“I love Jojo and I love fighting games, so I will definitely love this.” That was my thought process going into Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle, the new 2D fighting game that has surprisingly received a western localization from Bandai Namco. I was hyped and ready to dive into the game, but my feelings coming out were more mixed than I expected.
In reality, All Star Battle is not the kind of fighting game I love. It looks and acts like one, borrowing heavily from Capcom’s decade-old Jojo fighter, but comparing the two any further feels unfair. All Star Battle runs at 30 frames-per-second, the movesets can be incredibly awkward and unbalanced, and in general the game just feels slow. Nothing about this game says that the developers were going for a strong core fighting experience. In other words, All Star Battle is less about being a good game and more about capturing the essence of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
All Star Battle is fanservice taken to an almost unimaginable extreme. Basically every pose, attack, and line of dialogue for every character in the game can be traced back to a panel from the manga. It’s truly a sight to behold: whether it’s witnessing Dio’s classic time-freeze steamroller attack or Joseph Joestar’s goofy idle animations, the visuals of All Star Battle are lovingly crafted to perfection.
The game is distinctively Jojo, both in its look and mechanics. If you taunt on an opponent who has fallen down, the camera zooms into a pose, which not only looks stylish but drains the enemy’s meter. Every stage is based on a specific arc of the manga, complete with distinctive art styles and stage hazards. Characters like Speedwagon and Steven Steel guide you through all of the game’s menus. Perhaps the game’s greatest strength and weakness is that it builds the playable characters almost entirely around references to their story arcs, which is great fanservice but can sometimes restrict the game design.
Without the core appeal of playing a fighting game, All Star Battle needs to hold your interest through less traditional means. To that end, it offers a variety of modes to choose from including the standard Arcade mode, along with Story and Campaign modes. Arcade is simple enough, offering the usual randomized AI fights, but the real draws are the other two modes.
Story mode covers the events of the first seven Jojo arcs, using the character roster to recreate some of the most iconic fights from the series. Considering the effort that went into perfectly recreating the characters in 3D, I was surprised at how cheap this mode felt: the entire story is told through short text boxes with fights thrown in to keep your interest. Story mode condenses the majority of the plot, and the battles have very little variations to make the mode stand out from the typical arcade mode. The only thing the mode adds to the mix is specific challenges to most every fight, which involve performing moves that actually happened during the manga.
My whole time playing I kept wondering who exactly this mode was made to please. Newcomers should really stay away, as major plot points are revealed in the most unsatisfying ways possible, while Jojo veterans are unlikely to be impressed by the low production values of retelling. Either way, the play time for going through all the arcs is very short, with the only extras involving playing all the fights from the opposite perspective, despite the story unfolding the same way. The story mode is surprisingly lame addition, with the only real incentive for playing being to unlock the entirety of the roster.
Probably the strangest mode is Campaign, which works like a mobile phone game without the mobility. In this mode you “search” for boss characters, which upon defeat drop various rewards like extra taunts, color palettes, and alternate costumes for the entire cast. To search for these foes you use up a point of energy from a meter at the top of screen, which recharges over time.
The scheme here is that there’s an item shop available for you to pay real money for special perks, like a quick battery recharge or getting the boss with the drops you want to appear. They say time is money, and that’s really how it works here: either you pay or you wait. It’s a system developed to test your patience in attempt to get into your wallet, and I’m just kind of baffled as to why this mode is in a console game that is being sold as a full-price product.
I actually spent more time on this mode than anything else in All Star Battle, but not because I was enjoying it. This is the hub of unlockable content; if you want anything that actually appears during matches then slogging through this mode is mandatory. In order to get that content, you have to play match after match against the standard weak AI bosses in order to whittle their health down. And that’s if you can even find the boss you want in the random searching system!
It’s hard to look at this as anything other than a “Bandai Namco needs money and isn’t afraid to take your time hostage to get it” mode. There’s random perks thrown at you like paying energy to find a specific boss or free recharges, but they feel more like a “please don’t stop playing!” gift than charity. Not once did I feel inclined to buy an item, instead my only temptation was to shut the game off. I really wish these unlockables could have been placed in a more interesting concept akin to SoulCalibur’s Weapon Master or Mortal Kombat’s Challenge Tower, but instead all we get is a glorified grind.
Rounding out the package is the online multiplayer, which is similarly underwhelming. Maybe I just have bad luck after 20+ matches, but anything other than what the game considered to be a perfect “blue” connection resulted in hilarious lag. Whether it’s the constant interruptions by a message informing you about the game’s desperate attempt to maintain connection with the other player or input lag so bad that your character appears to have developed a mind of its own, the netcode is just poor. Forget having a competitive fighting game experience, even messing around with a friend proved to be a futile exercise.
All of this isn’t to say that All Star Battle is completely irredeemable. Despite my apprehensions towards its fighting mechanics, I enjoyed All Star Battle for the first few hours I played it. It’s a fun game to play around in (as long as you do it locally) with a staggering amount of detail to every character and stage. Unfortunately, All Star Battle failed to keep my interest beyond that, as both a fighting game and a fanservice game. My lingering hope is that at some point this game gets a sequel that either strengthens its core fighting mechanics or gives a comprehensive single-player experience, until then I’d say All Star Battle is little more than serviceable.
Food for Thought:
1. Akin to Bandai Namco’s free-to-play fighters like SoulCalibur: Lost Swords and Tekken Revolution, All Star Battle’s Campaign mode is forces you to be connected to the internet. It makes sense considering the free-to-play-esque environment the mode has, but it’s a shame that the majority of the game’s best unlockables are sealed off in this manner, eventually becoming unobtainable whenever Bandai Namco decides to shut the servers down.
2. There’s a whopping nine DLC characters available to buy on top of a thirty-two character roster, and I still wish there was more. It’s a testament to how fun and quirky the universe of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is that almost every character idea would be fun to put in a fighting game. Personally I’m hoping in an update or sequel we get to see Stroheim from Part II and Mushikui, the sniper rat from Part IV.
3. Joseph Joestar’s “Your next line is” move has to be one of the greatest ideas for a fighting game ever.
4. Since Part VIII is still ongoing, it gets the least representation out of all the arcs. I was amused by the developers’ solution for the story mode covering this arc, but I wish Josuke 8 had a little more to say to everyone than variations of “I’ve lost my memories!”