Hokuto Ga Gotoku PS4 demo downloaded from the Japanese PSN store.
If the Hokuto Ga Gotoku PS4 demo that you can download from the Japanese PSN right now is any indication of the game’s final quality, then it’s clear that the notion of a Fist of the North Star game developed by the Yakuza devs sadly falls short of its bombastic promise. The demo itself is split into two sections, a combat tutorial portion that lets you tangle with one of the game’s bosses and a free roaming adventure section.
Hokuto Ga Gotoku PS4 Demo Preview: Falling short of the Yakuza gold standard
Starting with the combat section, this part of the demo is little more than a tutorial; one that pits our hero Kenshiro against waves of easy-hit goons as the basics of Fist of the North Star’s fistic pursuits are taught.
In a manner that’s highly similar to the Yakuza games from which its developer has established its pedigree, you have punches and kicks which can be strung into various combinations, while our hero Kenshiro also shares Kiryu's skill to evade strikes and his ability to go into a rage to perform some extra damaging attacks. Equally similar, is the fact that Hokuto ga Gotoku allows players to trigger QTE style events once enemies have been weakened, though this can only be done when the circle button icon appears over the heads indicating that they're ripe for a cinematic QTE kill.
Fans of the Fist of the North Star manga and anime that Hokuto Ga Gokuto is based upon will immediately recognise the manner in which these stylish kills play out too, as they pretty much all revolve around Kenshiro jabbing, punching or kicking the pressure points of his poor foe before walking away and leaving them to explode in a shower of viscera. Or at least, that’s the idea, because the problem here you see, is that there is a distinct lack of blood. In a fashion reminding me of the early censored versions of the Fist of the North Star movie that you could get here in the UK back in the early 1990s, the blood and gore is reduced to a black shadow and some dark smears, which in a game based on manga that literally redefined comic book ultraviolence, is a touch disappointing to say the least.
Though the combat does resemble the adventures of Kiryu and company in many ways, it is also much more limited than the violent arts witnessed in the Yakuza games. For a start, there seems to be no environmental attacks, no improvised weapons to use (though in this way the game seems accurate to the source material as Kenshiro very rarely used them anyway, owing to his badass body exploding skills) and most oddly of all, no way to throw or otherwise toss your opponents.
Granted, there are multiple combat styles that can be chosen, one has turns you plodding about the place as flamethrower toting maniac while another has you teleporting around the battlefield, annihilating opponents with a single touch. Sadly, in the demo the other fighting styles are locked out so it’s difficult to know just what these alternatives might offer, all the same, the fighting in Hokuto Ga Gotoku remains satisfying if worryingly shallow.
When it comes to the open world adventure portion of the demo, it's here that Hokuto Ga Gotoku reminds players most keenly of its Yakuza lineage. Very much like the Sega’s resurgent action RPG franchise, players can wander around an urban environment, chat to NPCs, get into random fights, go into shops and engage in a variety of mini-games and side activities. Unfortunately, the demo doesn't include any of these activities, which is a shame as I'd relish the opportunity to get stuck into Fist of the North Star's arcades or learn how to be a cocktail shaking virtuoso.
Unavoidably however, because Fist of the North Star exists in such close comparative proximity to the Yakuza games (even the menu and inventory screens look like they've been pulled wholesale), it simply cannot survive such comparisons as it feels like a lower budget and much less polished take on that franchise. From the combat, which though satisfying is nowhere near as deep or sophisticated as the Yakuza games, to the threadbare environments which are much simpler with far less to do in them, it’s clear that Hokuto ga Gotoku is simply lacking in comparison.
Where things take a truly steep turn for the worse however, is in t he ill-advised driving sections that Sega have wired into the game. Oh yeah, in Hokuto Ga Gotoku it's possible to leave the town and venture out into a post-apocalyptic open world, collecting items and beating up brigands. The problem is however, the environments and the vehicles all look like they've been pulled from a low-budget, first gen PS3 (that's not a typo) title, while the handling of the vehicles in question feel stiffer than a tank trying to steer through a bog of liquid rubber.
In short, these sections feel wholly unnecessarily, poorly executed and exist as a real detriment to the game. Ultimately then, based on what is obviously a hugely curtailed snippet of the final product, Hokuto Ga Gotoku seems like a cutback Yakuza game that has been reskinned with the characters, plot and environments from Fist of the North Star. Though satisfying for the most part, it's difficult not to be disappointed at a game that, at this stage at least, seems content to mostly be competent, rather than aim for the heady calibre that the cornerstone of its developer frequently achieves.
No western release date has been announced for Hokuto Ga Gotoku PS4 as yet.
If you enjoyed this hands-on of the Hokuto Ga Gotoku PS4 demo, why not check out our coverage of the upcoming Yakuza 6: The Song of Life?