A stone mask that gives humans vampiric powers, a jewel that can give birth to the ultimate life form and beings that exist through the will power and heart of their hosts. These are the elements that create the world of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. For years, fans of the illustrious manga series have been awaiting a video game to coincide with these adventures. That call has finally been answered by the combined talents of Bandai Namco Games and Cyber Connect 2, who are experienced with manga and anime based titles. With the reputation of the books and the developers on the line, does the game stand up to the fans’ expectations? Let us channel our Hamon energy and find out.
The first thing to note about the game is the many modes that are available to you. Story mode gives you the chance to play through the entire JoJo storyline, which is a great homage for fans of the manga and a great way for newcomers to find out more about this game’s history. Campaign mode allows players to fight against avatars of other gamers, as well as bosses, to win extra customisation options for your favourite fighters. Versus mode will test your skills against the computer, a local friend or an online combatant. Practice mode allows you to test out characters moves and hone your fighting skills. The final two modes, Customise and Gallery, are where you can check out your unlockables. Customise will let you change aspects of fighters taunts and phrases, whilst Gallery will let you see any artwork or character models you have obtained.
Story Mode is split amongst eight different parts, correlating to the eight parts of the manga series. In these parts you will take the role of the appropriate characters as you do battle against your foes with unique effects. These effects can range from lowered health, decreasing heart meter and being forced into certain modes. This makes every fight seem different and difficult, making it an enjoyable experience. However, if you are struggling with these fights, you can use your gold, earned by fighting in any mode but campaign, to buy support items. These items can either help benefit your character or degrade the effectiveness of your opponent. This is completely optional and is not forced upon you, making it a nice touch for more casual players or those struggling to use certain characters.
The story itself is told well with voice acted segments and text detailing the events in the book series. It is key to note here that the game is voiced in Japanese with English text, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. To go with these there were only a few moments where the translation was slightly off in the text, but it was simple grammatical errors that can and will be patched out.
To unlock all the characters in the other game modes, you must complete the story mode in its entirety. This can be tedious for players who wish to play some casual matches with their friends. With this in mind however, it begs the question: is the story mode good enough to make the unlocks worthwhile? The answer is yes. The story will allow you to play and test out every character as well as learn about the JoJo universe. Combine this with the gameplay and you have a match made ideal for the game. Try not to be put off and instead use the game mode in order to learn who your favourite characters are whilst you are unlocking them.
The fights in All Star battle are completely fabulous, just like the manga. Every battle acts like a panel in the book, with their own unique poses, iconic moves and environmental hazards. The fighting can be a little difficult at first for anyone who has played traditional fighting games such as the Street Fighter series. Some manoeuvres such as a quarter circle punch (Hadouken) may not perform a projectile but instead perform a series of continuous punches, kicks or nothing at all. Instead you must find out what combinations work for what characters and what moves are performed. This adds to the games challenge by making every character feel different, which is a huge plus. With this in mind, characters are split into different combat styles. Hamon users are able to channel their energy to raise their heart meter while Dio Brando, the only vampiric fighter, can drain health from foes and freeze them solid. Mode users can switch between different forms that can either increase damage dealt, reduce damaged received or change their combos entirely. Stand users, the most iconic fighters in the series, can either fight on their own or with their stand beside them during battle, changing their move sets. Finally we have horse users whom, as you can imagine, can ride a horse during battle to change their entire fighting style on the fly.
A problem with the initial Japanese launch of the game was with the damage output of moves and the frame drops that would occur on certain attacks. In the European release, patched to update 1.04, these problems have been fixed. Damage dealt feels a lot more accurate and frame rate drops are non-existent. Everything from throws to special attacks deal the amount of damage you would expect them to, making a ninety nine or sixty second fight go at a regular pace. You have three buttons for attacks as well as the X button that, with directional input, can make your character dodge. As well as this the R2 and L1 buttons are quick input buttons, with R2 being a throw and L1 being your Great Heart Heat attack that requires two filled heart meters. These powerful and iconic manoeuvres are the most devastating, and can be difficult to hit depending on what character you play as. End your combo strong with one of these and you are almost guaranteed a solid victory.
Campaign mode is a little difficult to understand at first, but can be the most enjoyable mode next to fighting fellow players online. In here you are able to unlock a variety of customisation options for all the characters, ranging from colour palettes to exclusive outfits taken straight from the manga. Here, you use energy, shown as a battery with green slots, to search for opponents to fight. These foes can be either avatars, a copy of a real world player, or a boss who can drop the most exclusive gear. If you are defeated by an avatar, the corresponding player gets a collection of points that can go towards the world leader boards. To maximise your winning chances, you can use either support items or special events. These events are triggered by random and can either help regenerate your energy, deal damage to your current opponent or help you find a certain boss. Boss encounters are rare, but every time you encounter them the rate of bumping into them again is increased.
This is where the game has a questionable practice. Support items, unlike in story mode, are purchased with real world money instead of in-game points. That’s right, micro-transactions. There is both a plus and minus side to this. Good because it is 100% optional and is never forced upon you. You can also acquire these items as daily log in rewards or as rewards for beating a certain point threshold. The bad is the fact that these micro-transactions are in the game at all. After you complete the entire story mode, you have enough gold to purchase a plethora of items. There is no reason as to why you can’t use this to buy the support effects instead. Yes you may not gain any more gold whilst in the Campaign mode but that would be the added challenge, to balance out both your gold and energy usage. The fighting mechanics of the game already emphasise the use of strategy over long combinations, why can’t the mode do the same? This is probably the biggest let down of the games design. A questionable practice in my eyes, but if you do wish to invest into the game go right ahead. It is your decision.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures: All Star Battle is a title that does not try to stick with other fighting game similarities. This is a charming touch and works as a strength to the experience. With strategy over combination, an immersive story mode and even the addition of an Arcade mode for western players, the game is ideal for any fighting game and JoJo fan. With that said, however, there is the question about the use of micro-transactions. While they are placed for a reason and it is never forced onto the player, making it something you can ignore entirely, it is just a shame to see that you cannot use your in-game funds to purchase the same useful buffs. But if you are not concerned with this addition and just want to play the game for what it is worth, then you will not be let down. This is definitely worth the title of the most fabulous fighting game on the PS3.