A long running manga series that spans generations of different bloodlines, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is just as, er, bizarre as its name suggests. The crazy creation has enjoyed something of a Western popularity surge in recent years, which has resulted in the localisation of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle – a one-on-one fighter produced by the ever competent CyberConnect2. The Japanese developer is well known for its impressive record with other licensed properties, but how well has it managed to adapt this particularly proud brand?
Perhaps best known for the popular Naruto Ultimate Ninja games, fans have come to expect high quality releases from the studio, and followers of author Hirohiko Araki's work will be glad to hear that All Star Battle perfectly captures the art style and atmosphere of the meticulously penned source material. Much like its ninja-based brethren, the title attempts to pack in as many little details from the manga and anime as it possibly can, which unsurprisingly makes for an incredibly rich experience, especially if you're familiar with the franchise.
From the menus to the special attacks and the environmental hazards on each stage, the release is absolutely soaked in both subtle and obvious nods to events that transpire in the original work, and it's because of this that fans will quickly become engrossed in the bombastic nature of the game. Newcomers, meanwhile, may find that it takes a little longer to get to grips with what's going on. Trying to wrap your head around the somewhat technical controls is one thing, but trying to do it while numerous characters pop up and strange happenings erupt during a brawl adds a whole new layer of confusion to the learning process.
It also doesn't help that there's no tutorial. There's a practice mode where you can learn how to execute various character specific techniques, but there's no guidance on the more basic aspects of the combat system, which are obviously much more important when you're picking up a fighting game for the first time. As alluded, the title provides much more technical depth than you'd usually expect from an anime-based battler, with jumps, sidesteps, cancels, and juggling combos all playing a vital role in mastering the combat. Because of the learning curve, veterans of the genre should find a lot to like here, but again, the lack of a tutorial can really damage your initial impressions, and its absence simply seems archaic in this day and age.
Nevertheless, All Star Battle proves to be a satisfyingly flashy and rewarding fighter once you've got used to its core mechanics. While it's certainly not as demanding as something like Tekken or Street Fighter, it still manages to provide a lot of depth for those willing to explore each character's combo potential. As we mentioned previously, its complexity comes as a breath of fresh air in a genre that's full of licensed anime games which tend to rely on comparatively simple systems, and it's likely to strike a chord with more hardcore players because of this.
That said, the game still features various trademarks that we've come to expect. The heart gauge which sits at the bottom of the screen is replenished with every attack that you land or every blow that you receive, and is drained when you unleash a powerful special move. With each character boasting three or four of these offensives, there's plenty to see, and executing them correctly comes with a rewarding rush as you batter your opponent in the most stylish way imaginable. In contrast to the one or two hit techniques that you'll be pulling off almost all of the time, these super attacks tend to push the combo counter to its limits, and always make for a glorious spectacle.
You'll need to use them, too, as the health bars in All Star Battle are meaty to say the least. Standard blows chip away relatively tiny amounts of the gargantuan gauge, and unless you can get a decent combo going, you'll likely be shocked by how long it can take to floor your foe. However, this actually ends up working to the game's advantage: because each round can take near a minute or so to decide a victor, each contest feels like a suitably epic clash that's absolutely chocked full of brutal specials and breathtaking reversals. Even if you're playing the role of a spectator, there's no question that the release does the equally dazzling source material the justice that it deserves.
Topping off the technical side of things are different character types. Keeping in line with the manga, the release features combatants who utilise hamon – or life energy – stands, which are Persona-esque beings that the user can command, and there are even a couple of mounted characters who fight on horseback. As you can imagine, these traits give a decent sense of variety to the roster, with R1 linked to type-specific actions. Hamon fighters can charge their heart gauge by holding the shoulder button down, stand users can summon and dismiss their allies, and mounted warriors can ride or jump off their steed. Each class of character has their own advantages and disadvantages, with hamon battlers being closest to your average fighting genre combatant, and it goes without saying that the varying personalities and styles on offer can create some utterly crazy match-ups.
In order to unlock the full cast, though, you'll need to smash through the title's story mode. Usually a component where anime fighters tend to falter simply because they struggle to fit their huge narratives into a cohesive but efficient tale, All Star Battle unfortunately succumbs to all of the same problems that we've sadly come to expect. The mode takes you through the different chapters found in the source material, and has you brawl in some of the key battles from that particular arc. Fans will be able to duke it out in their favourite showdowns, but newcomers to the franchise will be left almost clueless as to who's who and what's going on. The fact that the plot is dealt out in small bits of text compounds the problem further, but at least there's a somewhat detailed glossary available for those who want to delve further into the series' lore.
Elsewhere, the release's other modes of play are your standard fighting game affairs. Arcade mode pits you against a number of random opponents one after another, but it includes a nicely implemented high score system. Versus mode allows you to tweak the rules of engagement however you see fit, and the gallery offers a multitude of artworks to purchase with gold that's earned by beating the snot out of just about anything or anyone.
The one mode that does differ from the norm is campaign. It's a strange premise that has a lot in common with free-to-play brawlers like Tekken Revolution, in the sense that your actions are restricted by an energy bar. Participating in single round duels with computer controlled opponents that are based on ghost data from other players, each fight that you enter costs a certain amount of energy. The campaign component will lure you in with promises of extra costumes, taunts, and even sound effects to customise your chosen character with, but its structure means that you'll either need to spend a massive amount of time grinding through foe after foe in order to unlock everything, or spend real world money so that you can speed the process up. It's an addictive concept that provides a lot of content, especially when win streaks are rewarded with better and better unlocks, but the fact that such a thing even made it into a regularly priced retail game to begin with is worrying.
Ultimately, the mode's free-to-play bindings end up feeling unnecessary, as you wait minutes at a time for your energy gauge to refill just so that you can get back into the fight, and it's difficult not to think that the system leaves a bitter taste, especially since the rest of the release is so well made.
Thankfully, scrapping online with fellow players is a simple and fun experience. The online offering isn't particularly robust, but matchmaking seems reliable, and we encountered little to no lag. However, problems do arise due to the title's actual combat system. Like many anime fighters, the multiplayer mode is full of players who stick to one or two specific characters simply because they possess a particularly effective set of attacks, and it won't be long until you come across opponents who'll break out the same combos or special moves over and over again because of how exploitable they are. That said, All Star Battle does have a certain balance to its gameplay as it straddles the line between technical depth and button mashing. It's not perfect, but its competitive potential when playing online is instantly noticeable when compared to other licensed brawlers.
What really makes the release worth your time, though, is its presentation and visual flair. As alluded, the bizarre nature of the source material is replicated brilliantly, and regardless of whether or not you actually like the art style on display, there's no denying that CyberConnect2 has crafted an aesthetically amazing fighter. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is that the developer has managed to create a game that absolutely nails the feel of a franchise that's wildly different to the source material of its previous outings, and for that reason, it's easy to get excited for what the studio may turn its hand to next.
For fans, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is sure to satisfy almost any degree of craving for Hirohiko Araki's crazy creation. It not only manages to capture the feel of the source material superbly, but also succeeds in being a technically competent and thoroughly enjoyable fighter. The lack of a tutorial, a stunted story mode, and the inclusion of a poorly judged free-to-play component drains some of the colour from the experience, but as soon as you land that special heart attack, you'll quickly forget all about its shortcomings.