J-Stars Victory VS+ Review

By Peter Stojanov,
J-STARS Victory VS + is a game that features many of the characters from manga and anime alike in the Jump Universe: Naruto, Ichigo (Bleach), and Son Goku (Dragon Ball Z) are just some of the characters as whom you're able to play. Originally released for Japan only, Bandai Namco then announced that it would be coming to the West with translated subtitles; as of June 30th, J-Stars was released in various countries in physical and/or digital form on the PlayStation 4, 3 and Vita. Will this amalgamation of zany Shonen Jump heroes/villains be a hit for everyone or will it only be for the fans?

Jump Characters UniteJump Characters Unite

It's difficult to adjust to the gameplay for J-Stars as it's not your standard fighting game. There are a variety of different attacks, but while there's nothing really complex about the combinations, there is a benefit to each. With light, heavy, and special attacks you can either hit someone quickly and start a chain of attacks, or you can charge up a special attack to do big damage. There are also mechanics like rushing, sidestepping, jumping, and blocking, but the stamina bar drains when using any of these. The stamina bar is the most important aspect of the combat; this is the thing to which players will need to pay the most attention as without stamina you won't be able to defend yourself or use any special moves.

This gameplay can be fun and satisfying, but the problem with it is that you only need to time your quick attacks while the opponent is charging up anything slower, rather than relying on skill. This means that you're unlikely to need to be able to pull-off any of those cool moves against opponents online or in split-screen, especially in a one-on-one situation. It can also get very annoying when teamed-up with an AI character, which is prone to getting stuck in the environment and, more often than not, will not come to your aid when you are getting surrounded by the opponents' team. The player only feels like they can rely on their Support character, but there is a cool down time on using them that leaves you depending on your awful AI friend. The lock-on feature also doesn't work too well as it tends to slip off your opponent when they are obscured for even a second. When trying to lock on to the opponent again, it could lock on to either them or their ally; in the heat of the battle a player might press the button twice, which switches back and forth between them causing confusion and, often, frustration.

A clash of the strongestA clash of the strongest

The fighters range from older and newer characters, as well as heroes and villains, providing a large assortment from which to choose. The list of playable characters contains a few questionable choices, such as Akainu, but they must be put in to be diverse. For example, One Piece is considered antagonistic and from the Marine Corps, which is different from Luffy, Ace, and Hancock (who are pirates). There are even more characters to unlock but, disappointingly, they are only Support characters. Although some of these characters are considered less known in the Jump Universe, they would have been fantastic to use and would have reached a more niche-demographic (like Allen Walker from D. Gray-Man).

The game has many modes but the best way to start is with J-Adventure. In this mode, players are able to choose from four different arcs where you play as either Luffy, Naruto, Toriko, or Ichigo as you sail around the world to notable locations and fight strong opponents from each world. This mode serves as a great introduction to basic fighting and using special moves through the tutorial in the first fights. Continuing in this mode will also help with devising your own approach to fights. J-Adventure is riddled with references to the anime/manga and it's interesting to see how they interact with one another. This mode, however, would be lost to someone who's not a fan of many Jump series or hasn't read/watched anything at all.

Entertainment from gag charactersEntertainment from gag characters

Victory Road provides ladder-type matches with challenges that appear every once in a while. Here you're able to select different characters at every stage, leave after completing or failing a stage, and begin right where you left off later. Although this doesn't have any character interactions, completing challenges gives you opportunities to earn a large amount of J-Points to spend. This mode is tedious, though, since there are a multitude of stages that make it feel like there is no end in sight. Completing stage after stage of combatants will feel repetitive. The challenges might add a bit of variety once in a while, but if you're blazing through the stages it's very easy to miss the description at the bottom and not pay attention to them. If anything, the challenges need to be emphasized to bring more attention.

Online versus is still a little rough and the controls can become unresponsive if someone in the match has a bad connection. The camera can also sometimes start to shake or move of its own accord during the match, causing a lot of disorientation and frustration. There is also the rare issue of bad matchmaking where a highly skilled player will be placed into your match, causing an unfair advantage for whomever has them. You wonder why this wasn't fixed when Westernizing the game. While this form of multiplayer is buggy, playing split-screen is actually quite enjoyable. The characters move well without any of the aforementioned bugs in online play. You're able to team-up with your friend or face off against them, and it's way better to play with a human ally than the dumb-AI that was spoken of earlier.

Example of a J-Card DeckExample of a J-Card Deck

During certain modes, players will gather coins and J-Points that can be used as currency in the Shop to buy J-Cards. These enable a customizable feature for characters' attributes and team stats for matches and each has a boost with both a positive and negative aspect. This encourages players to look at different combinations and how they would work well together in one deck, boosting one another or cancelling out negative points. With the ability to make multiple decks, players will have a variety of combinations from which to choose before going into a match, adding a strategic value to pre-matches to give you the upper hand against other players online or against AI.

The Trophies in J-Stars are time-consuming and arduous. J-Adventure and Victory Road will take players a while to complete as there is a lot of quests and stages to finish respectively. Certain play modes, like Korin's Tower Challenges and Arcade, have much harder difficulties than others so the player needs to be very comfortable with the controls and their chosen fighter(s). There are a lot of easy Trophies to obtain at the beginning while doing different modes, but once those are all attained it will be a long grind from there.

Summary

While hitting home with fans of anime and manga, J-Stars Victory VS+ isn't for everyone. The gameplay works well when players get the hang of it, and pulling off the characters' iconic moves is something that feels satisfying, despite the fact that it isn't really skillful but more a sense of perfect timing. The online versus needs some attention, but playing against a friend in split-screen is a much better prospect. At the end of the day, the game is only really playable for fans of the series, and even then only for the most extreme of those fans, as it can get repetitive and lose its entertainment value.
3 / 5
J-STARS Victory VS+
Positives
  • Nostalgia from Jump characters and settings for fans
  • Lots of different modes to play
  • Satisfying gameplay
  • Split-screen with friends is enjoyable
  • J-Cards add strategy to the pre-match
Negatives
  • J-Adventure and Victory Road are long and tedious
  • Dumb AI partners
  • Online play is sometimes unresponsive and camera can get uncontrollable
  • Paired with highly skilled players at times
Ethics
The reviewer spent twelve hours adventuring as some of Jump's famous characters and earned 22 of 50 Trophies. The reviewer will need to put a lot more time into completing all four arcs and unlocking all fighters. This Playstation 4 copy was purchased by the reviewer.