Friday, July 24, 2015

J-Stars Victory VS+ Review (PS3)

Shonen Jump fans rejoice! Then get really disappointed!

Just for the record, I bought J-Stars Victory VS+ the day it came out and I'm just now getting around to writing a review for the blasted thing. Why is it taking me so long to write this article? Was the game so terrible it put me into a comma for a month? Was it so unbelievably amazing that my life became consumed with the game that I ignored my loved ones for days as I just stared into the television and letting the game turn my brain into mush? Naw. Honestly, it's just really difficult to write a review for a disappointing game like this one.

To get the basic stuff out of the way, J-Stars is a fighting game on the PS3, PS4, and Vita, featuring a giant cast of characters from the manga pages of Shonen Jump. For all of you readers who aren't into anime and manga, Shonen Jump is like the Japanese equivalency of Marvel Comics, and holds the biggest names in the history of the medium. Series like "Bleach," "Naruto," "One Piece," "Fist of the North Star," "Yu Yu Hakusho" and even "Dragonball Z" have all graced the pages of the magazine. This game holds a roster featuring over fifty characters from this magazine's forty-seven year history. For a Jump Fan, this game is a dream come true. Finally we'd be able to settle debates between who'd win in a fight between Goku and Kenshiro. Turns out its Goku.

Anyway, let's dive into the game by talking about the core of the game itself and that's it's fighting mechanics. The game features a "Two-On-Two" style of combat. Four players split up into two teams. The players then enter into combat against the other team's players. The first team with three-out-of-five knockouts is the winner. Ideally, how the game works best is when two players fight against each other and you've got two battles running on the same map. However where this all falls apart is when two players team up against a lone single player. Because of how the blocking mechanics work in this game, which we'll talk about in greater detail later, it becomes impossible to recover from getting attacked from both sides until your teammate comes to rescue you. This can lead to some unfair moments where a player will get brutally pounded into the ground and keeps getting stuck in the combo because he's unable to fall onto the ground. While this might sound like getting caught in an "Air Juggle Combo" in Tekken, the difference here is the player get caught because the game's blocking mechanics are broken as apposed to using skill to preform an unbreakable combo. This can happen with any character as well, so its not like one character is simply more overpowered than the rest and keeps causing this to happen.

But let's talk about these blocking mechanics for a minute, because it's easily the worst aspect of the game. Ultimately. the game is set up on a "Rock, Paper, Scissors" style of combat. You've got Light Attacks, Heavy Attacks and a Block. The idea is, Block will stop a Light Attack, a Heavy Attack will break a Block, and a Light Attack will interrupt a Heavy Attack. Well this would be fine, if the Block was worth a damn. You see, you're character has an energy meter next to your health, on top of the energy meter controlling how often you use special moves, it also controls how long you can block for. Even against the Light Attacks, the energy meter starts to fade at an alarming rate, and once that energy meter is depleted, your guard breaks and you're left open from an attack by your foe. Not only that but the block only works in the front and there's no way of avoiding damage from an attack from behind outside of a dodge move, which doesn't get you out of the way fast enough for it to be effective. But this goes back the issue I was talking about in the last paragraph, where this becomes a major problem if you're getting attacked by two players at once. Assuming you have enough energy to block the attack from the front, if the second player runs up behind you, its an instant death sentence and there's nothing you can do expect wait for your teammate to help you out.

Another broken aspect to this game involves when your character becomes invincible after getting knocked down. To help make the game a little more fair, when a player get knocked to the ground after a combo, they become temporally invincible. The idea is you don't want one player to relentlessly attack another player while he's on the ground unable to block or counter attack. The problem comes from when the character is able to pick themselves back up. After they get up, the invincibility effect last for about five seconds before it fads away. Meaning, there's a period where that player can rush towards another character and attack them while the other player is unable to counter attack or defend. To go back towards the "Rock, Paper, Scissors" gameplay for a bit, the only way to defend against a Heavy Attack is to preform a Light Attack to knock them off balance. Well, if the player is invincible while preforming the Heavy Attack, there's is nothing you can do to stop the attack outside of trying to dodge the attack. Even though the targeting system in the game will tell you when a character is and is not invincible, the ability last for far too long and can give an unfair advantage towards some players.

