J-Stars Victory Vs+ Review (PlayStation 4)
Who would win in a fight, Goku and Naruto, or Yusuke Urameshi and Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo? What about a team of Ichigo Kurosaki and Luffy against Kenshiro and Gon Freecss? If every one of those names filled you with a giddy fanboy/girl glee, then you're probably already playing J-Stars Victory Vs+. For anyone else who is a more casual anime/manga fan (or anyone looking for a decent game) you may want to think twice before diving into this crossover brawler.
J-Stars Victory Vs + features characters from Shonen Jump, a weekly manga anthology that's home to some of anime/manga's most famous franchises, from Dragon Ball Z to One Piece, Naruto, and more. In J-Stars, two teams of three characters (comprised of two active characters and a summonable support character) duke it out in large arenas inspired by the numerous Shonen Jump franchises. There are dozens of characters to choose from, all well-represented with their different art styles and signature special attacks.
This is all fun, on paper; its execution is so utterly lacking only the most diehard anime/manga fans will want to keep playing after the first few matches. Combat is mind-numbingly sluggish, with each character having lengthy combo animations, special attack animations, and recovery animations, so you'll spend nearly as much time watching as you do playing. The basic gameplay renders all characters feeling fairly similar. Some characters do have slight mechanical differences, and though all of their attacks look wild and incredibly different, they're mostly the same in function. Plus there's not much room for mastery; outside of a couple of advanced mechanics the only thing which will differentiate a skilled player from a button-mashing noobie is knowing which characters have special attacks they can use to pin them in infinite, inescapable combos. Virtually every fight boils down to you guarding as the enemy attacks, then attacking them while they're recovering.
Bandai Namco would have done well to look at its other Shonen Jump-related fighting games, theNaruto Ninja Storm series, to find ways of making the combat as over-the-top flashy as it is in the anime/manga while still making it more of an accessible, technically pleasing game. And though J-Stars offers a bit of a tutorial, it spends a lot of time being tight-lipped about any game mechanics beyond the most basic stuff. If you quickly want to know what the heck the Friendship & Triumph gauges are for, or what exactly a Friendship Burst does, you'll probably need to go online, and for a game this simple that's inexcusable.
J-Stars' graphics are as last-gen as they come; the backgrounds, while destructible, are unsophisticated and the textures ugly. The many character are fairly well represented in the art styles of their original mangas, but the character models themselves are lazily animated and lack detail. The music is passable, but the rest of J-Stars' sound design is excellent. Kamehamehas and shadow clones all fire off with spectacular booms and crackles, and the voice actors all sound enthusiastic and easy to differentiate from one another. The only audio options are Japanese, however, so if you're a fan of the English-speaking releases of these anime, you may be in for a disappointment.
In addition to standard modes like arcade, online battles, and free battles, J-Stars also offers Victory Road, which puts you against pre-determined groups of characters in a series of increasingly difficult battles, and an adventure mode. In the adventure mode you'll traverse Jump World, a crossover dimension featuring characters and locales from all over the Shonen Multiverse, sailing around fighting people, getting them to join your team, and watching as your favorite characters interact. Though this sounds neat, ultimately it's all kind of lifeless. The characters are written one-dimensionally, so most exchanges boil down to something like this—
Character A: Hey! Who are you?
Character B: Hey! I'm defined by a single character trait!
Character A: Hey! So am I! Let's get to know each other by fighting!
And then you're locked into yet another sloppy battle. The adventure mode offers a lot to do, but the non-fighting elements are all so flat the developers needn't have bothered. And while other crossover games likeSuper Smash Bros. go out of their way to really explore the clashing franchises with things like fun videos, detailed character bios, and more, J-Stars Victory Vs+ offers surprisingly little in the way of fan service.
In many ways, J-Stars Victory Vs+ is reminiscent of Dragon Ball Xenoverse, with its simple brawling, flashy anime characters, and even flashier special attacks. But while DBX was, at times, more fun and impressive, it was also much glitchier and more exasperating. J-Stars Victory Vs+ is more middle-of-the-road bad— it's never especially frustrating, but it's also never especially exciting.
This review was completed with a retail copy of J Stars Victory Vs+ provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.