I’m not one for fighting games, mainly because I suck at them so very, very badly. But give me the chance to play as Goku from Dragon Ball Z and I will pay you money. Although it wasn’t the first anime I watched, it was amongst the first manga I read, which led to my ongoing fascination with Japan. One of their biggest weekly manga magazines is called Shōnen Jump, where Dragon Ball was originally published, as well as a ton of the most popular manga which have been adapted into anime. It's basically action-based comics aimed at boys.
Which is where J-Stars Victory Vs+ comes in -- the sequel to Jump Superstars and Jump Ultimate Stars on the DS, formerly exclusive to Japan and released in 2005 and 2006 respectively. It’s also the Western release of J-Stars Victory VS, updated from the PS3, with gameplay adjustments based on player feedback.
The reason the series has never come over here is due to licensing issues with the characters. Funimation owned the rights to Dragon Ball characters, whilst Viz owned the Naruto rights, for instance. But whatever issues they had are now apparently sorted, as J-Stars has arrived!
I’ll start off with saying that if you’re anything like my wife, you will want to keep the dialogue volume down. The few spoken vocals are all in Japanese, which I enjoy but she doesn’t. I like Goku, Naruto, Monkey D. Luffy et al voiced by their Japanese voice actors. The rest of the sound design enhances the experience for me, as I always enjoy subtitled anime more than dubbed. After all, which do you enjoy more: Rock the Dragon or Cha-La Head Cha-La (or Dragon Soul [English] [Japanese])?
J-Adventure is the story mode and, as you would expect, isn’t the only mode; with arcade, Victory Road, Free Battle and online modes. As with any fighting game, it’s a good idea to get used to a couple of characters before attempting online play. I went for a random character the first time, and had no idea what his strengths were -- was he up-close, long-range, brawler, techniques… The difference in going from Luffy to Naruto is quite jarring, with Luffy being much more of a bar fighter and Naruto literally being a ninja. You can go into the settings and change the controls to simple mode, but then you have the problem of not quite knowing if it’s going to block or not.
Now onto the storyline -- what brings all of these disparate characters together? After all, One Piece has pirate-level technology, Naruto has ninja-level technology and Yu Yu Hakusho is basically modern-day. Well, they’re being gathered to participate in the Jump Battle Tournament on Jump World by “God, or something” (direct quote from ‘God’) for no specific reason other than it being a fighting tournament.
You choose one of four storylines to follow, from the perspective of Naruto, Monkey D. Luffy, Toriko or Ichigo as they gather a team to win the tournament and get their respective heart’s desires. It’s a storytelling tactic that I enjoy, though seeing the same things play out with no way to skip them, can be annoying.
Each one follows the same basic plot beats, but obviously each character has different motivations and inevitably clashes with one of the other teams. At times it’s like a less violent soap opera, with energy blasts and a super Saiyan.
Between battles and story sections, you explore the open world in a ship. It's a little metroidvania-like, in that you can see it all, but you can't access parts until you upgrade your ship, such as with feathers to make it float over land. Eventually you will upgrade enough to take out monsters that are swimming about. Each series featured in the game (32 in total) is represented by the most well-known locale somewhere on the map, for example Kame House from Dragon Ball or the Hidden Leaf Village from Naruto. There are usually several characters from each series that you meet that aren’t playable, which are purely for fanservice (the clean kind, not the boobs kind, though the less said about the playable Boa Hancock, the better...).
As you sail about, you come across a few random encounters which can be fights or just random funny events. You can just pursue the main quest, or go after the side quests. Usually if you ignore these long enough, they disappear and you can’t do them at a later time. There are also, of course, other ships with the enemy teams aboard which you have to fight should your ships touch.
The fights themselves are both fun and frustrating. The battle area is quite large and you can run around inside its borders, jumping onto -- and even destroying -- the buildings that are scattered about. It’s not fully destructible , but enough of it is, that you can’t just hide from all long range attacks behind things. In each non-tutorial match, you must defeat an enemy three times to win. Unlike Street Fighter and the ilk, the battle continues without rounds. If you’re in a 2vs2 battle, you can defeat one character twice and the other once, or just one character three times, as they respawn shortly after a defeat.
During the match you will fill the voltage meter, which powers your super attack. You have weak attack, strong attack and special attack, so of course you have a super attack. It’s actually called a Victory Burst, and what it does is enable your super attack, as well as give you a buff which you choose before the match. Using super attacks will drain your Victory Burst, so you have to weigh up whether you want to remain buffed, or deal one-off damage.
In battles you will control one character, whilst the AI controls the second character, but you also have access to a support character. Triggering it will do an attack or aid you, then it will require a cooldown before they can be used again.
The fights are played the same way in all modes. Arcade has you fighting battle after battle, and free battle is either you against a local player or on your own in fights of your own choosing. Online, as mentioned before, is slightly more skilled than the AI. However, there is also the Victory Road, which sees you fighting consecutive battles against the toughest opponents from various regions. You can make things easier by applying cards to your characters.
As you work through any of the modes, you collect coins and J-Points. Using coins, you can buy J-Stars cards in the J-Point Shop, and apply the cards to characters to give them boosts, in the J-Customise mode. Yes, J-everything seems to J-start with a J…
The J-Point Shop is also the place to unlock battle and support characters to use in all of the modes that aren’t J-Adventure -- the ones in the story are already unlocked. The final thing you can buy are items to customise your ship, though you don’t really ever have to buy anything -- it’s more a case of items to increase your defense.
For a game based on Japanese comics known for their longevity (Dragon Ball ran for 11 years, Naruto for 15 and One Piece began in 1997, and is still going!), I don’t know why I was expecting a short game. One run through J-Adventure takes a good few hours, times that by four and factor in re-learning how to fight due to each character handling differently, then you have well over 12 hours of just the main mode. And that’s if you’re really good, which once again, I am not.
Apart from the tediousness of re-reading the same lines from ‘God’ over and over, and lack of complex moves, there isn’t really much to complain about with J-Stars Victory VS+. It was built with a great knowledge of the characters and has a ton of replayability thanks to both splitscreen and online versus modes. Is there much more you need to ask from a game?
J-Stars Victory Vs+ (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A repetitive storyline and lack of complexity can be forgiven due to the love shown by the creators of this fun fighter.