Japanese manga’s Western exposure is as prominent as it’s ever been, and not just in written media. Dragonball Z continues to enjoy success across the US and Europe with reprints of its already-concluded series, a live-action movie, and of course several video game releases. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure however has not shared the same success. It’s had previous video game releases of its own, and is a phenomenon on its own shores. With All Star Battle, the series makes a big case to be noticed, and even give Street Fighter a run for its money.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is a 2D fighter with 3D elements; essentially a mash up of Street Fighter IV and Dragonball Z. All the best aspects in fact, from its depth of fighting styles to its flamboyant visual style. JoJo is wonderfully simple to pick up, with three attack buttons, an accompanying sidestep and a moves list that any Street Fighter aficionado will get to grip with within seconds, and that’s just for starters.
There are five different ‘styles’ that characters use in JoJo, each one more flamboyant and downright mental than the last, from comically-extending limbs to fighting on horseback. Yes, horseback. There is little to the imagination in JoJo world; a world of adventure, fantasy, over the top dramatics, and quite frankly insane characters. Pacing is of a slightly slower nature, a la BlazBlue, and each stage has its own obstacles littered around, such as chandeliers falling from the ceiling, frog rain, all triggered by the actions of the two characters duking it out.
Although not knowing the series myself, I still found it all very enjoyable, in fact the ‘WTF’ factor gives it something unique over any fighter I’ve ever played before. The typical Street Fighter-executed moves, a standard we’ve all come to accept from other non-Street Fighter games fits in perfectly, and the different styles on offer ensure it is far more than just a clone. It does suffer slightly in its uneven pacing; characters’ walking speed is snail pace but one move could take you across the screen in an instant, much like Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Visually, JoJo has wonderfully drawn sprites that capture the eccentric characters perfectly, in their blatantly-camp glory. The action is fast and fluid, and is often a fantastic feat on the eyes. The stages are much the same – all key locations from the manga, perfectly rendered for any fans’ dreams. Story mode is also there as a fan service; it follows each of the several story arcs of the manga, but as someone who doesn’t know the series, the basic ‘press X through several quotes only fans will know’ just meant nothing to me. A quick video recap, or anything more than just pages with three lines of text would keep it interesting. Even for fans it’s just a skim over at best, and as story mode is necessary to unlock all the hidden characters in the game, it feels a bit empty and at times a chore.
Campaign mode is a somewhat novel on-line feature, pitting you in one-round matches against ‘boss’ opponents, gradually wearing them down with the assistance of items and multipliers gained from previous battles. The AI comes from ghost data stats built from other players, and while your health bar can be bound by restrictions each battle, it regenerates if you can hold back for a while. The whole thing seems rather cheap and may well get the fighting purists riled up on message boards, but it’s actually quite original, very addictive, and perfect for those who love unlocking items to customise characters appearances.
In fact, Campaign mode offers the most original unlockable content in the game, plus the menu system is narrated through in typical anime fashion, which proves equally as entertaining and enjoyable as it is enthusiastic and eccentric. Add in your standard versus mode for both offline and online combat, and there is plenty to keep fighter and or anime fans busy. A surprising omission is there being no tutorial mode, usually a given for any fighting game, so anyone unfamiliar with fighters could feel lost at first, given the wacky content and the different styles, which aren’t initially explained.
Ultimately, if you strip out all the wacky colours, stages and anime madness, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is a fantastic fighting game; easily accessible with plenty to learn. But this is a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure game, and the subject matter is dressed perfectly atop to create a wonderfully eccentric and enjoyable experience very few games have ever achieved. The lack of a focused narrative for Story Mode looks like a poor assumption that only fans will pick this game up, but the good news for Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2 is that I just became a fan.