Fans Are Trying To Fix This Much-Maligned Fist Of The North Star Video Game 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Ever since its publication in 1983, Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken) has had legions of fans, and its head-popping, post-apocalyptic formula is perfect for representation in video games.

The first Fist Of The North Star game appeared in 1986 via Enix, and Sega's relationship with the franchise would kick off later that same year on the Mark III home console (this version would later be released in the West as Black Belt).

Sega's second stab at the series would be 1989's Hokuto no Ken: Shin Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu. Based on the "Imperial Capital" and "Asura" story arcs of the manga, this side-scrolling action title boasted what were impressively large sprites for the time, and Sega promptly localised it for Western release under the title Last Battle (oddly, this localisation was later ported to home computers by Elite Systems).

Today, even the most dedicated fan of Hokuto no Ken: Shin Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu will have a love/hate relationship with the game – your author included. Its visuals are still decent, and the music is fantastic. Also, when you get Kenshiro fully powered up, it's really cool.

The problem is that the game feels unbalanced, with certain bosses killing you in seconds. Kenshiro's movement is also famously sluggish and stiff, and the general gameplay is pretty repetitive.

Little wonder, then, that Last Battle (which is pretty faithful to the Japanese version, although it removes the signature exploding heads and changes all of the character names, as well as recolouring some enemies) was savaged by Western critics upon release and has gone down in history as one of the worst games on Sega's 16-bit console (UK publication Mega famously ranked it the second-worst Mega Drive game of all time, while rival magazine MegaTech gave it a 32% review score).

Thankfully, a fan named Ernani S. Costa has taken it upon themselves to "fix up" this much-maligned cult classic. A new patch has been released which is described as "a major overhaul of the Japanese original... [a] translation of the original Japanese Hokuto no Ken for the Mega Drive to restore the blood and original colour changed in the last battle localisation."

Referring to the original Western localisation – which launched alongside the Genesis in North America in 1989 and in Europe the following year – Costa explains that it made little sense, so the text here has been changed "to better reflect the events of the anime." The text now "fills in the details that are not conveyed in the game, as the original text did not explain much and had some inconsistencies with the anime."

Tidying up the story is only one way in which this new patch fixes the mistakes made by Last Battle. Here's a list of the other improvements:

  • Stage locations were rearranged so the events in the game follow the anime events.
  • Dialogue character pictures of bleeding Falco, Liu, and final Kayoh not showing mouth moving bug fixed.
  • Floating jumping enemies after rebound logic fixed to return them to the floor.
  • Bosses health and damage amount rebalanced.
  • Walking speed increased.
  • Rebound distance reduced.
  • Sound effects for some actions changed.
  • Screen scroll activation position changed to a more central position.
  • Dungeon inverted arrow heads fixed.
  • Some map stage images changed to reflect the stage rearranging changes. some stage had enemy positions repositioned.

"Some other changes are still possible, but the patch is in playable state already," adds Costa. "Overall, this should make the 'bad' original game into a now somehow more enjoyable experience."

It seems that the long-suffering fans of this game agree, too. A review left on ROM says:

I remember buying Last Battle when it launched. It looked so awesome to my 12 year old eyes. It ended up being a frustratingly difficult and slightly slow game. I am happy to report that the improvements made to Hokuto no Ken, coupled with the translation, have swept away the buyer’s remorse I had experienced back then.