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J-Stars Victory Vs+

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Chunsoft
Release Date: June 30, 2015 (US), June 26, 2015 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'J-Stars Victory Vs+'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 30, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

J-Stars Victory Vs+ is a fighting game that features Manga/ Anime characters from over tons of different Shonen Jump franchises including One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z and much more.

Weekly Shonen Jump is a manga collection that's published in Japan. Characters like Goku, Luffy and Naruto made their debuts in Jump, and countless characters, both popular and obscure, have graced its pages. It's no surprise that the publication has a long history of crossover games ranging from RPGs to puzzle games. What makes J-Stars Victory Versus+ stand out is that it is the first of these games to get a North American release, which was previously considered an impossible licensing quagmire. Unfortunately, this title doesn't make the strongest first impression.

The cast is huge and delves into Jump's long history. Popular characters from manga like Dragonball Z and One Piece take center stage, but there are characters from loads of different manga. While there are noticeable absences in the lineup, it's more than balanced out by characters from the new Assassination Classroom to the classic YuYu Hakusho. There are 39 playable characters in all and 13 support characters who can be used in battle but aren't playable. Not all favorites may have made it in, but the variety is good enough to satisfy Japanese comic book fans.

J-Stars is a competitive fighting game based on an arcade-style 3-D combat engine. It's slightly different from the usual fighting games in that it takes place in large, open 3-D environments and tends to emphasize positioning and movement. This is based on 2v2 battles, and the goal is to knock out opponents enough times to fill up your victory gauge and win. You have a light attack, a strong attack and a special move button. The special moves vary depending on the direction you're holding and whether you're blocking. Movement involves a straightforward charge and side-to-side dashes. Every movement action or special move uses up some of your stamina bar, which can be replenished by charging up or by attacking enemies. Each player can access a victory burst, which can power up their characters, and the ability to summon a non-playable support character to attack the opponent.

Combat feels a little stiff. While you can get into the groove of things with some practice, it never feels natural. Movement and dodging always feel a little awkward. I've played comparable games, like the Gundam vs. Gundam titles, and the difference is pretty extreme. In particular, I wish dodging were more intuitive. In playing the game alone and with other people, that became one of the biggest sticking points. Dodging attacks felt so stiff that it threw off the pace of combat and left people feeling frustrated against spammy characters who otherwise should've been easily overcome by simply dodging and weaving through their attacks. Combos feel pretty canned and basic and in general everything feels a bit too heavy in awkward ways. You can adjust to it, but it isn't as comfortable for pick-up-and-play parties as Power Stone or Super Smash Bros.

One thing I really appreciate about J-Stars is that a lot of time and effort is put into making sure each character plays in a way that's true to the anime. For example, Dragonball's Goku is heavily based on fast-paced air combos, beam attacks and rapid movement at a high cost to stamina. This means he'll spend a lot of time powering up before launching into fast-paced Dragonball Z attacks. On the other hand, Hunter x Hunter's Gon favors fast-paced melee combos that set up his slow-moving special moves, so you must plan ahead and bait your opponent into a powerful attack. Every character feels distinctive, even characters from the same series, and that's impressive considering the huge and diverse cast list.

Unfortunately, this effort at canonical accuracy comes with balance issues. Some characters can perform absurdly long combos that turn a single hit into death or near-death. Others can reliably spam high-damage attacks from a distance. No character is unbeatable, but especially when you're playing against other people, it's clear how unbalanced the game is. This won't matter to players who just want to use Korosensei or Ichigo to beat up the AI, but competitive play becomes pretty tedious. There are some balancing elements in the addition of a J-Deck mode, which lets players lightly customize their characters, but this works against weak characters as much as it favors them.

A more significant problem is that combat gets really repetitive. Despite the variety and changes in gameplay, you end up repeating the same things over and over. Some characters don't have enough tools to make gameplay varied and fun, so you'll find one or two bread-and-butter combos and repeat them. There's very little flexibility in the system, and once you find a solid combo, it is more effective to repeat it rather than take advantage of the character's complete repertoire. Fighting games tend to settle into comfortable patterns, but J-Stars becomes one-note too quickly for its own good.

There's a variety of gameplay modes, including some that were added from the original Japanese version. There is a Victory Road mode, which is effectively a trip through various anime and manga environments while fighting a variety of foes. There's also a more traditional Arcade mode with a handful of rounds. Local and online multiplayer modes are also available.

The most significant single-player gameplay mode is the J-Adventure mode, which is a light RPG mode. There is a plot line for four major characters: Ichigo, Luffy, Naruto and Toriko. We follow each on a quest through an amalgam of Shonen Jump worlds. The four modes are nearly identical except for the featured character. You can choose your favorite character and hop into the Jump world, where you're given access to a boat and can travel around a world map seeking enemies to fight and items to collect. As you progress, your boat will be upgraded, and you'll recruit more characters, so you can access new quests and locations.

Alas, J-Adventure mode is a bore. Most of the time, you'll visit a location from a show where the characters make generic comments, give you an item, and send you on your way. There are some fun cross-character conversations from time to time, but it is underutilized. The actual questing involves driving your boat around the map to locations and perhaps getting in a fight. Due to the cast of characters, the fights aren't very sensible most of the time, so you'll find yourself in training matches against random clones. For such a flavorful game, it's disappointing that the Adventure mode is so lacking.

J-Stars is a pretty good-looking game, although the PS4 version is an obvious port of the PlayStation 3 iteration with little in the way of improvements. The game runs smoothly, and the environments and characters look great, though some of the character models appear a little stiff. The audio is kept in Japanese, which may be disappointing to those who are fond of dubs, but it's understandably necessary considering the huge diverse cast. Fortunately, everything is subtitled so players won't miss much. The game generally does well, and it's tough to complain when so much love has been expended on the tiny details.

J-Stars Victory Versus+ has a lot of heart, but that heart doesn't guarantee good gameplay. Players who are looking to see a slam-bam mashup of their favorite fighters will have some fun with it, but the unbalanced and repetitive core gameplay and lackluster story mode don't do the game any favors. The title is boosted somewhat by the obvious love for the properties, but at the end of the day, the gameplay needs to be better to keep up. There's still fun to be had, but J-Stars Victory Versus+ is for die-hard fans only.

Score: 6.5/10

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