By Phil Schipper / October 30th, 2015
|Title||J-Stars Victory VS+|
|Release Date||June 30, 2015|
|Platform||PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita|
|Age Rating||Teen (ESRB)|
I actually bought J-Stars Victory VS+ just so I could make characters like Goku and Naruto fight each other. When I sat down and played it, though, I found that it was pretty different from the fighting games I’m used to — even compared to the slew of Dragon Ball Z and Naruto titles that continue to come out all the time. It is, all told, a fairly surprising kind of game.
Two-on-two is the standard format. Teams start off on opposite sides of a huge, fully-3D arena full of obstacles, then choose their targets and have at it, trying to earn three KO’s to win. Combining jumps with multiple types of normal attacks, as well as stamina-burning special attacks that really show off the character’s abilities (Goku’s Kamehameha, for example), fighters blow each other away with spectacular-looking combos. Unlike most fighting games, these combos aren’t connected to arcane button-pressing feats: most depend on, for example, how many times you press Triangle and Square, and in what order.
While these bursts of close combat are intense, there is probably more time spent on the approach. Will you charge up your stamina first, potentially resulting in some kind of transformation for most fighters? Will you dash straight towards them, hoping to perfectly time a running attack? Maybe you’d rather jump down from a building (assuming nobody smashes it), or try a ranged ability if your character has one. The person who hits first is likely to continue damaging their opponent, so, in my opinion, this is what makes or breaks a fight for either side.
There’s a strong team element, too. If you happen to be there when your partner knocks an enemy into the air, you can follow up and juggle that enemy with a single button press. Tag-teaming a weak target isn’t a terrible idea, but it does open you up to a cheap shot from the other opponent. Regardless, if your team does well, you’ll get the chance to start a Victory Burst. The music changes with a slightly cheesy cinematic, then both partners get a significant boost of power for a minute or so. At this point, you can also burn about half of this boost by using your character’s ultimate attack, dealing massive damage if it hits. There’s enough for two ultimate attacks, so part of the strategy is whether to use up both or leave it to your partner.
If you’re playing by yourself, these considerations amount to a handful of basic strategy orders that are mapped to the D-pad, and seem to have only some small effect on your partner’s AI. Far better to bring in a second player to control the other character. The strange thing is that the split screen is vertical, which does feel really awkward and ugly. Worse still, in my opinion, is that you can’t have a local four-player match, although two players can duke it out and bring AI partners if they want. All game modes are playable — and fun — with one or two players, but in essentially every scenario two-player is just better, vertical split-screen or not.
The graphics are a miracle of cel-shading to me: on the one hand, the characters and stages look exactly as they did in their anime or manga forms, rendered in 3D with extreme faithfulness to their original 2D styles. At the same time, they all look perfectly matched together in this common environment, as if they were designed to go together in the first place. That actually mystifies me somewhat when I consider how many artists, how many different aesthetics went into the different source materials. How they did it, I don’t know, but I’m impressed.
Music in this game is kind of an interesting situation. As a product, J-Stars Victory VS+ comes with a default soundtrack that’s admittedly pretty mediocre. However, although you may be stuck with the menu themes and other songs that it comes with, the battle music is completely customizable. You can replace each song individually with any MP3 file on your system, which turns out to be very easy to do. There’s even a specific slot for the Victory Burst music change so you can pick that out too. When I realized that I could do this, I have to admit that I went wild transferring songs to my PS3, and now every match feels that much more exciting.
Fans of dubs may be sad to hear that only Japanese voices are available in this game. While I personally am fine either way, others I played with were pretty disappointed that they couldn’t get the voices they were familiar with. However, I really can’t blame the localizers — many of the properties involved have either been dubbed by competing studios or not at all. It would be even worse to have characters voiced by English actors that don’t even match the ones we know.
The variety of characters is definitely nothing to shake a stick at. Besides the obvious big names like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and Dragon Ball Z, each of which is very well represented, I was happy to see some of my lesser-known favorites such as Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, and even D. Gray-Man. Between all of the fully-playable characters and a smaller roster of support characters (which you can summon in battle to get you out of a bind), there are about 70 characters representing something like 30 different Shonen Jump titles.
Of course, no modern fighting game would be complete without some kind of story mode, and J-Stars Victory VS+ has a surprisingly fleshed-out answer to this. It is, essentially, the same story more or less regardless of which of the four “arcs” you choose–each one features a different trio of heroes from a mixture of different series. The leader of your group is told by a mysterious voice that a Jump Tournament is being held, and the team that wins will get any wish they’d like granted. He’ll set off in a ship to sail around the map of Jump World, where people and places from the different series are packed into one world. Upon getting to the voice’s source, the four playable groups run into each other and become rivals, racing to win.
Different locations throughout Jump World will feature main story objectives or side quests, which involve either searching the world for items or, more often, getting into special fights (sometimes with one-on-one combat or tougher losing conditions). Just about everything is accompanied by long stretches of dialogue that allow each character to get a small piece of the spotlight. This is necessary because, not only are all of the playable characters represented in some way, but often other characters that didn’t make it in will show up for the story. It works well when you know the series that’s being talked about, but unfamiliar ones get pretty tedious pretty fast. Some events will lead you to get ship upgrades that open up more of Jump World and make it easier to navigate. All told, each of the four arcs is about eight hours of gameplay by itself.
All told, this is a game that has a baseline of being pretty fun. However, the more series in it you know and enjoy, the more you’re going to get out of it — that basically determines whether you’ll truly enjoy it. Having a second player around is also a huge boost. Personally, for me, it was an amazing game most of the time, but I also can’t fully recommend it to people that aren’t into anime. If any of the names I mentioned excite you, though, definitely consider this game. Prices vary by system and edition but generally you can get it new for $45-60 USD.
Review copy purchased by the author
Bandai NamcoBleachDragon Ball Zfighting gameNarutoOne PiecePlayStation 3PlayStation 4PlayStation VitaShonen JumpSpike Chunsoft