Created to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Shonen Jump, J-Stars Victory VS+ is a Smash Bros. style celebration featuring characters from dozens of series and battle arenas from their iconic locations. It’s a fun and accessible package, where even if you’re only familiar with a few of the series featured in the game, you can still enjoy what J-Stars has to offer without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.
J-Stars features all the modes you would expect from a fighting game. There’s a story mode called J-Adventure with four different paths, each following a different team of characters. Victory Road is J-Stars’ version of a challenge mode. The battles here are more challenging than the ones in J-Adventure and also ask you to perform certain tasks into order to fully succeed. There’s also an arcade mode, which is new to this release, where you fight six matches in a row.
J-Stars features online and offline multiplayer through the online battle and free battle modes respectively. You can also play the J-Adventure mode in local co-op. Finally, there’s a gallery mode that goes into the history of the series featured in J-Stars and gives detailed descriptions of each of the characters.
Controls are half way between the accessibility of Smash Bros. and the more complex setup of an arcade fighter. Each character has a strong attack and a weak attack which can be used to create combo attacks. There’s also a special attack which changes depending on which direction you push the analog stick. You’re also able to dash and guard. The beginning of J-Adventure mode gives you a basic tutorial on how to play that shows you the basics. There are more tutorials available through some of the early side quests, that go into the finer details of the game’s battle system. Once you’ve got the basics down,though, you’re good to go and you’ll likely naturally learn what is taught from the early side quests just by playing.
The battles themselves are a team based affair. Most battles are 2v2 but occasionally you’ll have a 1v1 or 3v3 battle. Instead of simply emptying your opponents HP bar, battles are won by the amount of KOs you earn. If your team is playing well by successfully landing attacks and blocking hits, you’ll increase your Voltage Gauge. Once full, you can activate a Victory Burst, making your team more powerful and enabling them to use their ultimate attacks. You can also work with your team for a tag team melee attack, but these seem like a random occurrence with a small window of opportunity to take advantage of them. Battles take place in a large arenas based off iconic locations from the featured Jump series such as Planet Namek from Dragon Ball Z and Alabasta from One Piece. They’re all fairly large and feature destructible environments. I liked the accessibility of the battle system—it makes J-Stars feel like a game that anyone can pick up and play, and be able to pull off the cool moves these characters can perform.
One thing I’ve found with the game is that some of the characters flow better in battle than others. The roster features more of the action based characters but sometimes it feels like I can’t connect my normal combo attacks with special attacks very well for certain characters. This might just be an issue of me needing more practice since playing through the J-Adventure mode, you do end up playing the more popular characters.
Naruto has quicker, weaker attacks. Luffy’s attacks require putting some distance between yourself and your target since he stretches out his arms. Goku is sort of in between the two, with both close range and long range attacks. When playing as Gintoki from Gintama, I felt clumsier. He’s a slower character but his attacks don’t seem to connect and flow together as well as some of the others. The game’s roster is a large one with over 30 playable characters to choose from and 13 characters that can only be used as support characters. Within your team, you select a support character that you can summon at a press of a button to deliver a quick attack. J-Stars also looks really impressive, with every character looking faithfully represented in 3D, retaining their look from their respective manga.
The J-Adventure mode is an entertaining what-if story. In true Shonen Jump fashion, a mysterious entity has called out across the Jump World, announcing a tournament to take place with the winner being granted one wish. The huge cast of characters eventually split into four teams, hence the four paths you can choose from to play. You travel around Jump World via a boat that you upgrade throughout the adventure, eventually turning it into an airship. There’s a mini-map in the corner that informs you of your current objective as well as the location of side quests. Side quests can be as simple as a support character joining your team, instantly completing the quest. Some are fetch quests: you’ll be told a location to search around and you’ll have to find and bring back a certain item. There are also just normal additional battles with characters you might not normally come across in your team’s adventure path.
The story itself is light but the enjoyment comes from seeing these different characters interact and have to put up with one another. One of my favourite characters I’ve come across is Ryotsu from This Is Kamerai Park Police Station, Katsushika Ward who gets around by cycling on his bike and one of his special moves is building a toy helicopter which acts like a drone, shooting at nearby enemies.
I’ve enjoyed my time with J-Stars more than I thought I would. I’m by no means the biggest Jump fan or a fighting game aficionado. I’m only familiar with a handful of the series featured in J-Stars and my own fighting prowess doesn’t extend far outside of Street Fighter. Nonetheless, while it doesn’t have the level of polish or quality that Smash Bros. has, it seems the most apt comparison given what J-Stars tries to accomplish. It’s a fun fighter—one that’s simple to grasp and not bogged down in complexities—that really focuses on celebrating these long running and well loved characters.