SEGA’s little-known “Fist of the North Star” legacy
With the impending PS4 release of Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise in October, western gamers, particularly the younger ones, might be interested to learn that SEGA has a long history with the Fist of the North Star license. Yes, indeedy. As it turns out, SEGA has been releasing Fist of the North Star games for three decades, and you may have even played one without ever knowing it.
Known as Hakuto No Ken (北斗の拳) in Japan, SEGA first obtained the license for the franchise in the 1980s when it released Hakuto No Ken on their Mark III console in Japan, which was later released in the west as Black Belt on the SEGA Master System.
In the video below, you can see the two versions of the Master System game running side-by-side.
As you can see from the video, the visual aesthetics were completely redone when Hakuto No Ken came to the West as Black Belt. Everything from the character designs to the backgrounds and even the title screen were nearly 100% changed to erase the Fist of the North Star license from the game. Of course, the plot was also rewritten to be a generic tale of a martial arts master out to rescue his abducted love interest.
A follow-up to the Master System original was released as a Genesis launch title in 1989. Last Battle, also a 2D side-scrolling brawler, was initially set in the Fist of the North Star universe and is a pseudo-sequel to Black Belt. When it was released in Japan, Last Battle was titled Shin Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu Hakuto No Ken (新世紀末救世主伝説 北斗の拳). Since SEGA completely altered the identities and plots in both games when they came stateside, there is actually no connection between Black Belt and Last Battle with regard to their storyline. In Last Battle, you play as Aarzak, a hero who is of course off to save the world by punching stuff. That’s all you really need to know, anyway.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the 16-bit versions.
It’s also worth mentioning another stylistic difference between Last Battle and its Japanese counterpart. In Shin Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu Hakuto No Ken, when you punch a guy in the face, his face explodes. It’s awesome. Oh, excuse me, when I say awesome, of course I mean glorious. The bosses also bubble up and burst apart in a cathartic spray of scarlet once you deliver the final blow. It’s basically vampire porn, and you just want to guzzle it as it showers down over your face…
This level of violence is very much in line with the Hakuto No Ken/Fist of the North Star license, which is possibly why it was removed when Last Battle hit stateside. However, it’s far more likely that the carnage was toned down so as not to offend all the mamas and papas watching their sons and daughters plug away on their newly-purchased 16-bit marvel, a system with a name meant to evoke Christian overtones, no less. Keep in mind, in 1989 Mortal Kombat was still three years away, so these localization changes did make sense at the time.
Given that these past two titles were given the re-skin treatment when released outside of Japan, it’s a bit fitting that Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is also a a bit of a re-skin, albeit to a much lesser degree. Lost Paradise is developed by SEGA’s Yakuza development team, and if you’re a Yakuza fan, the similarities between both games probably hasn’t escaped you.
Fist of the North Star is officially considered to be an official spin-off of the Yakuza series in Japan. Not only does it run on the same game engine as every Yakuza title prior to Yakuza 6, this new Fist of the North Star is known in Japan as Hokuto ga Gotoku, 北斗が如く, which plays off Yakuza’s Japanese title Ryū ga Gotoku. In addition, those who buy the game before 15 October can download Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu as a playable character.
Though it is surviving its transition intact as SEGA’s first Fist of the North Star game to reach the West, there is going to be one significant change made to the western versions. It is going to have its violence factor turned up for the western release, meaning brighter blood and more graphic finishing moves. The excellent YouTube channel Censored Gaming highlights several of these changes in their video below.
There you have it, ladies and gents. Did you learn something? Are you excited to finally get a chance to play an unmolested Fist of the North Star game by SEGA? Do you suddenly have an urge for an extra rare steak?
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is scheduled for release on 2 October for PlayStation 4.