The world of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is absolutely insane. It's a twisted mash-up of Western glam rock style and Eastern anime influences, all wrapped around the ongoing, globe-trotting tales of the Joestar bloodline. Its characters dress in eccentric outfits, strike eccentric poses, and fight using eccentric attacks and techniques. In short, it's the perfect candidate for a fighting game. Drawing from over 25 years of JoJo's story arcs, developer CyberConnect2 (Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3) has put together a fighting game that faithfully re-creates the spirit of the JoJo's universe. At times, however, the developer's devotion to authenticity causes the game to stumble.
Just like its source material, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle features a cast of characters with a strange sense of what's vogue. While this does create some entertaining combatants, it is also a double-edged sword. Because the game spends so much time showing off the eccentricities of its fighters, the fights themselves are rather sluggish. Simple acts, such as moving around the arena or performing heavy attacks, take a bit too long to perform, and these minor annoyances quickly add up. Some fighting games can use the slower pace to build tension, but All Star Battle more often leaves you anxious to hurry up and get to your next attack.
The art of fighting in All Star Battle is pretty simple compared with most other modern fighting games. There are three main attacks--weak, medium, and powerful--which can be linked together in sequence to form a basic combo. Combos can then be topped off with certain special moves, most of which use the standard, circle-based inputs seen in Street Fighter and countless other games. You can also mash the light attack button to perform a Persona 4 Arena-style auto combo, ending in a powerful super move if you have the energy to spend. And then there's the dodge button, which lets you sidestep around attacks if timed correctly.
While this does create some entertaining combatants, it is also a double-edged sword. Because the game spends so much time showing off the eccentricities of its fighters, the fights themselves are rather sluggish.
Most important, however, is the style button. Style does different things depending on the fighting style of your character. Stand fighters summon colorful allies to fight alongside them in battle, while hamon fighters can perform powered-up versions of their special moves, similar to the Street Fighter series' EX attacks. Vampirism, mode, and mounted fighters behave in different ways still with the style button, and together these styles offer a good variety between the cast members within the game's simple fighting framework. But the cadence of the fights themselves still feels off, and it's an issue that impacts the entire roster.
For those of you not already familiar with JoJo's lore, All Star Battle's Story mode brings you up to speed, albeit in the most basic way possible. Here, the visual splendor of the JoJo's manga is condensed into a few simple text snippets that you can scroll through during loading screens between fights. But while the story aspect may be lacking, the fights themselves have an interesting twist. Individual fights in Story mode come with some special conditions layered on top--such as the enemy's health automatically refilling or your attack strength being cut. You can give yourself an edge by spending in-game currency to purchase power-ups that can negate these penalties or boost your own stats. This simple metagame between battle conditions and power-ups adds some variety to the standard versus match, and I would have loved to see these items and battle conditions expanded even further.
This simple metagame between battle conditions and power-ups [in Story mode] adds some variety to the standard versus match, and I would have loved to see these items and battle conditions expanded even further.
While Story mode is pretty straightforward, All Star Battle's Campaign mode is not. In this mode, you start with 10 blocks of energy, which are spent to search for opponents to fight. By defeating these opponents, you unlock new customization items--such as taunts and victory poses--for the roster. Theoretically, when you run out of energy, you can't fight anymore; however, the game trips over itself to make sure you always have more blocks to spend. You can also spend real-world money to purchase more energy blocks or the sorts of power-ups found in Story mode, but in my time with the game, I didn't have the need to do so. As it exists now, the whole energy system feels unnecessary, making this an odd variation on the otherwise sufficient Story mode.
With its wide assortment of fighting styles and character gimmicks, All Star Battle desperately needs a mode that teaches you the nuances of its cast--a mode that is sadly absent. Instead, you get a few tooltips in each character's move list, but these are insufficient teaching tools for learning the full complexities of certain characters. Case in point: Jotaro Kujo has a special attack called star finger. This is an unblockable attack with a very long startup animation performed by Kujo's stand. The skill description for star finger says it's "a corresponding skill for stand rush." Stand rush is something that is not explained in Kujo's move list, the controller layout, or seemingly anywhere else in the game. As it turns out, stand rush lets Kujo attack while his stand winds up for star finger. This is a pretty significant improvement for an otherwise unsafe attack, but you are simply left to your own devices (read: YouTube) to figure it out.
One way or another, when you feel you've mastered your chosen fighter, then it's time to head online. The online offerings for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle are minimal. Player matches have room for only you and one other person, and there is no spectating or replay support. Not being able to watch others play within the game is especially bitter since watching others is a great way to learn more about how to play your favorite characters, and as previously noted, the game lacks a dedicated education mode. In terms of online performance, the game plays well in online matches with optimal connections. Anything below that results in significant and noticeable lag, which hamstrings the fight.
For those of you out there who are JoJo's fans first and fighters second, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is, despite its flaws, still very fun to play. The game is a fantastic vehicle for re-creating the iconic scenes and match-ups from its source material, is easy to pick up and mash out combos, and is every bit as stylish and emotive as the original manga. But once the glitz and glamour fade and you dive a little deeper into this game, the cracks begin to show. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is packed with style, but simply lacks the substance to back it up.