Imagine this: all your favourite manga and anime icons thrown into one star-studded, high octane 3D brawler. That, my friends, is exactly what J-Stars Victory VS has to offer – a completely over-the-top mashup with a cast full of Japan’s greatest cartoon mascots. From Luffy and Goku, to Naruto, Ichigo, and many many more, this right here is a digitised slice of otaku heaven.
If you dislike manga or have only dabbled in the medium for a short time, needless to say, J-Stars won’t feel suited to your tastes. From start to finish, it oozes with referential material stretched across an entire spectrum of Shonen Jump weekly comic series. Although I like to think I have a base knowledge of anime and manga, I mostly felt nescient sifting through J-Stars’ trail of cameos and in-jokes.
Of course, those deeply rooted in the fandom will have no complaints on this front. After all, in many ways, J-Stars is a game built almost exclusively for them. Outside its bulging roster of playable characters are dozens of supporting cast members, each stripped from the pages of their respective manga series. Although the novelty is lost on me, it’s easy to imagine fans’ excitement as they watch their favourite characters come together on-screen in a number of bizarre, one-off encounters.
Much of your time with J-Stars will be spent playing Adventure Mode. It’s here that, after selecting one of four iconic heroes, you’ll be given a ship and the freedom to explore the game’s open world. In truth, there isn’t a whole lot going on here, the multi-layered map and its network of side-missions acting as filler between battles that are crucial to the story arc. That said, it’s nice to see a developer experiment with the formula instead of simply giving players a ladder of foes to beat down, using two cutscenes as narrative bookends.
J-Stars’ combat sequences are the game’s bread and butter, in many ways mimicking other Namco fighting series such as Dragon Ball Z: Budokai and Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Storm. They’re all conducted within small, semi-destructible 3D environments that act as cages for each high octane bout. Individually, or in pairs, combatants will spawn at opposite sides of the arena before being let loose on one another. The objective is simple and carries through the entirety of the game – defeat your opponent(s) a set number of times to win the match.
In J-Stars a character’s fighting prowess is determined by a number of aspects. Although, statistically, they are all fairly even, each one is set apart by his or her own moveset and abilities. For instance, many will favour melee fighting styles whereas others can hang back, establishing a distance from their quarry before depleting their health with a volley of ranged blasts.
While learning the ropes J-Stars feels like lots of fun. Although the combat system has its depth, there’s an equal amount of satisfaction to be had when hammering buttons aimlessly, watching as your opponent crashes through buildings and foliage. A couple or so hours in, however, the excitement of these battles will begin to wane. In short, they all feel far too similar, no matter your approach. It will eventually come down to the same sequence of attacking, waiting for your opponent to fall, then blocking, before starting over. Powers such as guard breaks, parries, and ultimate attacks help to liven the flow of combat, but sooner or later you’ll fall into the same rhythm.
If not for J-Stars’ spot-on presentation, battles would feel like even more of a grind. Tapping into Shonen Jump’s historic manga catalogue, the game is able to bring its cartoon characters to life in a convincing fashion. Although this same fidelity isn’t carried into the cutscenes (which also lack English audio), it really stands out during the fights, whether you’re playing on PlayStation 4 or Vita.
Manga die-hards are bound to get a real kick out of J-Stars Victory VS+. The level of fan service here is on point and there’s a solid fighting game to back it up. That said, after just a few hours it begins to lose steam, becoming less and less appealing as something you’d want to play for long sessions.