But that's not to say the game is completely unbalanced. When it comes to the characters, each one operates a little differently from the next. For this example, we'll look at two characters, Yusuke from "Yu Yu Hakusho" and Seiya from "Saint Seiya" (Previously known in America as "Knights of the Zodiac").

Yusuke is a sniping character. His Special Ability is the Spirit Gun. Unlike other characters' projectile attacks though, not only can Yusuke charge the Spirit Gun to have it do more damage, but Yusuke is the only character in the game who can actively charge his projectile attack and move around at the same time. Other characters like Goku are stuck in position when they charge their projectile attacks and it leaves them open for an attack, but Yusuke can run around the map to avoid attacks while charging his own. On top of that, the Spirit Gun has the quickest firing rate of all of the projectiles, so you can shoot off multiple blast at a character from a distance to throw them off balance. The downside to his character is he's not the greatest at close range attacks, and he can be dominated pretty easily from a hand-to-hand fighter like Kenshiro. So while the distance aspect does give  you a good advantage, Yusuke isn't invincible because of it, making him a great character for beginners to latch onto.

Seiya on the other hand is not only a close distance, hand-to-hand fighter, but his special moves can be a bit dangerous to use. Reason being is that it'll leave Seiya open to multiple attacks if the attack doesn't land. Seiya's projectile move basically has him launching himself halfway across the battlefield towards another player, but if that player steps out of the way, it'll take a good five seconds for Seiya to recover. But if that land hits, it'll deal up towards twenty percent of damage towards that player. Same goes for his close distance special attack where Seiya grabs the player and throws him into a spinning suplex for a massive amount of damage. That attack leaves him open for a few seconds before he can preform the move, which is plenty of time to get hit by a series of Light Attacks, but not only that, but like the other move, its easily avoidable and if the attack doesn't land, it'll also leave you open for yet another series of light attacks. So Seiya is a character that works off of the "High Risk, High Reward" style of play. While he can be frustrating to use at first, winning with his character is extremely satisfying.

Every character in the game is worth exploring and there's enough verity to make online matches between friends interesting. My personal favorite character is actually Tsuna & Reborn from "Reborn!". He's a quick nibble character who deals heavy blows in close quarter combat. He basically uses guerrilla tactics. Rush an enemy, deal out a couple of powerful hits, dash away before he can recover. I find his style of play to work best for me and it's fun to get people locked in that special move combo that send them flying into the air.

But let's talk about this roster for a minute, because its possibly the biggest marketing lie about the game. While the back of the box will tell you that there are "Over 50 characters from 32 different series," what the game doesn't tell you however is that about half of these fifty characters are Assist Characters. This basically means while you can summon those characters into battle, you can't directly play as them. While some characters make sense as an Assist Character, like Kuroko from "Kuroko's Basketball" and Lala from "To Love-Ru," there are too many who feel like miss opportunities for really cool characters, like Allen Walker from "D. Grey-Man" and Kagura from "Gintama." It also makes you wonder why certain characters got to become main playable characters, like Ace from "One Piece" and Bo-bobo from "Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo." While I can understand Ace's popularity, I don't understand why they'd pick him over other "One Piece" characters like Chopper or Nami, and I just don't understand the appeal of Bo-bobo or why anyone in their right mind would mind that pile of trash funny. I'm getting off topic but you get the idea.

This also leads into the never ending conversation of Jump characters who were left out of the game. We could be here all night talking about the massive number of characters they could of added to this roster, Train Heartnet from "Black Cat" Clare from "Claymore" and most damnable of all, Dio from "Jojo's Bizarre Adventures." But instead of complain about the lack of characters in the game, I'm actually going to look at this as a positive thing. Why? Because it gives them reason to make another game. When it comes to most anime related game titles, the first entry into the series is hardly ever the best one. Normally the second game in the series is the one where it irons out a lot of the bugs from the first game, while the third perfects it and majorly improves the roster. My case in point is the Dynasty Warrior Gundam games, because they followed that exact pattern and I'm hoping this game will follow the same path. With the second games, throw us a few more characters and iron out the issues with the invincibility and guarding, and once that's down, give us another game with the mind shattering roster that only Jump fans will dream of.

