Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage has two modes. In Legend mode players follow Kenshiro’s story line as he fights with Raoh for the right to be the successor. Koei also created a brand new story in Dream Mode where the Fist of the North Star characters battle the Nanto army.
When we spoke with Hisashi Koinuma, Producer, we asked how the original story was created and what it was like to work with the Fist of the North Star license.
Why did Koei want to make a Fist of the North Star game?
Hisashi Koinuma, Producer: We had an offer from the original animator of Fist of the North Star. Fans have a lot of expectations about this game and we thought about the possibility of making the game interesting using this IP (intellectual property) along with the Musou series.
Koei has tied the Musou style game to a lot of different IPs, like Gundam and the Sengoku period. What IP would you like to work with?
One where we get good support from a related party, like another IP. If that happens we will think about an offer. The window is open, but there are no plans at the moment.
You mentioned good IP support, what kind of support do you consider as good?
Graphics, modeling, story, and the biggest one is letting us use the original story in the game. That’s the kind of support we got for Fist of the North Star. Tetsuo Hara (the original artist) created art for us too. [Points to a poster of the cover art.]
Fist of the North Star has an original story for Dream Mode. How did you work this out with the license holder? Was the story written by the licensor or inside Koei?
We originally created the character models and original story on our side first. Then we had a lot discussions with the license holder. For the creative side, this was a little unusual for Koei. Sometimes during discussions they would say something wasn’t suitable. Basically, the dream story, the imaginary one, was created within Koei.
What kind of things did you want to put into Dream Mode that were rejected?
[Laughs.] Mmm.. Most of the stuff was not allowed. The initial story was out of the scope of the manga story and they said it wasn’t good. During discussions we both sides met in the middle to make the Dream Mode arc.
Did you edit the story or totally scrap it? In other words, is there a lost Fist of the North Star story?
We got rid of a lot of it and came back to the license holder with new ideas. One rule we had to stick to is Kenshiro has to be invincible. Also, he can’t become evil. He always has to be a protector of people. So, for example, if our original story didn’t follow those rules, the license holder would say no.
But, Kenshiro can die in the game!
[Laughs.] Ah, but doesn’t die! He’s just lying on the ground. The IP holder said he’s not allowed to die in the game. That’s a funny story, but we respect the IP holder since we’re using the Fist of the North Star license.
The Fist of the North Star series is quite, how do you say, graphic. Actually, for the Koei side I believe this is your most violent game. How do you feel about that?
This project started before the Tecmo Koei merger. At that time we didn’t have any violent games and I asked is it OK to publish such a game.
Did you push to do it?
Yeah, but if the management said no we wouldn’t have done it.
The North American version is even more violent.
Yes. One of the reasons why is we wanted to put head explosions in the game, it’s iconic to the Fist of the North Star series. If we did that in Japan we wouldn’t be able to release it. That’s why we toned it down. We wanted to do it, so we enabled those in the North American version.
Importers were quite critical about the action structure and bugs. Are you changing the game at all for North America?
We have a whole bunch of improvements with respect to the scenario, enemy AI, pacing, and as we said before the detail of violence. Japanese games move gradually while the Western market wants excitement every second. That’s why we’re going to add a brand new stage for Kenshiro’s story called "Level 0." We want people to enjoy Fist of the North Star, so in "Level 0" we’re going to let people play with a stronger Kenshiro so the game feels more action packed.
Some of the criticism from the US players is this is too much like Musou [Dynasty Warriors]. Japanese players are like "this is like Musou!" [says with gusto.]
I understand there is a cultural difference. In Japan, when people see Musou games their eyes light up. But in North America, people seem to be burned out on the series. How does this cultural difference affect how you design games?
We designed two modes. Legend mode follows the original manga line. To play through that we wanted it to be an action/adventure style mode, like a Musou game. For dream mode, we designed it so it’s more action packed than a Musou game.
If you could change and improve one thing in Fist of the North Star what would it be.
I would make more of a balance between action and story. We want to make sure people really enjoy the action part with Fist of the North Star.