Has there ever been a genuinely good Fist of the North Star game? I don’t ask this as to be a jerk or for a quick joke about how old games are awful, but short of the loving homage to the long running series that is God Hand, the hyper-violent post-apocalyptic adventures of Kenshiro really never seem to have gotten their due in video game form. The closest example I can think of is the Playstation adventure, but I played that during the unfortunate phase in my formative years where anything hidden behind a thick veil of katakana was obviously a forgotten treasure too perfect for our round eyes.
As you might imagine, this is a polite way of pointing out that Last Battle is not very good. A Fist of the North Star game that came to the US without it’s license or gore intact (and a missed opportunity to shoehorn in the allegorical novel of the same name by C.S. Lewis) , Last Battle manages to be slightly better than previous efforts to bring the series to the living rooms of exploding body part enthusiasts the world over. Of course, the American version drops this sole selling point, leaving the average ravager mook to just spindle off past the draw point when punched in the jaw. Instead, the American audience receives roughly a novella worth of incoherent ur-localization that more often than not flies past at a pace that would lose the most stringent speed reader. In a way, I think we came out ahead.
Because this is the late eighties, there are rudimentary RPG elements. Ken (seen here as AARZAK, the name an incurious Ellis Island official gave him after his stateside arrival) refills a tiny bit of life refilled with each human being he reduces to a crimson mist, along with another few pixels being added to the power bar, which meters just how close AARZAK is to becoming too muscular to wear a shirt at any given moment. With the tyranny of clothing since tossed aside, AARZAK’s punches and kicks become far more powerful, which presumably is the key to defeating any of the boss fights that dot the semi-linear map.
The map alone deserves special consideration. As arcade games started to outclass their home counterparts in terms of graphics and sound, there was something of a trend to shoehorn in RPG elements into games that traditionally didn’t involve number or story manipulation as a sort of value-add for the home audience. Most of the time, it ended up being fairly innocuous, such as the power meter and map system in Last Battle. The game is split up into dozens of vignettes that each play on a different aspect of the beat’em-up genre. There are short levels that exist largely to let you refill health and have astoundingly Kafkaesque circular non-conversations with the supporting cast. Tedious maze levels filled with traps that may or may not actually be possible to avoid, and impossible boss encounters. In theory, one can get to the end any way they please, but the grim reality is that only one real path exists through the game, and it frankly requires much more memorization than I am willing to give the game.
The music alone bares special mention, as it’s one of the few soundtracks that really does something different with the sound processor, scoring the entire game with a weird sort of acid-jazz that you never knew your post-apocalyptic wandering needed. In fact, it will play fairly heavily into the upcoming PSG Year One mix that I plan on uploading once we reach a year of Genesis games. Beyond that, there is unfortunately no real reason to play Last Battle, beyond possibly the gore of the Japanese version. And I’ll go ahead and let Youtube play me off for that.
(as always, please check out friend of PSG Andrew Weiss’ post on the same game.)