Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Game 9 - Fist of the North Star 5

Fist of the North Star 5: Legend of the Mara Shooting Star: Sorrow, the Closing Chapter (北斗の拳5 天魔流星伝 哀★絶章)

Released on 7/10/1992, published by Toei

I would say the title of this game sounds better in Japanese, but I'm not really sure it does.It's just as pompous and overblown regardless of language.

This is, of course, part of the long-running Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken) franchise. It's one in a series of 7 games for the Famicom and Super Famicom which were numbered consecutively despite having no connection to each other. Some are action games, some fighters, some RPGs. And all seven of them are known as kusoge (crappy games). 

Fist of the North Star might not seem like a franchise that can easily be made into an RPG. If you aren't familiar with the franchise, the lead characters are practitioners of a certain type of martial arts based on "pressure points" and ki. They don't use weapons or wear armor. They are essentially superhumans who can kill normal people without breaking a sweat, and can only be opposed by another person as powerful as them. The designers might have taken this as a cue to try something new, the way that the Dragon Ball Z RPGs did. Instead, they just went the lazy route and made a standard, cookie-cutter RPG with Fist of the North star as a skin over it. So you have the spectacle of a 4-man team including Toki and Rei, equipped with nunchuks and knives, trading blows with random grunts.

So I'm going to have very little to say about the gameplay for this game -- it does nothing different from Villgust or Maka Maka. You attack, you use the fist techniques, which do the same thing as spells or techs in any other game. They do damage, they cause status effects, they heal.

The game has the lowest item limit I've seen yet -- 7 items per character, including the 4 pieces of equipment. That's right. Each character can hold 3 items, including plot necessary items. So basically you're not going to be relying on items for much.

So let's get started. The opening begins with your character (an original character) having his fiancee stolen by the Matei (Demon Emperor, I guess), who has returned after a 2000 year sleep, after being defeated by Tentei (the Heavenly Emperor). That sounds more like a regular RPG plot than Fist of the North Star, but we'll go with it. Now the second scene shows various HnK characters fighting against Matei's units, and then this infamous scene:
"The heir to the Hokuto Shinken, Kenshiro, has died."
Kenshiro, the hero of Fist of the North Star, gets crushed by a boulder and killed in the opening scene. wait.
Yuria, in sorrow, throws herself off a building.

So we're dealing with a completely separate story. This isn't the story of Hokuto no Ken, nor is it a side story that takes place during the series (or after or before). It's a parallel story that has all the HnK characters, but in different roles and with no relation to the original story. This is what seems to have bothered a lot of Japanese players.

So after equipping, Kurisu sets forth to find his lost love. The man who stole her seems to be named Geshura.

Kurisu vs. a mook
If you're been reading the blog for a while this battle screenshot may look somewhat familiar -- indeed, the scenario director and BGM composer are the same as Maka Maka, and the same development studio was involved in both games. Fortunately this game doesn't have all the awful bugs.

The first destination is the Cave of Ryuken -- Ryuken is the Hokuto Shinken master who tutored Kenshiro. He's still alive, but he immediately gets killed by a guy named Zariga, who runs away. You then get your first ally, Mizumaru. I believe this is an original character.

The first dungeon occurs after this. As far as I've seen so far, they all look like this:
In other words, shitty.
You soon are joined by Inazuma, a leader of a resistance group against the Matei. He looks familiar. As you head towards Gelba Castle to find information on Geshura, another guy joins you named Kuroyasha. I never saw the second part of HnK but I gather this is an off-screen character from there...he doesn't stick around long anyway.

Once you beat Gelba Castle, you save Mamiya and Inazuma is revealed to be Rei, another powerful character from the series. Unfortunately the graphics are poor; as you can see from above none of the characters look like anything (and they walk funny). The in battle graphics are equally drab:
That's supposedly Rei and Toki in the bottom row.
To get to the next continent and continue to chase Geshura, we need to get across a river...thus the "human bridge". Followers of Rihaku (another character from the anime) get in the water so you can walk across their heads.

The human bridge
It's hard not to see this whole thing as an intentional parody or comedic take on Hokuto no Ken, but I'm not sure it was intended that way.

