Like a sine wave, my interest in hyper-earnest, ultra-cheesy shonen anime rises and falls as the years pass me by. I’m not sure if we’re experiencing a renaissance, or if reaching my early 30s has reawakened some cast-away penchant for bombastic heroism, but the fact of the matter is that shows like Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia have me in their thrall. Maybe I just like to indulge in the media equivalent of junk food every once in a while. For a craving like that, My Hero One’s Justice is just the ticket: It’s a noisy, colourful showcase of My Hero Academia‘s signature brand of superhero action that’s accessible to any fan of the show with a baseline understanding of fighting games.
The world of My Hero Academia is populated primarily by superhumans with “Quirks,” or special powers that typically manifest during childhood. These tend to be incredibly specific in terms of both mechanism and application; one character can make objects levitate, but only if she touches them first, while another can consume sugar to boost his strength while sacrificing his cognitive abilities. The main premise of My Hero Academia is that in a superhuman society, some people will naturally use their Quirks for evil, and so a curriculum for training would-be “heroes” exists to keep villains in check.
I mention all of this exposition because My Hero One’s Justice is a straight retelling of the anime on which it is based, beginning with season 2 and moving into season 3. This makes it an awkward point of entry for the uninitiated, and while its premise isn’t especially difficult to digest, it is jarring to start in the middle of an ongoing story. Existing fans like myself aren’t likely to wring much out of the game’s story mode for the same reason. Its hasty recaps of big events, told through static images pulled directly from the anime, leave much to be desired in terms of presentation. Those pining for new narrative content may want to focus on the My Hero Academia manga instead.
Yet the story is far from being the main attraction of My Hero One’s Justice. This one-on-one fighting game—well, three-on-three, if you count summonable sidekicks—pits popular faces from the My Hero Academia universe against one another in flashy bouts that showcase their bizarre superpowers. The gradual discovery of each character’s Quirk is one of my favourite aspects of the show, and it’s exciting to see how they translate to a proper fighting game. Every person in the roster feels totally different from the next; electric playboy Denki Kaminari lays shocking traps for his opponents, while raven-faced Fumikage Tokoyami commands his alter ego, Dark Shadow, to juggle enemies with fast-powered punches at medium range. It’s the sort of game that makes players and onlookers alike exclaim “whoooa!” when a character unleashes a particularly dazzling special move that leaves their opponent laying defenceless in a human-sized crater.
The “wow” factor generally makes up for the lack of technical depth in My Hero One’s Justice. That’s not to say there isn’t any strategy to employ, but a relatively limited move pool for each character and floaty physics keep things on the more accessible end of the fighting game spectrum. There are three attack buttons, including a standard strike that continues into an auto-combo if the player continues pressing the button and two Quirk buttons with effects that vary from character to character. Technicality comes into play with the passive attributes certain moves possess, like super armour (allowing you to endure an enemy’s strike while attacking) and “grabs” that break through an enemy’s guard, though these don’t always take the form of literal grappling techniques. The superhuman nature of My Hero One’s Justice‘s characters means that their Quirks often have additional wrinkles, such as Tomura Shigaraki’s ability to create dead zones on the field with his decay powers, or Eijiro Kirishima’s hardened skin adding super armour to almost all of his attacks. In my experience, My Hero One’s Justice is far more interesting to play against a human opponent thanks to the mind games made possible by its mechanics. CPU battles tend to fall flat and opponents can be easily exploited.
In case it isn’t yet clear, My Hero One’s Justice is squarely aimed at fans of the show. Continuous play unlocks cosmetic customization options and slogans for the player’s online profile, as well as genre-standard fare like an artwork gallery. One unusual caveat: A huge chunk of the unlockable content is tied to character voice clips, which would otherwise be unremarkable, but My Hero One’s Justice only features Japanese voice acting, and there are no subtitles for battle cries. I find this vexing on two levels; one, the excellent English dub for My Hero Academia has been an integral part of my engagement with the show, and two, I can’t imagine non-Japanese speakers wringing much enjoyment out of voicework they can’t understand. At the very least, providing subtitles would have been an acceptable compromise.
The best way to have fun with My Hero One’s Justice is to grab a fellow fan of the show and go to town in the local Versus mode. If that isn’t an option, the game’s rudimentary Mission, Story, and Arcade modes provide a smattering of objectives to keep solo players busy until the cracks start to show. It’s not the deepest game around, but sometimes it’s nice to kick back with a competitive fighter that trades complexity for plus-ultra anime zaniness.