Trying to talk to people in the west about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is like talking to a brick wall, it’s practically unknown. Meanwhile in Japan, it’s a highly popular manga and anime series that’s been going strong for more than 20 years, seeing multiple video game and movie adaptations. For this review, I’m going to assume that you’ve never heard of the franchise before in your life, and try to explain why this game, along with the series, is worth your time.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure tells the story of the Joestar family throughout the ages, starting in Victorian England and continuing up to 2011 and beyond. The manga follows each Joestar member as they begin a whacky journey that changes their lives forever, often finding themselves in the strangest of situations. They tend to have the most bizarre of adventures.
With a premise such as this, All Star Battle’s story mode feels lackluster. ASB chooses to take the “highlight” approach to telling the story, selecting some of the key fights from the series and letting the player reenact them. While there’s a little slice of text prior to each fight to give some context, players who aren’t fans will be sitting there quizzically saying “who’s Lisa Lisa?” and missing out on a lot of the information needed that makes JoJo so fun.
The story tires to appeal to fans by having secret missions that involve recreating scenes from the manga. Reenacting moments such as Dio’s death in Phantom Blood or one of Joseph’s “now you’ll say!” speeches earns the player extra money that can be spent on health or damage boosters that make the battles easier. What this does is reward fans with easier battles, while punishing newcomers for not being familiar with the source material. And while you can pay in-game money to get hints on the secret mission, it’s still punishing those who aren’t aware of the source material.
Players can choose from 32 unique characters from all parts of the series and fight on a 3D arena on a 2D plain. The player can dodge to move around the map 360 degrees, letting them set up stage hazards or dramatic finishes. The game plays like a cross between Street Fighter and the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series, having the main combat commands of Street Fighter while having the freedom of 3D movement and special chaining from the Budokai series.
Special commands are tied to rotating the movement buttons (much like Street Fighter), and the game allows the player to create easy combos by hammering the square button (much like with Blazblue’s ‘simple’ feature), making the game approachable for both hardcore players who want to memorize the move sets, as well as newcomers who are new to fighting games or enjoy button bashing.
When I said all 32 characters were unique, I wasn’t kidding. Every character has a quirk that makes them different to everyone else. Dio’s vampirism means he can steal enemy health, Jonathan’s Hamon power allows him to charge his super moves freely, and different characters “Stands” (floating spirits) act differently from one another. Listing all of the characters differences would take far too long, but the amount of variety in the characters means that no two combatants play the same way.
A real budding issue is with the campaign mode. The mode involves taking on “bosses” to reduce their health and win items, things such as new taunts and costumes. Sounds cool right? Well the only issue is that the campaign mode, a mode that’s part of a full priced game, has an energy bar. The energy bar depletes every time the player fights a “boss”, and there are two ways of getting the bar to refill: Either wait two minutes for each bar (meaning 12 minutes in all), or spend real money to buy items that refill the bar.
The game literally forces the player to wait to play their game. This is just revolting, having people pay £40 for a game and then pay even more just to play a game mode is one of the greediest things a company can do. Hopefully Bandi Namco will realize this was a stupid idea and patch it to make it free, or at least allow in-game currency to be used to buy energy.
ASB goes for a graphical style that’s a mix between the manga and the anime. Characters and locations look as if they’ve been ripped right out of the pages thanks to beautifully done shading, but also carry a hint of colour alteration similar to the recent anime adaptation. The whole game is just wondrous to look at, and thanks to the consistent frame rate, the wonder never slows down.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle has clearly had a lot of love put into it. The team at Cyberconnect 2 have proven that they know how to give a manga franchise justice when it comes to fighting game adaptations, and have set a new precedent with JoJo. While newcomers will be lost most of the time, fans of the manga will find a fantastic fighter that proves a manga adaptation can have both style and substance.
Thanks to Namco Bandi for supplying a review copy