The chances are, if you are an fan of Japanese animation, you are familiar with the story of the Fist of the North Star. Even if you aren’t an anime fan, you have likely heard of the series as it is one of the biggest titles in the anime genre and one of the titles that helped anime and managa break out of the borders of Japan. In addition to its presence in anime and manga, the ultra violent story has also made its impact felt in the gaming universe numerous times since its origination back in 1983. Fist of the North Star, or Hakuto no Ken as it is known in Japan, has been gracing consoles since the old PC-88 way back in 1986. The assortment of game titles that the series has spawned has ranged from side-scrolling beat’em ups to fighting games and even as far as RPG and MMORPG titles. The latest take on the series, from developer Omega Force and published by Tecmo Koei, may be the most ambitious take on the series yet... and easily the best.
Fist of the North Star tells the tale of a wandering warrior by the name of Kenshiro. Kenshiro, or Ken for short, spends his life wandering the vast wasteland of the post-apocalyptic world fighting against the various gangs and clans who threaten the lives of the weak and innocent. In a world where resources such as food and clean water are scarce, the strong are usually the only ones who survive. Unfortunately, strength comes in numbers and most of the world’s scum has banded together to show their superiority. As the successor of a feared and deadly martial arts style known as Hokuto Shinken, Ken has the ability to, literally, kill his enemies from within using strikes at secret vital points on the human body. Ken uses this ability to try and swing the balance of power back into the hands of those who believe in what is right and are victimized by the thugs of the world. Let me assure you, Fist of the North Star is as gruesome as it sounds. This isn’t a game, or tale for that matter, for the feint of heart. Ken’s tale is filled with lost love, deceit, betrayal, and lots and lots of over the top violence, from beginning to end, and then some.
You do not have to worry if you are not familiar with the tale of the series as the game’s main mode, entitled Legend Mode, painstakingly recreates the original story arc of the series. Recreations don’t get much closer to their original material than this; throughout the Legend Mode, players will experience, first hand, the story of Kenshiro’s journey all of the way through the events in which he challenged his blood brother for the right to be the true Hokuto Shinken successor. This is done with a visually stunning graphical presentation that breathes a whole new life in an almost 30 year old story. Simply put, this game looks great; the animations are fluent, the characters are incredibly detailed and filled with personality, and the soundtrack is absolutely rocking from the start. In addition to reliving the story as Ken, players will also unlock numerous other characters for play as they proceed through the game, which will tell the story from their points of view. Some of those characters include series staples such as Rei, Mamiya, Toaki, and Raoh. While each character has their own timeline of events that players can play through, Ken’s is the main mode and easily the longest and most detailed.
As you progress through the story with each character, you will earn varying amounts of karma points with every enemy defeated which will in turn earn you skill points which can be spent on strengthening your character. This is done between chapters by accessing an expansive “Meridian Chart”. The Meridian Chart is a large grid of skills that the player can traverse and unlock as they play through the game. Skill points are spent on various intrinsic and extrinsic skills laid out across the chart which strengthen the various traits of your characters; intrinsic skills take effect immediately and permanently power up the player while extrinsic skills must be equipped in order to take effect, up to three at a time. As players purchase items on the Meridian Chart, additional items become accessible and the chart’s options expand. You can take your time and build your character to suit your play style using the options available on the chart; some players may choose to build an incredibly durable, defensive tank while others may go straight for leveling up a characters attack power and create the ultimate killing machine. If a player truly wants to max out the potential of a character, they will need to replay the levels numerous times in order to increase their level ranking(s) and earn more skill points to spend on the tree. Over the normal course of the game, your character will earn enough points to survive and evolve with the difficulty of the game, but putting in the time to truly reach your character’s potential will have you dominating the competition.
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