JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is hard to explain to the neophyte. Vampires, weaponized spirits, a family with an unhealthy love for one syllable, some crazy poses that outshine what you'd normally see in fashion week. The manga has been running since 1986 under the pen of mangaka Hirohiko Araki and until 2004 that was a weekly gig.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has played out in eight parts so far - Phantom Blood, Battle Tendency, Stardust Crusaders, Diamond Is Unbreakable, Vento Aureo, Stone Ocean, Steel Ball Run, and the currently-serialized JoJolion - each focusing on a descendant or relation to Phantom Blood hero Jonathan Joestar. Each protagonist has a name that adds up to the "JoJo" in the manga's title, ranging from the simple Jotaro Kujo to odd Giorno Giovanna. Some parts are direct continuations, some pick up years later, and not all of them even share the same basic premise.
Surrounding them are a host of supporting cast members and villains, many of which have music-themed names. If you're new to the series, prepare yourself for weird monikers, though many have been changed in the North American release to avoid legal troubles. Expect to see or read about the exploits of Robert E. O. Speedwagon, Dio, Santviento (Santana), Cool Ice (Vanilla Ice), Lil Bomber (Aerosmith), Six Bullets (Sex Pistols), and Esidisi (AC/DC). Suffice it to say, there's a great deal to adapt in a single game.
The honors fell to CyberConnect2, the Japanese studio behind the successful Naruto: Ultimate Ninja fighting games. They've been doing those games for so long and with such craft that the games' names just keep getting longer. (Right now, they're up to Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution, the follow-up to Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst.)
What's on display here in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle is roughly in line with the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series, showcasing a lot of reverence and love for the the JoJo series. 32 characters grace the game, with another 14 coming soon via downloadable content. Fans will miss some favorites like Rudol von Stroheim, Foo Fighters, or Diego Brando, but we can't all be winners. Most of the characters featured come from Parts 3, 4, and 5 of the manga.
The core of JoJo All-Star is based around a Street Fighter-style command system with three attack buttons and a 3D dodge button. Fighting takes place on a 2D plane within 3D stages, each with its own player-damaging stage mechanic. On top of that basic fighting system, CyberConnect2 has added the Heart Heat Gauge, which acts as your super meter; the Flash Cancel, which allows you to cancel out of moves to extend your combo; and the Stylish Move blocking mechanic, which allows you to dodge an attack if you block it right before it hits, like Garou: Mark of the Wolves' Just Defend.
JoJo All-Star doesn't feel as precise and tight as some other fighting games like the Street Fighter VI series, the BlazBlue series, or even Capcom's older JoJo's Bizarre Adventure game. Often there's a delay between you hitting the attack and actually seeing the the results of that attack, even for melee moves. Add in the fact that the game doesn't hit that magical 60 fps (30 fps only folks!), and JoJo All-Star may turn off some hardcore fighting game purists.
Like Naruto Ultimate Ninja, CyberConnect2 was more concerned with making sure the presentation of each character on screen matched what was on the page. They've largely succeeded across the board and they've created the most "JoJo" game I've ever played, but this means character balance is way out of wack. Some characters are absolute monsters, while some are just meat. That's fine because JoJo All-Star is a fan-service game; you play because you love the series, not because you need a new fighting outlet.
The characters in JoJo All-Star fit into five different categories, largely based on what Part they're from. Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency characters tend to be either Hamon, Vampirism, or Mode users. Hamon characters can charge their Heart Heat Gauge at the press of a button and can use improved EX versions of their regular moves. Vampirism focuses on draining your gauge and bolstering your health. Mode characters have a second form that powers up their attacks while decreasing their Heart Heat Gauge. Two characters from Steel Ball Run use the Mount system and can switch between normal standing modes or horseback. Finally, Stand users make up most of the cast; these characters fight using specialized spirits and can call on two different move-sets depending on if their spirit is hidden or fully-summoned.
You can unlock many of the characters in JoJo All-Stars' Story mode, which glosses over a lot of manga's story to get to the fights they can actually simulate via the character roster. Plot points in-between those fights are played out via text cards, which are honestly pretty boring. The battles themselves vary in difficulty depending on who you're stuck playing and what other conditions are available during the battle; these conditions include time limits, lowered damage, or enemy health regeneration. You can even the odds by purchasing your own boosts between matches with gold, which you earn by completing more chapters. Once you've finished a full episode (representing one of the manga's eight Parts) you can go back and play it again from the antagonists' side. Story Mode is nothing too amazing, but it's a nice trip down memory lane for long-running fans.
You'll also get the standard ranked and unranked online matches. Nothing to write home about here. The netcode isn't amazing, so it's best to stay away for opponents on the lower end of the connection spectrum unless you want lag.
Campaign Mode is where things get interesting and JoJo All-Stars hamstrings itself a bit. Campaign Mode allows you to unlock an absolutely mind-boggling number of customization items for each character, including alternate costumes, taunts, poses, and colors. That's great, but it's online-only.
See, Campaign Mode is similar to a number of Street Pass additions to 3DS games: you customize your chosen character and pit them against AI-controlled opponents. In Campaign, you never run up against a real players, just their AI Stands, making this a thematically-resonant gameplay mechanic. Win those matches and you get more stuff for your character. While you're doing that, your AI Stand is out in the internet fighting the good fight; the most you can do is keep customizing and keep track of its win/loss ratio.
After completing a match, JoJo All-Stars' micro-transaction system rears its ugly head. You have to wait two minutes (down from the Japanese version's original five minutes) to head back in and start another match, or you can pay real money to jump in immediately. It's not as punitive as it could be; in practice, I just did something else while waiting, but it's annoying on top of the $50 entry fee and the $2 asking price for each DLC character.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle is a contest for fans only. Unless you know what you're getting into here, the characters and presentation will come across as borderline incomprehensible. The fighting game itself is solid, but it isn't much to write home about otherwise. Even some JoJo fans may be turned off by the name changes in the localization and the annoying micro-transactions. But if you can get past all that, CyberConnect2 loves JoJo as much as you and it shows in this game.
Strike A Pose:
- Graphics: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle is a great-looking PlayStation 3 game, even if it doesn't rise above 30 fps. Each character's abilities are well-represented, true to the manga, and painted in the game's bright color palette.
- Audio: It's a bit repetitive at times, but CyberConnect2 did a solid job.
- Interface: The interface screams JoJo with an over-the-top presentation and Araki's wonderful character designs gracing every screen.
- Lasting Appeal: You'll polish the Story mode off in 6 hours, while the far more interesting Campaign Mode will prevent you from diving deep due to its micro-transactions.