We can guarantee that almost every review of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven that you read will, at least once, mention that it's a better experience if you're a fan of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - a statement that seems bafflingly obvious. As the property's name suggests, the popular anime and manga series revels in the bizarre, and as is usually the case with licensed Japanese titles, Eyes of Heaven pulls no punches when referencing the source material. Simply put, if you don't know JoJo, then you're probably not going to be interested in CyberConnect2's latest brawler to begin with.
Having said all that, even existing JoJo fans should temper their expectations before diving into this one. Eyes of Heaven does away with the one-on-one, technical duels of solid PlayStation 3 title JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle and replaces them with two-on-two team battles that are as chaotic as they are flashy. The attention to detail and faithfully recreated visuals are what we've come to expect from the talented developer, but it's the beat-'em-up's gameplay that disappoints.
Unlike the previous release, there's just no edge to combat this time around. All of the same madcap attacks are in place and the playable character roster is bigger than ever, but slapping the last game's assets into a fully 3D arena brawler - in which you can jump and climb around the environment - has resulted in a clumsy fighter that feels both overly finicky and frustratingly lacking in impact.
There's no huge amount of depth to be found, either. Each character has access to a basic combo chain that can be added to with heavier attacks - which usually knock your foe down, halting the action until they get back on their feet - and a slew of special moves that can be tied into your offensives or used on their own. On top of that, you can launch finishers with your partner when you have the resources available to spend, and doing so unleashes a cinematic clash that's at least a treat for the eyes.
While there are some more advanced techniques that you'll see veteran players using online - such as utilising quick sidesteps in order to continue combos - combat is just too touch-and-go to be truly compelling. The outcome of almost every exchange is decided by who gets the first hit, with the victim only able to escape to safety once they're swatted away and lying on the floor. This stop-start approach to each encounter holds back the pace of every match, and in turn, proceedings usually devolve into spamming your safest ability in a desperate attempt to strike before your opponent - who at this point will likely have the block button taped down.
Thankfully, things do become more enjoyable when you're playing with others - away from the unreliability of the artificial intelligence. Unsurprisingly. brawling alongside a human partner unlocks the potential for more tactical play, as you flank busy enemies and take advantage of things like increased damage when attacking from the rear. You can even take the fight online with a friend by your side, but it's worth mentioning that some players have already discovered team combinations that are seemingly unstoppable - spamming specific attacks that form unending combos when used with the right timing.
Needless to say, balancing is an issue in Eyes of Heaven. Many characters appear to be completely outclassed by others, and although there's a great amount of variety to be found throughout the playable cast, chances are that you'll find a fighter who's got good effective range and stick with them. After all, you're always going to be looking for that first hit.
Meanwhile, when it comes to modes of play, only one component really stands out - and that's story mode. In typical fashion, heroes and villains from across the JoJo universe have been brought together and now must kick the crap out of each other in order to discover just what the heck's going on. On paper, it sounds like the same old and tired anime tie-in formula, but in practice, it's actually pretty well done.
This is mostly thanks to the understanding that CyberConnect2 shows for the source material. The story mode is packed with nicely implemented references and features of a ton of original dialogue that, a lot of the time, feels surprisingly genuine. Watching JoJo's most important personalities converse and get together for a good bout of fisticuffs should always result in a crazy but fun time, and that's exactly what's on offer here - it's just a shame that the gameplay doesn't do enough to carry the mode further.
It looks great and it's bursting with appreciation for the source material, but JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven just can't detach itself from its disappointingly shoddy gameplay. Fun for a few bouts now and then, this is a brawler that doesn't quite do the original work justice - even if its nicely crafted story mode will keep fans entertained for at least a few hours.