In the next town you meet a guy named Grant, who is able to wipe the floor with your group. But then Raoh destroys him, letting you pass. Toki soon joins your party, for no real reason.
This is supposedly Raoh on his black horse.
After some fetch quests you can finally visit Geshura Town, and go into Geshura's mansion, make your way up the drab dungeon floors and tedious random encounters, and beat Geshura. Unfortunately he only has a fake doll of your fiancee (like Shin did in the manga series), so we have to move on. We do get a "buggy" that can revisit old towns instantly; a nice touch, although I'm not sure what it's supposed to be doing when it flies up into the air.

So yeah, this game sucks. But I won't retreat! I won't be defeated! And I won't turn back!

PS: There's another human bridge.


  1. I think it's a rule that every piece of Hokuto no Ken media has to have a pompous five-character subtitle. But this game outdoes them all by having both a subtitle and a sub-subtitle.

    Tentei was mentioned in the second half of the manga (an important character is revealed to be one of his descendants) but Makoutei is original. As is Mizumaru. Kuroyasha is indeed a minor character from the second half of the manga. The creators of the FC/SFC games seemed to have had a minor obsession with Kuroyasha--he appears in every game in the series except the first two (which were released before he appeared in the manga)

    The second half of the Hokuto no Ken manga is seriously *weird*. You can tell the creators had run out of ideas but were being forced to continue the story anyway (hardly an unusual situation with manga serialized in Shonen Jump) The Hokuto and Nanto arts are joined by Gento, which lets you turn your hand into a lightsaber; Kenshiro pushes pressure points on himself that enable him to understand Sanskrit and to channel his 2000-year-old ancestors; and the new big bad and his lieutenants practice a martial art that involves letting yourself get possessed by a demon. Oh, and one short-lived but important character is a pirate with an eyepatch, hook hand and peg leg. So the fantasy-ish elements of this game aren't *quite* as out of place as you might think if you're only familiar with the first half of the manga.

    Totally agree on you about the sad contrast with DBZ--the DBZ RPGs on the Famicom and fighting games on the SFC weren't exactly *good* but at least they were trying something original! Every single Hokuto no Ken game on a Nintendo platform is both a cookie-cutter example of its genre and a poorly executed one. In Hokuto no Ken 3 (the first one that's an RPG) the top and bottom halves of Kenshiro's walking sprite don't even line up properly.

    1. Thanks for the info -- I started reading the second part of the manga but I didn't get past the first volume, and nothing I've seen about it since makes me want to read it.

  2. That whole deal with the story is, uhhh, interesting, at least. With Kenshiro being right there on the damn cover, I wonder how much of a surprise this was - given away in magazines and advertising beforehand, or did people only find out when they got the game? I wonder if Buronson/Hara knew about this, and what they thought.

    1. Is that Kenshiro on the cover, or the main character of the game? The main character looks a lot like Kenshiro. Anyway it says on the back that the story is original and you can play a lot of the characters...but they don't point out Kenshiro isn't one of them.

      Buronson at least oversaw the story, although I don't know how involved he was.

    2. Kenshiro wasn't playable in the Famicom RPG Hokuto no Ken 4 despite being all over the cartridge label, but that's because Hokuto no Ken 4 was a sequel set a full generation (~20 years) after the end of the manga. All of the characters in Hokuto no Ken 4 were either game-original or adult versions of characters who were children or infants in the manga.

      ...Except for Kuroyasha. Hmm, maybe Kuroyasha is supposed to be a title that's passed on through generations, rather than a personal name? Never mind his age, I'm pretty sure the Kuroyasha in the manga *died*.

    3. Oh, and in Hokuto no Ken 4 your first companion was named Kazemaru. If Toei had continued to release Hokuto no Ken RPGs instead of chasing the Street Fighter 2 boom, I suppose the next two games in the series would have had companions named Tsuchimaru and Himaru.

    4. Maybe that's why they tried this bizarre story in 5 -- they had already done the manga story in 3, and a sequel in 4.

    5. Wow, that inventory is even more restrictive than FFL on GAME BOY...

      The story sounds like it was created by a developer that was forced to use the license, but wanted to use his own characters.

      At least the game itself doesn't seem to suffer from unplayability.