Bandai Namco does it again. They’ve taken another crossover title that I thought would fall into licensing hell (and land on my import list) and jumped through the hoops necessary to get it localized. At this point, I don’t even care if the game sucks, they deserve my money on account of just doing the impossible. Bravo.
For the unfamiliar, J-Stars Victory Vs+ is a crossover fighting game featuring characters that have appeared in Shonen Jump. Even if you’ve never heard of Shonen Jump, I’m confident you’ve at least heard of series that originated there. Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach… these are practically household names in the world of anime and manga. And now you get to live out your “what if” fantasies about what would occur should they meet and pick a fight with one another.
Despite featuring fifty characters across thirty different series, the plot in the J-Adventure mode is anything but imaginative. There are four different story arcs, each one featuring a different character (Naruto, Toriko, Ichigo, and Luffy). They go on a quest to participate in a battle tournament and in doing so, recruit an assortment of other characters along the way. At the beginning, you have nothing but a boat and a mysterious voice to guide you, but the boat gets upgraded as you progress and new areas on the world map open up. Additionally, progress unfolds like a traditional RPG; you visit towns for information on where to go next, enemies attack you in the field, and every fight gains you experience points. There are even side quests to unlock new support characters and gain cards for customization.
It doesn’t matter which story arc you choose, the adventure unfolds almost exactly the same way. The only difference (and by extension, the main reason to play it) is the banter that occurs between your active party. It’s a clash of egos in almost every instance that a new face appears, and it’s rather amusing to see how their conversations unfold. Characters such as Master Roshi and Nami make cameo appearances and while they don’t participate in the fighting directly, they offer advice on where to go and offer further amusement in their reactions to the things you do and the people you have in your party.
Winning battles will earn currency that can be spent at an in-game store to purchase new characters and items to boost your active party. You’re limited to how many you can buy at first, but more slots will open with natural progression. J-Cards that you find and purchase can be applied to a board and boost your fighters. The cards may add additional attack or stamina, or subtract stats depending on the nature of the card. It’s essentially this game’s version of customization and while it’s not particularly in-depth, it can give you an advantage when needed.
In addition to J-Adventure, there’s an assortment of other modes that you can tinker with. Arcade will pit you up against six consecutive teams, each sharing in a theme. Victory Road matches you up with opponents with specific prerequisites to fulfill, not unlike the SoulCalibur games. There’s also Free Battle which lets you customize fights as you please, plus there’s a mode for going online to fight ranked battles. Sadly, there is no cross play between versions, so you’ll have to take care to buy the same version of the game as your friends if you want to play with them.
Unlike Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars for the DS which was more of a Super Smash Bros. clone, J-Stars Victory Vs+ is a two versus two 3D fighter that takes place in large destructible arenas. Each character can perform a light attack with square, a heavy attack with triangle, and a special/finishing attack with circle. Pressing an attack button in combination with a direction or shoulder button changes up their moves. Characters can also jump, dash around the arena, and block attacks. The fact that the characters have such similar methods for performing moves and combos makes it easy to experiment and jump into other characters, though their fighting styles vary so much that you’ll find yourself gravitating towards a select few.
Victory doesn’t come from simply draining the health of your adversaries. Instead, every time you KO an enemy, you get a point added to your total. Once you’ve hit the required number of points (usually three), you win. This means a weak teammate can easily lead to a loss as it doesn’t matter which character gets knocked out to get awarded points. Special attacks and other actions, such as guarding or dashing, will suck up stamina, and allowing it to run out will leave you defenseless. Each team also has a support character that can be called in to launch a devastating maneuver when you’re in a bind, though once used, they get placed on a temporary cooldown. Another meter sways back and forth depending on the momentum of the battle and forcing it to either side will give one team a Victory Burst, enhancing certain statistics and giving them an opportunity to perform their Ultimate Attack with R3.
The biggest issue with J-Stars Victory Vs+ is that it just simply doesn’t function very well as a competitive fighter. The best combos are performed by mashing the same attack button, and knocking an opponent down leaves them in an awkward period of invincibility, which allows them to fight back unabated. Once you’re caught in a combo, there doesn’t seem to be a way to escape it short of having a comrade come bail you out, and you can accrue a ton of damage while laying on the ground defenseless. And then there’s the Ultimate Attacks, that can sometimes suck up ¾ of your health in one blow and cover an incredibly wide area in some cases.
That being said, playing against computer opponents is entertaining, especially when joined with a co-op buddy offline (you can even play J-Adventure with two players). The arenas are massive, and knocking enemies into building and watching them crumble is incredibly gratifying. And with the number of franchises represented here, the level of fanservice glee to be had is unparalleled. In fact, your level of enjoyment will likely be proportional to the amount of characters you’re familiar with.
Even though the characters come from a wide range of different artists, the game manages to maintain a visual consistency. They’re all rendered in 3D, but the cel-shading is done in such a way as to give the illusion that the cast leaped right off the pages of a manga panel. That being said, the game doesn’t look like a PS4 game. It likely performs the best compared to its PS3 and Vita counterparts, but don’t expect a huge visual upgrade. Also, there is no English dub in the game, the original Japanese dialect is present. This makes sense, as many of the series have never been dubbed in the west, though get ready for a shock if you aren’t used to some of them. Goku’s Japanese VA in particular has never played nice with my eardrums. I was also sad to see a lack of songs from the various series and a limited number of arenas as well.
Despite its drawbacks and often repetitive nature, I had a blast with J-Stars Victory Vs+. It’s easy to pick up and play, there’s an incredible assortment of characters that couldn’t be more out of place next to each other if they tried (the serious Fist of the North Star cast versus the nose hair fighting Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo). The team-based matchups and destructible environments are also a nice bonus. Still, if you’re not familiar with the source material or are looking for a more serious fighter, you might want to pass this up.
Short Attention Span Summary
J-Stars Victory Vs+ is a great bit of fanservice for anime fans, featuring an assortment of characters from Shonen Jump including Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. It’s easy to learn and the assortment of moves makes you feel like an anime badass, especially when you send your enemies crashing through walls and buildings. It supports local two player co-op in most modes, plus you can go online and compete in ranked four player brawls. As a standalone fighting game though, it’s not very good, as Ultimate Attacks do a disproportionate amount of damage and the combat feels too awkward against non-computer opponents. Despite its drawbacks, if you consider yourself a fan of the various series represented in the game, it’s still an easy recommendation.