Back in 2007, I came across a game shop that specialized in selling import games. I stumbled across this DS game that caught my attention, since the cover art had Naruto, Yugi, Goku, Yusuke, Ichigo, and other popular (and some not so popular here in the US) characters sprinkled across it. Naturally I ended up buying it simply out of sheer curiosity and I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather accessible fighting game akin to Super Smash Bros., albeit with Shonen Jump characters.
Last year, Japan was treated to a 3D version of this brawler, J-Stars Victory VS, which once again pits many Shonen Jump characters in a brawl together, though this time ditching the Super Smash Bros. rules, and instead focusing more on 3D arena combat. A year and a half later, through some miracle work no doubt, considering all the various licensing, we got an updated release in America with a brand new Arcade mode and some rebalancing of characters. So was it worth the wait?
J-Stars Victory VS+ is developed by Spike Chunsoft, the folks behind the Budokai Tenkaichi series, which is why I'm rather confused by the clunkiness of the combat. I'm not going to say that the Tenkaichi games had amazingly fluid combat, but it certainly had a better sense of flow, with attacks that connected to one another and rarely any downtime. J-Stars does have its high-octane moments, however, it also suffers from some downtime, which in a fighting game filled with over-powered anime heroes, feels like a step back.
A bulk of the game consists around picking a two-person team as well as a support character, and duke it out with similar opposition. The control scheme is rather simplistic, which is always favorable in 3D fighters as it makes learning every character a breeze, and instead allows the player to focus more on the action, rather than precise button inputs. However, the first disconnect is with the movesets themselves. In traditional 3D fighters, once again referring to greats like the Tenkaichi series, a lot of experimentation stemmed out of connecting simple melee combos with character's super moves. In J-Stars, that's impossible, because there simply is no way to connect those two. Each time you pull off a combo, there is a slight lull between the time you can pull off a super move, meaning the opposing character has enough time sidestep. This sort of disconnect means you're always either mashing combos, or you're simply throwing special attacks, never both in tandem.
Another big issue I have is with the characters having invulnerability for a few seconds after being knocked down. While on paper that sounds fair, giving the downed player or opponent enough time to stand up and gather their bearings, what it ends up actually doing is creating an incredibly boring downtime where I'm forced to watch the opponent stand around until the crosshair tells me it's once again cool to attack him. As I played the game in the office, a co-worker came up and asked me whether the fighting is similar to the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm games, at which I sadly replied no, and just imagined how much better that simple yet fluid combat would work within a game like this.
With the negatives out of the way though, I can't deny that J-Stars does have redeeming qualities. I mean, what other game lets you pit Goku, Rurouni Kenshin and Yusuke on a team against Seiya, Arale and Koro-sensei. J-Stars certainly isn't trying to win points as a technical fighter but rather showcase its ability to cater to pure, unadulterated fan service.
Even though the combat itself isn't as polished as I would have liked, it's undeniably flashy. Whether you're pulling off one of the many combos, performing a special or super attack, or simply destroying the environment around you, it's a spectacle.
That holds especially true for Victory Bursts, which can be activated by the team that's currently kicking more ass. When prompted, you can activate the Victory Burst which, depending on the pillar of Shonen Jump you have active per character, will either increase damage, defense or lower stamina consumption. While you're in Victory Burst, you can also activate each character's Ultimate. These are devastating attacks similar to ultimate attacks in previous Tenkaichi games. The action stops and focuses on the character that activated it, resulting in a grand attack that more often than not demolishes the opponent. Goku for example summons a spirit bomb which he throws at the opponent and then turns Super Saiyan and Ace from One Piece summons his giant Entei finisher.
The game is tied together through a single player mode called J-Adventure, which has you picking between four teams consisting of characters like Luffy, Naruto, Toriko and Ichigo. While they all have somewhat different encounters, each storyline is pretty similar, which makes it somewhat redundant to go back and actually play through the rest. You're tasked with sailing the seas in a constantly upgraded ship as you collect Hero Emblems for Korin (From DBZ) while encountering various team-ups of characters. The story itself is laughable and entirely skippable. The dialogue remains in Japanese with no dub whatsoever, which I personally didn't have an issue with, considering I enjoy watching subbed anime. However, the writing itself is so nonsensical that you won't get much enjoyment out of actually sitting through a bulk of it.
Your friends can jump in and help you out in story mode as well, giving them a chance to take over the AI. This is fantastic since the AI isn't always the brightest when it comes to helping you out. The only strange thing about this is the screen real estate. For some reason it was super important for each character to have their own UI on each side, making the actual gameplay screen super tiny. Sitting at a distance, it equated to looking at a 3DS screen up close.
Those who wanted a single player challenge outside of the story mode, can try their hand at Victory Road, which lets you choose a team to go up against various pre-determined characters for a test of supremacy. There's also the all new and quite devilishly difficult Arcade Mode which wasn't present in the original game. Trust me when I say you'll want to brush up on the game before venturing here.
One of the pretty neat features that further helps you build your characters in very specific ways are the unlockable J-Cards. These cards can then be slotted into a deck that further boost your stats, but also come with some downsides. For example, a card can boost your attack power but lower defense, or perhaps increase the speed at which you acquire your energy at the cost of movement speed. As the game goes on, you can unlock multiple decks so you can freely switch between them depending on the character you're using.
While I was expecting a bit more from developer Spike Chunsoft, it's still undeniably fun to unleash a team of Shonen Jump stars against each other. If you can overlook the slightly clunky combat mechanics and instead turn your brain off and focus on the fan service, you might enjoy your time with J-Stars Victory VS+.
Brimming with a variety of characters and fan service, yet lacking the fluidity of Spike Chunsoft previous fighting games. Casual anime fans need not apply.