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Hokuto no Ken (PlayStation 2) artwork

Hokuto no Ken (PlayStation 2) review

"What Hokuto no Ken lacks in balance, it attempts to compensate for in flash. Huge Engrish proclamations such as "THE BATTLE OF DESTINY" and "THANX FOR YOUR PLAYING!" adorn the screen, blows connect with explosive impact, and animations are elaborate and unusual; one character pulls oil drums from the background, sets them on the ground, and ignites them with shotgun blasts."

MARCH 25, 2004

As part of their "Sega Ages 2500" series, Sega releases a new Hokuto no Ken game. Instead of the epic battle fantasy one might expect from Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro's opponents are feeble, the mighty Ken Ou's badical black horse never shows up, and Sega's general lack of care for both source material and customer causes millions to weep.

Only villains can smile! How I hate these times!


Reviewers across the globe unite and decry the shameless emasculation of such an iconic franchise, wiping away the tears of millions with their words.

In response, Sega releases the Hokuto no Ken arcade game to atone for their sins, proving that websites do possess the power to melt the ice-cold hearts of mighty publishing giants. Kenshiro's famous opponents actually put up a fight, Ken Ou's black horse makes a most badical appearance, and the developer (Arc System Works, Guilty Gear) puts forth the kind of effort that makes one think: these guys care about the franchise. Sega even includes a special region-2 DVD, which contains short clips of previous Hokuto no Ken games, reminding people how terrible most of them were.


Zigfried finally gets around to playing the PS2 conversion of the Hokuto arcade game. He is pleased.

Collecting 150 episodes of awesome into a single package is a lofty dream for any Hokuto fighting game, so it's no surprise that some of the characters I would have enjoyed -- such as Ryuuga, Uighur, and the buff bodybuilding brothers who inspired Choaniki -- aren't accounted for. But limiting a potential cast of dozens down to TEN is pretty feeble. Punch-maniac Kenshiro and his nemesis Shin are of course included, as are Kenshiro's three older brothers. Fan-favorite Mr. Heart, whose blubbery body explodes during the game's introduction, makes a larger-than-life appearance, as does the diabolical Souther (amusingly lisped in this game as "Thouther").

Hokuto also includes the attractive firebrand Mamiya, which is an interesting choice since she wasn't a particularly powerful fighter. What woman could hope to trade blows with such mighty, manly, martial artists? I suppose Sega needed some female representation, and Mamiya does fill that role better than Julia (whose most memorable moment occured while she was silently sitting in a chair). Keeping with today's politically correct society, Mamiya isn't even a bottom-tier character.

For those who play these games at home and aren't involved in competitive tournaments, the concept of "tiers" is a way to rank characters' strength based on data gleaned from numerous battles. There could be three characters on the top tier, four on the next, and so forth. As a general rule, better games either have a small disparity between tiers, or else most characters are on the same power level. That's one reason why you'll find a lot of love for Street Fighter III and a lot of venom for Marvel Vs Capcom 2 at hardcore fighter websites.

But Marvel Vs Capcom 2 has fifty characters. I consider that to be a good excuse for lack of balance. Hokuto has no such excuse for its gross inequity. It can't even fob the imbalance off as being "true to the show", since Kenshiro and Souther -- grand masters of their respective arts -- are routinely murdered by the one-episode wonder Heart. When playing with friends, you'll most likely find yourself setting house rules to keep the fights competitive. When playing at a tournament, you'll most likely find yourself playing something else entirely.

Arc System Works could have tried to push gameplay boundaries. Instead of ignoring the massive imbalances, they could have included a variety of handicap methods -- whether damage differentiators or "-ism's" -- to balance out a cast of 20, but instead they stuck with an imbalanced cast of 10, within which Shin and Heart conquer all.

What Hokuto no Ken lacks in balance, it attempts to compensate for in flash. Huge Engrish proclamations such as "THE BATTLE OF DESTINY" and "THANX FOR YOUR PLAYING!" adorn the screen, blows connect with explosive impact, and animations are elaborate and unusual; one character pulls oil drums from the background, sets them on the ground, and ignites them with shotgun blasts. That's kind of like a futuristic version of Night Warriors' Donovan. I use that comparison partly to establish reviewer street cred, and partly to illustrate a point: fighting games have been flashy for over a decade. Still, I have to admit that this one is pretty damn fun to watch.

Fight long enough and you can eventually deliver a GOD FIST BLOW, which unleashes an eruption of fancy flashing lights across the screen. But if you keep acquiring more and more power, then you can use the DEADLY FIST BLOW. So there you have it -- power greater than God is needed to smite one of these mighty warriors. When this power is released, Hokuto actually plays the "final blow" music from the TV series, which is a cool and unusual touch that gives the ultimate super death attack some extra impact in a game where everything has impact.

Sometimes the "this is the final blow!" music can be deceptive. One time, I was playing as slash-master Rei against Mamiya. The final blow music kicked in, Mamiya leapt on top of a motorcycle, and she started running roughshod all over my body. It hurt. And she kept doing it. Then, during what may seem an obvious epiphany, I asked myself: "Why am I letting her do this? The exciting death music is playing, but I'm not quite dead yet!" So I let loose with one of Rei's powerful Nanto Suichoken martial art slashes... and Mamiya actually fell off her bike. I proceeded to grab her, tear her shirt open, and declare:

"You're a woman."

Well, yes. She is.

The game has flash, it has style, and it even has Heart. Despite all of that, Hokuto no Ken is nothing more than a tribute to greatness, because it lacks a very important element: context. Without context, you can't have drama. The history mode is a noble attempt by Arc to provide some background, some explanation as to who hates who and why, but a few lines of Japanese text won't do much for 99% of people reading this review.

It's a nice game for Hokuto fans. And that's that.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (January 18, 2009)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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Masters posted January 19, 2009:

Nice review, Zig. I was getting worried that you were curbing your insane style, but clearly you are not.

I also noticed that you are making a strong bid to have "badical" included in the English dictionary, in much the same way "bling" has achieved mainstream acceptance.
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darketernal posted January 19, 2009:

I find the notion that Heart kicks arse amusing and interesting to the point of me wanting to play this game.
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zigfried posted January 20, 2009:

Thank you! I still have a few edits to make to tighten things up, but insanity occasionally leads to some trailing or tangential thoughts.


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