Shonen Jump? That make any sense to you? Don’t worry, I had no idea either. It’s essentially a Japanese manga anthology magazine made up of a host of famous characters and franchises (think 2000 AD but with more primary colours and gravity defying breasts) – you’ll probably be aware of many of them, but equally, there are probably a whole bunch that you’ve never heard of too. Sure, the majority of us know who Naruto is, we’re aware of what Dragon Ball and One Piece Pirate Warrior are, but, Arale Norimaki from Dr. Slump? Yusuke Urameshi of YuYu Hakusho fame? Needless to say, outside of the manga hardcore, a lot of what you see and hear in this game will most likely go right over your head.
That’s ok though – the story here is the kind of cross-over irreverent nonsense that makes a lack of first-hand knowledge perfectly acceptable while the commitment to fan service and authenticity ensures that long standing fans are also admirably catered to. There are plenty of cool little nods and references for those looking out for them, but thanks to its easy charm, pleasant visuals and solid combat, this is a game that can be enjoyed by enthusiasts and the casual observers alike.
At its heart, this is an arena brawler in the same vein as the recently released Dragon Ball: Xenoverse or the fantastically bonkers, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle, but sadly, while J-Stars certainly looks and feels very similar to both of those games, it never quite matches either in terms of overall quality. It’s still a very enjoyable brawler in its own right and is undoubtedly on par when it comes to sheer fan service, but despite being mechanically sound, its slightly ho-hum visuals and repetitive battles do rob the experience of some its lustre.
That all sounds rather negative, but honestly, this really is a very enjoyable game – it’s just one that is best experienced in short bursts. Once you get used to the initially confusing control scheme (this is certainly no Street Fighter), it won’t be long before you’re zipping across the screen, smashing your foes through buildings and administering huge, visually explosive super attacks. The controls are basically the same for each and every character, meaning that, while the initial learning curve is a little steep, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll basically be proficient with just about any character in the game. Sure, the moves themselves do vary depending on the character, but there are no quarter circle turns here. No, this is a game about stamina management and well-timed attacks.
One thing that has always been an issue in these types of games (especially for beginners) is the danger of being juggle attacked across the screen. While good players can still give you a pretty nasty hiding if given half a chance, there is now a cool down period after an attack in which you are rendered briefly invincible. This does reduce relentless pummelling and certainly adds a unique ebb and flow to each encounter, but equally, there is no doubting the fact that its inclusion can make for oddly stilted battles. Don’t get me wrong, something needed to be done to allow those being attacked to turn the tide, but I can’t help but feel that this brief period of invincibility represents a lazy and poorly implemented fix.
That issue aside however, the battles are mostly fast-past, visually impressive affairs that do a decent job of replicating the kind of action that one would expect to find on the pages of the latest Weekly Shonen Jump. Nothing here is understated – everything is over the top and geared towards pleasing the fans. This game isn’t geared towards tournament play and despite the control schemes being the same across the board, balancing is largely abandoned in favour of visually striking move-sets that capture the essence of each character. Above all else, this is a game about two things; fan service and fun.
It admirably delivers on both – all of the characters are voiced by the official Japanese voice actors with each character clearly rendered with a love and respect for the source material. The stages do fair a little worse in so much that the majority feel disappointingly bland, but in terms of the characters themselves, J-Stars does a great job of bringing even the most obscure of characters to life.
The battle system does start to show its limitations during extended play and the four main campaigns do highlight the inherent simplicity of the games’ structure, but when played in shorter bursts (and preferably with friends), it really is an extremely enjoyable fighter that, while unable to match the simplicity (or depth) of a Super Smash Bros., does offer up enough in the way of simplistic fun and subtle depth to ensure that it is a viable option as a quick-fire party game while delivery just enough under the bonnet to justify its rather lengthy list of single player options.
The sheer number of characters does help, but it’s undoubtedly the chance to match-up a wide variety of characters for its 2-on-2 battles that really keeps things feeling fresh. The game probably doesn’t make quite enough of the potential combinations, but for many, simply seeing Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star fighting alongside Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach will be enough to put a smile on their face.
And that’s the thing; despite its faults, this is a game that wants to make fans happy, to have you smile and enjoy the absurdity of it all. Sure, it has its problems, and from a technical standpoint, it’s certainly not the best looking game of all time (it’s especially underwhelming on PS4), but despite these issues, J-Stars Victory VS+ is a game that overcomes its shortcomings to deliver an experience that is above all else, fun. With a robust selection of single player modes (including an all-new Arcade Mode) and plenty of solid local and online options, it’s certainly not shy of content, and while it is unlikely that many will bother to see all that it has to offer, for as long as it lasts, J-Stars Victory VS+ represents one of those rare, bat-shit crazy, but ultimately, hugely enjoyable Japanese video games that really has no business at all being released in the West.
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