But the roster also lead to another problem that isn't really the games fault, but it does present a really frustrating aspect to the game. You see, one of the great things about this game is its ability to act as a form of gateway drug for series you might not of heard of. I've been in the anime community for a long time now and even I haven't heard of half of the characters in the roster. So while you play as some of the characters you're unfamiliar with, you'll begin to get interested in where they came from. For me, I became drawn towards Ryotsu, who's a model building police officer from a series called, "Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-me Hashutsujo." I wanted to learn more about him and read the series he came from, but I ran into a problem. This series has never been available in the US and it doesn't even have a fan supported translation. So I'm kinda stuck and I won't be able to learn more about this character until his popularity rises enough for a state-side release, which let's face it, will never happen. There are a few characters in the game with this problem. So while its a good gateway drug, keep in mind the dealers aren't going to keep that high going for very long.

The last thing I'm going to talk about in this article is the story mode, because it is something that needs to be talked about. The story mode is broken into multiple "Arcs" featuring different characters. Not that this really matters because each person's story is the same experience at the end of the day. Your group of characters is summoned by the "God of Jump" to partake in a fighting tournament. You sail around the world fighting other characters until you reach the point in the story where you come across the real reason the "God of Jump" has summoned you. Basically this evil energy from outer space is copying the heroes abilities and want to destroy the world. As you might of guessed its your job to stop them.

My problem with the story mode isn't so much how generic and dry the story is, but how its told. Like so many anime games before this one, the game tells its story with static images of the characters on screen while standing above dialogue boxes. There's little to no voice acting in the story mode outside of popular one liners and grunting noises. So the entire time you're just staring at a lifeless scene reading this story that isn't worth your time to get invested in. You have these larger than life characters finally getting to interact with each other on screen and they're just grunting at each other. I'm not saying every cut scene needs to be something out of Metal Gear Solid, but give me a little verity. Maybe when you encounter big baddies like Frezia or Roah, give them a scene with them firing a few warning shots at Ichigo. Or better yet, give me voice acting throughout so I'm not just listening to generic covers of the music from the anime. The story mode needs more life to it, outside of just boring fetch quest and fights against shadow clones of your characters. Not only because this game needs some major spice to its single player experience, but these characters deserve a better adventure than this. I would of been stratified with a game-only filler villain as well, but this game doesn't even give us that at the end of the day.

There's also a card section to the game, but you can completely skip it. The idea is as you go through the story mode, you'll get to buy these coins that can be used to get random cards you can use to build a deck that suppose to effect your character's stats during a battle. The cards are just of the characters and a few side characters that appear in the story mode, but you're supposed to pair the cards up with similar cards to improve your stats even more than just randomly placing cards in the deck. Well here's the thing, this part of the game doesn't work. I've gotten over a hundred different cards during my playthrough, tried dozens of combinations and I've never noticed a difference in my character's abilities or skills. This part of the game is a huge waste of time and should only be done if you're into getting the platinum PSN trophy.

Although, as you play with more of the modes that are in the game, you'll find yourself drawn towards a few you'll love to play as and you'll want to actually go up against human players. Which brings me to multiplayer. While I've only experienced online mode in private groups with friends, I've yet to have a bad experience playing this with other people. This parts a little hard for me to explain, but the game does this great job of bringing up fun conversations while playing it. Maybe because this game is ultimately a celebration of the Jump fandom, but whenever I play this game with my buddies, we just go on about how much we like these characters, what characters we wish were in the game, and just general fun conversations about Shonen Jump. For all of its short comings the game is still a lot of fun to play and its even better when you play with a bunch of anime fans. So based on that experience alone I do recommend the game as a whole.

While the game has a bunch of problems with it, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a good time. Its just a shame its not better.

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