Fist of the North Star - where to begin? Some of you might know of this manga/animé series from the 1980s already, as it's infamous for its ultraviolence and fondness of blood and gore. It's something of a cult classic, but as is the case with such things there aren't too many people who are familiar with them. That being the case, here's a quick introduction:
Nuclear war has broken out in the 20th Century, and in turn reduced the world as we know it to a desolate and dreary place where might makes right. Kenshiro (Ken) practices one of the new world's most powerful martial arts - Hokuto Shinken - and is on a quest to find his kidnapped fiancée Yuria. Her kidnapper, Shin, on the other hand practices a rivaling martial art - Nanto Shinken. Ken's motivation to go adventuring into the desert is... dated to say the least. Granted, the series came out in the 1980s, but 'hero's maiden is kidnapped' is still a rather cheap way to start a story off.
Fortunately, the game is developed by Sega's CS1's Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, who you might recognise as the studio behind the recently successful Yakuza series. The studio has a penchant for bizarre and over-the-top humour (you can work as a bartender and chisel ice), which lends itself to a lot of Japanese media. FOTNS uses a modified version of the Yakuza game engine, and if you've played any of the more recent games in that series you'll have a slight advantage - both games work very similarly, with brawling as the centrepiece that the rest of the game is built around. Also, if you have a save file from one of the Yakuza games on your system, you'll receive a small token of recognition as thanks.
Enough about that though, let's dive into the game, which opens with a brief tutorial on the combat system by having you fight your way up several levels of bad guys in order to reach Shin, so Ken can rescue his beloved (she only went along with Shin so that he wouldn't kill Kenshiro during a previous altercation). From there it takes about five seconds from meeting the first baddie to us getting a grisly confirmation that this game is exactly as ultraviolent as expected.
Bodies burst and explode around Ken everywhere he goes, more often than not seconds after he's informed them that they are already dead. After a quick boss-fight with Shin that goes over the basics of 1-on-1 fighting, we've saved Yuria and can lie back and watch the credits roll. Of course, we're joking, as Yuria has taken her own life in desperation over never getting to reunite with her beloved. Taking the news like a man and bottling them up deep down inside, Ken takes to wandering the desert aimlessly.
But we need some sort of reason to keep playing the game, so our hero soon finds himself in a razed town where - after warning some bandits not to bother the locals, and using his magic fists to explode them after they don't heed his advice - he's told that the news of Yuria's death has been greatly exaggerated. Presumably so, at least, as the locals have seen an amazingly beautiful lady leading a group of people towards the Paradise Town of Eden only a stone's throw away. There's no other person that could possibly be, right?
Honestly, we're finding ourselves struggling to write about the story without having to resort to sarcasm. Often things happen without much (if any) foreshadowing, the deus ex-machina is figuratively redlining, and there's always a justifiable cause to be found for punching someone to death. There was also a certain amount of eye-rolling going on as the story unfolded, mostly because it takes itself way, way too seriously, especially in the beginning. It certainly doesn't help that Kenshiro has the emotional range of a wet sock, with his responses to things happening ranging from disinterested grunting, through disgruntled grunting, and finally plateauing at angry grunting when the faecal matter really hits the fan. There's the odd attempt at self-irony though, which we thoroughly welcomed.
The emotionless inertia does, unfortunately, persist through almost the entire introduction sequence (which lasts almost five hours!). The pace isn't picked up until you've unlocked Eden, and even then we had to play for a few more hours until we had unlocked enough of the game to start exploring the various activities.
Speaking of Eden, the Paradise Town is most definitely the best thing in Paradise Lost. You can explore the streets and back alleys, browse the stores, and use the town as your base of operations to buy and upgrade equipment. During the night this otherwise quaint town transforms into a neon-filled paradise that's downright amazing, with vivid colours as a stark contrast to the sand and dust that normally occupies both the town and the surrounding areas.
In time you'll also get access to a car that you can use to venture into the wasteland to do missions and drive the story forward (pardon the pun). The car can be upgraded using parts bought or acquired otherwise, and will then let you visit areas that were previously inaccessible, so if you're a completionist there's some joy to be had here. We hope that you enjoy listening to the three default songs that come with the car though because you'll have to unlock other tunes by finding them and that might take a while.