll find the gameplay somewhat slower compared to other DW games, as you’re punching and kicking your way through masses of enemies most of the time. However, fans will be excited to know you can learn the special moves introduced in the manga as you progress, to clear out large areas of goons and turn the screen red.
So basically the game entails you running around a typical DW-style map killing as many enemies as you wish, capturing enemy zones so you have more troops, and eliminating a few sub-bosses before you face off against the stage boss. The boss typically has a few tricks up his sleeve when you whittle his health down to a certain point, such as summoning henchmen to join the fray or powering himself up. When you beat him down to zero health, you’ll have to successfully complete a QTE to finish him off. If you fail to press the right buttons on time, his health will regenerate fractionally to prolong the fight.
To make things a little more interesting, you’ll also be given several optional sub-missions in each stage to complete. The reward for meeting these objectives – such as saving villagers from jail cells – is a boost to your stats or your troops’ morale. Completing all sub-missions in a stage unlocks a special “Death Star” move in your boss battle, Funnily enough, doing so actually makes your fight tougher as you have longer QTE sequences to pull off, but if you manage to succeed, you’ll be rewarded with more XP to level up your character.
But that’s not all! Besides Kenshiro, you can also play as other characters, each with their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Rei is quick with his hits but deals less damage, Raoh is a tank who lacks agility, while Jagi has a long range of attack but also takes a long time to recover after firing his cannon. Each character also has a playable Story Mode (same events as the manga) and Dream Mode (new story, er, dreamt up by Koei, which basically pits the North Star pugilists against the South Star warriors), so you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this game in leveling up your characters (your character level carries across both modes) and unlocking all the characters and alternative costumes.
The attraction of DW games is that you don’t need to kill too many brain cells to complete them – it’s just stress-relieving button mashing most of the time. However, there are a handful of timed sub-missions that you’ll have to clear successfully to progress the game, which can prove tricky if you don’t concentrate on the task. The game is pretty manageable on Easy mode, but even then you’ll need to level up your character a little to clear some of the more challenging stages. If you’re up for a challenge, try beating any stage on Difficult mode. It is exactly what the label says.
You’ll notice this game has a rather low TA ratio, which is a shame as the achievement list could have done with more imagination. In general, achieving 100% completion for this game is more tedious than difficult. You’ll unlock most of the chievos by beating each character’s Story Mode and Dream Mode on any difficulty, and nab the 10,000 enemy kills along the way.
The remaining 3 achievements require you to kill 5,000 enemies each with a specific martial style. You can do this with any character so long as you unlock the required ability in the level-up grid, so this should take you a few extra hours of grinding. Just for your reference, I took 70+ hours to beat this game, but didn’t mind continuing playing even after nabbing all the achievements as I found this game quite fun as a FotNS fan.
So is this game for you? Definitely if you’re a Fist of the North Star fan. If you don’t mind the occasional DW game, do note that the gameplay is slower so do manage your expectations accordingly. If you think the DW franchise is rubbish, nothing in this game will do anything to change your mind, so you’ll do well to steer clear of this.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Great fun for Fist of the North Star fans