I found CyberConnect2's take on the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure universe enjoyable and even a bit addictive, but it's not (intended) to be for everyone.
So like, well, all anime and mangas, I know nothing about JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I played the HD remake of the old Dreamcast game that was released digitally a couple of year's ago, thought it was alright, but that's the extent of my JoJo knowledge, if you will. Enter JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle (JJBAASB), which was released last week. I was thrown into the bizarre-ness again, but this time I was immediately impressed with the presentation quality, starting literally at the first menus and tutorial screens, and then on into the game itself.
I'll circle back to the presentation discussion soon enough, but first, the game. As you've probably gathered, this is clearly a game geared towards JoJo fans, a group which Namco must have figured is large enough in the West to release this game both digitally as well as in stores via retail disc. With CyberConnect2 as the developer, who are known primarily for their deep Naruto games, the circumstances were ripe for an impressive, albeit still niche and fan-service oriented, release. And that's pretty quickly what I discovered was the case here.
So, as with most fan-service games, the developers do not spend much if any effort catching complete franchise strangers, like myself, up to what's going on. Thus, if you're like me, and know nothing about this series, there isn't any sort of quick way to get in the loop. There is a JoJo's Glossary, terms of which you unlock as you play through the game, and in between battles within the seven distinct Parts of the Story Mode, each made up of at least a couple of Episodes, there are tidbits of the story very loosely thrown out for you to read through. It's not enough to make coherent sense, but I found it to be just enough to be worth it to keep scanning through, but it was not however enough to make me care about the characters -- I just wanted to get in the fight, pull off some cool special moves, and win.
I suspect I'm not alone in approaching this game in that way, and for those on the fence -- maybe you're a fighting game fan, or someone who like's JoJo's universe but are not into fighting games -- I would suggest to still seek this game out. While I may not have been understanding the details of what was going on, I readily found enjoyment in the combat and the presentation, visual especially, which oozes creativity and a certain flair that somehow feels bold and confident, if that makes any sense. Anyway, inhibitions aside, you can dive into a detailed Practice Mode to get comfortable with the commands, which are actually pretty accessible even for relatively noob fighting skills like mine. Pop-up tips throughout the menus help the newcomer find their way around as well. Anyway, Square, Triangle, and Circle are for quick, medium, and heavy attacks respectively, while X moves your character in the Z-plane of the stage, i.e., you can totally side-step enemy attacks. It's reminiscent of some of the old Fatal Fury games, but it isn't quite as fully rotational as say Mortal Kombat: Deception. The HH meter (no idea what HH means) is situated in the lower left of the HUD and it has three tiers; you can cancel someone's Flash attack if you have three meters to expend, or perform a "throw" by pressing R1 and using up two meters. At anytime in any mode you can look up the Command List to view the plethora of special moves, most of which involve half circles with the d-pad or left stick. I usually have trouble consistently executing special moves, but I did well in this game for the most part, which I credit to the control mapping and responsiveness.
In playing All-Star Battle, I spent most of my time in the Story Mode. It has seven distinct Parts, each covering a key storyline in the manga series. Episodes within the Parts setup battles, and you unlock a variety of art, playable characters, Gold, PS Trophies, and other goodies as you go, including the ability to go back and play the battle with another character. There are forty-one playable character in all, although I have some confusion about the free Campaign DLC packs that are being released. You have to get to the PS Store to download this supplementary data for the new unlocked characters to work I believe. Anyway, each Episode is ranked on difficulty from D to S (easiest to hardest), and most battles are determined by the classic two-out-of-three metric. There are no ring-outs like some other Namco fighters, but there are very creative stage hazards within practically every stage, plus secret missions that can be discovered. Furthermore, there are various conditions lined out to you before each battle too, such as the AI having extra health or increased attack strength, or an HH gauge that starts with two bars. You can counter these by using Gold you have won in battle to purchase your own boosts, known as Support Effects. Up to three can be activated at once. These are purchased in the moments leading up to the battle. Their cost is enough that it will make you think twice before randomly buying boosts like causing the AI to have just half HP or making your HH meter automatically fill-up even when you are not actively landing hits on the enemy. I thought the variety and "randomness" of these Effects helped keep the gameplay fresh.
As for presentation, I think CyberConnect2 did a really nice job here making a very active and detailed fighter. The menus even, which have pop-up advice and explanations presented by various characters in the JoJo's universe, is a nice touch. In-game, the character animations are very detailed and between the character and their ghostly projections known as Stands, there is enough "going on" as to compel you to look at the character's faces and costumes closely. I don't play fighters all that often, but the last time I was this impressed with the facial details of the characters during an active battle was probably way back with Street Fighter IV; it's just cool watching their eyes and face change expressions. The audio component is similarly commendable, featuring Japanese voice tracks and English subs, which is certainly appropriate for this game.
And with that, to the summary...