E3 2015: J-Stars Victory VS+’s Dream Matches
Goku vs Naruto. Kenshiro vs Joseph Joestar. Kenshin vs Ichigo. All of these and more are possible in the J-Stars series, games that the Japanese markets have been loving for years now. Somehow Bandai Namco has convinced the powers that be to allow Western markets to see what this franchise is all about with J-Stars Victory VS+, and I dare say that it may have been worth the wait.
I played a full match during my time with the game at E3 2015, which doesn't sound like much but it took about 10 minutes to complete the entire bout. I chose Goku as my hero, as I figured he would have the smallest learning curve due to his immense popularity. Playing as Goku felt like I was playing the Budokai Tenkaiichi series of Dragon Ball Z games, with the ordinary side-by-side view of a fighting game removed for a isometric over-the shoulder perspective during battle and a adventure-style behind the back look when enemies were far away. It definitely required some getting used to, but once I acclimated myself, I found it to be fun.
Fighting is simple enough, with a mixture of light, heavy, and special attacks formatted perfectly onto the controller. I could power Goku up to Super Saiyan by charging ki (just like the Dragon Ball games) and I could unleash a super powerful Spirit Bomb at maximum power (again, just like the Dragon Ball games). Despite this being the first J-Stars game to ever officially be playable in North America, I felt like I had been playing it forever, and that's a wonderful thing.
The fighting arenas are an anime fan's dream, with battle staged around tall buildings and natural structures that can all be destroyed with a powerful blow. I sent my opponents through a skyscraper many a time, just like Goku can in the anime, and every time it was incredibly satisfying. Even when I was launched into a mountain myself I couldn't help but smile and think of how cool it was. I hope every stage in the game has the same type of destructible environments, as they really give the game that authentic anime feel in a strange way.
What didn't jive with me was the team-based combat, especially how my partner Ichigo was basically useless throughout the match. Each character has their own health bar but the team shares the allowed amount of KOs before the battle is lost. Essentially one character can be defeated all three times and cost the team the match. This almost happened with me, as the partner AI was somehow not as efficient as the opponent's AI. Naruto was a slippery fox jumping all around the arena and dealing powerful long-range damage, while Gon from Hunter X Hunter waited for the exact moment that I paid full attention to Naruto before attacking me, all while Ichigo picked flowers or started at the grass or something. Hopefully that gets addressed via a quick patch considering we're so close to launch, because having to depend on an ally who isn't going to fight properly is really annoying.
The Americas are about to get their first taste of anime crossover fighting action in J-Stars Victory VS+, and there's a lot to like with what's being offered here. The roster is an impressive collection of some of the best anime series ever made, the fighting is fast and intense, and the arenas are all satisfying in their destruction. The partner AI leaves a bit to be desired, but I'm hoping that's just a product of the demo I played and not indicative of the final product even though the launch is so close. I expect a lot of anime fans to be impressed with J-Stars, as I left my demo feeling good about what was to come.
J-Stars Victory VS+ launches June 30 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.