Have you ever been deep into a Japanese manga or anime and a fighting game suddenly broke out? Probably not, but there’s really no better way to describe this game outside of its spot-on title; in a word, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle truly is BIZARRE. For those readers not familiar with the Japanese comic book series –a medium known as manga in Japan—written and illustrated by Hirohiko Araki, the one-on-one battles of JoJo focus on the comically dark and overly-twisted misadventures of the Joestar family and their allies over multiple generations as they overcome a rogue’s gallery of villains that are just as zany and long-lived. Players will want to work their way through the Story Mode in order to unlock playable characters, secret missions and other rewards, but even after they’ve exhausted the game’s narrative they can continue the mayhem in several other modes, such as Arcade, Campaign, Versus and Online.
Gamers old enough to remember Street Fighter II‘s heyday in the 90s likely remember when novelty fighters like JoJo were a dime-a-dozen; nearly every publisher in the game industry and their grandmother had a fighting game out, and this was especially true for games based on Japanese manga and anime. Nowadays however, only a select number of fighting games have managed to survive, so it’s encouraging to see that niche titles like JoJo are seeing release in the West, thanks in large part to the increased adoption of digitally-distributed games via online platforms such as the PlayStation Network. It’s also an especially rare treat to see this sub-genre of fighting game pulled off so masterfully by CyberConnect2 studio, as the world and characters of appear to literally leap off Araki’s pages and spring to life in all their violently ridiculous, macho-beef-cake-meets-bishōnen (beautiful-boy) schlock that the manga and anime are known for. (F.Y.I. There’s also transgenderism in abundance, so leave your notions of what normal fighting games are like at the door.) From a visual and audio standpoint, everything is retained, from Araki’s sketch-line work to the ham-fisted anime voice acting of the TV show. Even the music evokes the same trademark mix of weighty, orchestral tunes, hip late-70s style rock, heavy metal and 90s-inspired Japanese jazz. Anyone with even a passing appreciation for JoJo or anime in general could literally spend hours watching and listening to this game with enjoyment. However, there’s also a fighting game here, and while it isn’t terrible, it’s not incredibly deep either.
Contrary to the game’s presentation, the controls in JoJo feel very bare bones. Players have three attack buttons (Weak, Mid and Strong), an axis button that allows them to dodge into the background or foreground, a button that summons their “Stand” (a spiritual manifestation of their psychic energy) to their side as a secondary character and allowing for an additional set of attacks), and special attacks or cancels that can be enacted by pressing two or all three attack buttons in concert when their Special Attack gauge is filled. Aside from the dodging ability and the Stands, it all seems very Super Street Fighter IV, at least on paper. However, character movement by comparison to that game feels incredibly sluggish, and the move sets as a whole are so limited that players will likely find themselves spamming the same key attacks over and over until they win. In an apparent nod to SNK’s King of Fighters franchise, the Story Mode mixes things up a bit by giving the player and or his opponent buffs and or weaknesses that affect gameplay for the duration of the match. Confident players can choose to accept the challenge as is, or before the match begins purchase up to three player buffs from a merchant to help even the odds. But none of it really enriches the experience, it only makes the tougher fights and cheesier opponents feel more surmountable.
It’s likely that fans of JoJo and CyberConnect2’s other games will be able to overlook the simplistic fight mechanics in exchange for the near-embarrassing overdose of Japanese fan service that the game offers. Every fighting arena and the environmental gimmicks that occur within them are spilling over with visual references to the series that fans are bound to appreciate, and just about every menu screen, sub-option, mini-game and line of dialogue is punctuated by outrageous Japanese voice acting, all translated into English via subtitles. While there are 32 playable characters to choose from in total, the countless cameos by other principal and minor characters are hilarious, and you’d be hard pressed not to burst out laughing at character names like “Robert E O Speedwagon”, “Esidisi”, and Hol Horse” or fight taunts such as “How deep can I go? BALLS DEEP!” (actual baseballs are involved if you must know) on first sight. That said, if you’re not a fan, you probably won’t be able to give the game a pass as easily, as the story and relationships between the characters are bound to confuse. In fact, of all the manga/anime-inspired games this reviewer has played, JoJo is one of the laziest when it comes to catching up newcomers on actual story events, choosing to summarize the most bizarre and important moments via pages of text in-between fights, without even a single illustration to accompany them. This results in the newcomer not only feeling confused or indifferent to the story and characters, but also make the fights themselves seem pointless, as none of the actual story points play out on the screen like they do in CyberConnect2’s other anime titles, such as the Naruto games.
To conclude, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is a novelty fighting game that has been lovingly crafted for fans of the series alone. If you’re not a fan but your interest is strong enough that you’re willing to do some additional research to get up to speed on the story, and you have an equally enthusiastic friend to play multiplayer with, then the game’s $50 CAD price tag might be well worth the investment. But if not, save your money. All the fan-service in the world amounts to very little in the end if you’re not already among the converted.