Hardcore anime and manga fans will most likely have heard of Hirohiko Araki’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a story set across several generations of the Joestar family, the main character of which is always nicknamed Jojo. The rest of you non-otaku will in likelihood have never heard of it. It obviously doesn’t have the western popularity of, say, Naruto. So it seems odd that Namco Bandai managed to localize All Star Battle and bring it to an audience that, frankly, isn’t too aware of it. Let’s delve in a bit and see if we can solve this mystery.
If you’re wondering how a manga series as big and popular as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has little exposure to the west, you can blame the series’ creator for that: he’s a fan of western music, so just about every. single. character in the series is named after either a band, singer, or song. For example, one of the main antagonists, Dio, is clearly named for singer Ronnie James Dio, and the list goes on: Vanilla Ice, Crazy Diamond, Abdul (for Paula Abdul), Lisa Lisa, etc and so forth. This naturally makes it a crazy copyright mess to try and localize and bring westwards. By making some strategic name changes, however, this has now been possible. For example, changing Lisa Lisa to…LisaLisa. Or changing Killer Queen to Deadly Queen. Some others didn’t require much changing, though. For example, Dio Brando remains Dio Brando, and Robert E.O. Speedwagon remains Robert .E.O. Speedwagon (just not REO Speedwagon, because then the nasty copyright fairies bite your ankles).
Hirohiko Araki is also a big fan of Italian fashion, so many of the clothes that the characters wear are incredibly tight-fitting. Couple this with the ridiculously buff men (and women), and the entire Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series starts feeling a little…fruity. It’s supposed to. The art style is certainly faaabulous. The animation is certainly beautiful, and you can tell that the developers have paid a lot of attention to Araki-san’s styles of art and character poses. What I love is that they’ve perfectly captured the feel of the printed media. Need some convincing? Take a look at the video clip below.
All Star Battle is a fairly standard fighting game featuring many of the characters from the entire manga series (the anime only covers the first two out of eight series, and the third series is in the process of being aired). Some of the characters don’t have fighting roles, and instead remain inanely wordy. There are several modes of play that you can occupy yourself with. As with many of these games, you unlock characters by playing through the single player story mode, and this is where the game falls over the hardest. What could have been seen as a potential way to garner new fans instead becomes a half-effort at putting the story across. I’ll explain: the entire first part of the manga (or first ten episodes of the first season, depending on your preference) is devoted to the exploits of Jonathan Joestar, and more importantly, how Dio Brando became the villain of the story. This part of the story is explained over the course of four fights, and as many paragraphs of text. Even then, the game starts the story about halfway through, meaning that entire sections of story are unkindly kicked to the side. And so it proceeds through the game, with just about every aspect of the story and plot being exposed through text for what is, essentially, a visual medium. People new to the story will be left confused, and existing fans likely will be disappointed by the lack of exposition. I know I was disappointed.
Most of the other modes are fairly standard, and if you’ve played a fighting game before, you’ll not be out of your depth here. The only big difference is the Campaign Mode, which is NOT the same as Story mode. Campaign Mode is the inevitable creep of social gaming mechanics into mainstream play. Essentially, you are given tokens that you exchange for fights. The tokens recharge after a few minutes, but you can pay for extra tokens. Despite this, the token recharge rate is fast enough that you won’t suffer too much, and the microtransactions aren’t shoved into your face at every turn, thankfully. Be warned, though, that should you decide to play Campaign Mode, you’re looking at around 1GB worth of download for the Campaign packs.
Despite the developer being Cyberconnect2, the same folks who brought us the excellent Naruto games, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle is nowhere near as polished. The fighting happens in 2.5D a la Tekken or Street Fighter, but it’s nowhere near as technical. Sadly, the characters are also not as responsive as what you’d expect in a fighting game. That being said, the game was made for the casual gamer in mind, so new players can easily pick up the game, choose a character, and button mash to their hearts content. Experienced fighters will…well, have pretty much the same experience, really. The characters fall into four rough groups, which the game dubs “style”, but if you’ve no idea what Hamon or Stand mean, you’re unlikely to care. The game includes a glossary of odd terms, but if you’ve not been paying attention to the manga or anime, it’ll still not make much sense.
The funny this is that my review makes it look a lot worse than it actually is. For fans of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure it’s certainly a treat to play, and the sheer number of unlockables (artwork, voice work, 3D models and more) is insane. A further treat is that there is no English voicework: the entire game is subtitled. It’s beautifully faithful to the series, despite the shortcomings in the story mode. All your favourite Jojos are here, too (if you’re a fan), and it’s actually a halfway decent fighter. With better fighters out there ,though, why choose this one? As much as I’d love to recommend it as an intro to the series for people new to anime, the story mode doesn’t justify just how much fun Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is as a manga. Anime fans should definitely take a look, though, if only because it’s a way of experiencing one of the best manga that we can’t get locally.
Final Score: 7.5 Bizarre Prawns out of 10
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PS3 Exclusive
Age Rating: PEGI 12