Bandai Namco’s latest anime based game J-Stars Victory VS+ is every Shonen Jump fan’s dream cross-over on the PlayStation 4. Many people who identify themselves as hardcore video game fans have at some point become anime fans. Both mediums often tend to be paired up together at conventions and stores that sell one or the other. If you know anything about anime or manga, chances are you’ve probably come across one of the many Shonen Jump manga and anime series. The Shonen Jump weekly manga first began print in Japan back in 1968 where it became home to very popular series over the years including Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Naruto. Many of these series that were printed in the weekly manga publication finally come together for the first time in J-Stars Victory VS+ on the PlayStation 4.
Having watched many of the shows referenced in the game, I was familiar with some of the characters I ran into during my time playing through J-Stars. But there were also plenty of characters and shows I had never seen before, most of which were really obscure series from the earlier days of the weekly manga. There are a total of 52 characters that make an appearance from 32 Shonen Jump anime and manga series. But don’t expect to have 52 fully playable characters to use in matches, as many characters are limited to being Assist characters that are not directly playable. Out of the 52 included, only 39 characters are directly playable while the rest are assists characters that only briefly appear in battle.
The actual fighting gameplay mirrors a lot of the same formula and mechanics that you would find in the Naruto Ultimate Ninja and Dragon Ball Z Tenkaichi games. Teams of three characters face off against each other and attempt to KO opponents for points, the first team to three points wins the match. The setup of the fighting isn’t bad, but the controls and the camera can be atrocious at times depending on where and who you are fighting. Every character you control has the same basic play style with moves that are only different in flashy visuals and series specific traits.
I felt the game’s fighting became duller the longer matches went on. The camera constantly zooms in too close on characters and the background while matches play out on screen. The way that fighters and their move sets are balanced also brings down the fun factor of the gameplay, as some characters are incredibly overpowered in their damage output more so than others. This made for times where I would select three characters all the time and ignore the rest of the game’s roster.
There are two main game modes that allowed me to unlock most of the characters. The main campaign called J-Adventure has you exploring a large map that all of the Shonen Jump characters reside in. The plot is very shallow and only acts as a small reason to get everyone in the same place. There is a faceless deity that summons all of the Shonen Jump heroes to join a fighting tournament and save the universe from an ancient evil. No more, no less than that. While exploring the map of J-Adventure, you can accomplish small quests and compete in side-battles that attempt to pad the story into being something bigger than what it actually is. There are four separate arcs to choose from, each with their own starting characters and teams and dialogue sections that have all of the different Jump characters interacting with each other.
The second gameplay mode is Victory Road, where players fight through teams with extra objectives to achieve during the matches. This works similar to the game’s traditional Arcade mode but with an extra twists to it. Victory Road is long but definitely not as interesting or dynamic as J-Adventure, nor is it the most ideal way to unlock all of the playable characters. The worst aspect about all of this though is the limitation in how you unlock characters in both modes. Completing matches allows players to obtain J-Points, which can be spent in the J-Store to unlock a variety of items for J-Adventure and the rest of the game. However you can only purchase and unlock characters when you level up a Friendship meter in J-Adventure mode, a meter that increases you complete matches and increase your Friendship level.
In addition, there is also an Effort and Triumph level that must level up in order to open more items for purchase in the J-Store. This was the most annoying and useless aspect of the game that not only hindered my ability to unlock all the characters when I was able to, but served no other purpose in relation to the gameplay itself. There were plenty of times I had enough J-points to unlock the entire roster of playable and support characters for all game modes, only to be stopped by a Friendship level that wasn’t high enough.
The multiplayer modes in J-Stars are meager and really don’t lend much to the total experience. You can play against a friend locally in VS and have those dream matches between characters, but multiplayer allows for up to four people to play at a time. The battles in multiplayer only highlight more of the game’s shortcomings and don’t lend more of a fun factor playing with other human beings. There are some extra goodies in the form of cards you can collect that change up some stats of the team you select, with each card being based on a different character.
There is also a small series description section that gives only the slightest of background on the series and characters featured in the game. This feels like a huge missed opportunity to entice players to check out the different shows. I fully expected to see more information about characters I never knew about or even more details about the shows they come from. The quick one or two sentence descriptions of the anime and manga series and their characters featured in the game did nothing to get me into looking more about them.
J-Stars Victory VS+ is a fan service game that only really caters to those hardcore anime fans that just want a quick moment to waste. Mashing up every Shonen Jump series is a neat idea that should be explored again despite the gameplay being poorly executed here. The camera and balancing issues of fighting can be annoying and really drag down the experience for anyone. If you’re looking for the ultimate anime based action game, then you would be better off looking towards Bandai Namco’s Naruto Ultimate Ninja series instead.
This review was based on a physical copy of J-Stars Victory VS+ for the PlayStation 4 provided by Bandai Namco.