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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle Review: ZA WARUDO with the Best of Them

You would be hard pressed to ever find a series with a more accurate title than Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. From its humble beginnings in 1986, Hirohiko Araki’s most famous work is still an ongoing manga series, now in its eighth story arc. It has been adapted into an anime twice, (three times if you count the now almost nonexistent theatrical version of the first story arc), had a featured comic as part of the Louvre’s Comic Strip Exhibition, and has even partnered with famous Italian luxury brand, Gucci. The series is no stranger to videogame adaptations either. Now, thanks to the team at Namco Bandai, western Jojo fans and fighting game enthusiasts can now partake in one of the most bizarre brawlers ever made.

There's no shortage of character choices in this game. No matter what your play style is, you're sure to find someone you enjoy.

There’s no shortage of character choices in this game. No matter what your play style is, you’re sure to find someone you enjoy.

Trying to condense the 27-year history of the series into a single game is far from a simple task. It’s a fascinating story, and while All Star Battle attempts to give players a taste of the mythos via its Story Mode, what you essentially get is a “best of” highlights reel consisting of major fights and character defining moments from each story arc. The mode also gives some exposition about story events in between fights but they’re very short and if you’re new to the series, you’ll likely just be left more confused than anything else. It’s a noble attempt at trying to convey the tales the franchise has to offer, but it would have been nice if each section went into a bit more depth for each story. Namco Bandai also made not one, but two trailers which give a brief rundown of each stories’ events.

Happiness is being able to freeze time, drop a steam roller on your foe, and then punch it till it explodes on them.

Happiness is being able to freeze time, drop a steamroller on your foe, and then punch it till it explodes on them.

All Star Battle features the standard array of gameplay modes for a fighting game.  Players can take on a handful of random COMs in Arcade mode, take a trip through the various chapters of Story Mode, battle friends or COMs in Versus, learn combos and move sets in Practice Mode, or just  unwind with some music or enjoy some artwork in Gallery Mode. The game also features a Campaign mode, where players can take on random fights against computer opponents with special conditions. This mode also features boss characters that have a separate health bar that needs to be reduced over the course of multiple fights.  Beating bosses will unlock special tokens for extra taunts, poses, lines of dialogue, and bonus costumes for characters which can be set in Customize Mode.  While this mode is interesting and provides a pretty fun way to unlock extra content, it has one annoying flaw.  Actions in campaign mode are governed by points on an energy meter.  You can use up extra points for special effects like bonus damage or to increase the odds of boss matches, but to regenerate the meter, you either have to wait a while for the meter to recharge or you can purchase refills with actual money.  This microtransaction model feels gimmicky and slows down the pace of the mode. While you can still unlock everything without ever paying a dime, having to wait for extended periods for the off chance you might unlock a new set of taunts or that much sought after costume is pretty annoying.

The game also has a huge roster of fighters, 32 on the game disc with 9 DLC characters to be released in the coming months. Players start the game with the ability to play as one of 14 characters, while the remainder are all unlocked via the aforementioned story mode.  Characters are broken down into one of five fighting styles. Hamon users can charge energy for meter based attacks by channeling their breathing. Vampirism, which only has one representative, can heal lost HP by draining blood from their foes. Mode characters can enhance their moves with special properties and extra damage at the cost of some meter energy.  Stand users, which make up the majority of the cast, can summon forth supernatural creatures to fight alongside them and modify their attack styles. Last but not least, Mounted fighters have the ability to summon their faithful steads and then partake in equine combat.

You read that right and let me tell you, watching a horse do a dive kick is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

You read that right and let me tell you, watching a horse do a dive kick is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

Each character has a small list of special moves and skills they can use and chain together with standard light, medium, and heavy attacks.  As players land hits and take damage, their Heart Heat Meter will slowly build, capping at 3 full bars.  Players can then use the Heart Heat they’ve saved up to perform super moves or to expend on style specifics functions like the Mode character’s enhanced attacks. Players can also gain draining their opponent’s meter by taunting them after they’ve been knocked to the ground.  Some characters like Johnny and Gyro have special ammunition for certain attacks that will recharge overtime.  Players can execute a sidestep maneuver to avoid oncoming attacks or shift their position on the battlefield slightly. If a character performs a block just before an attack hits them, they will instead perform a stylish dodge, which will avoid the attack and allow them to freely shift to the side.

There are a handful of other special condition mechanics that make for some really nice gameplay choices and some fun nods to the source material.  For example, if a Hamon user strikes a Mode character or a Vampire with a Hamon infused attack, they won’t be able to heal that portion of their health back. There are even some specific character based scenarios that can occur. If the “Stardust Crusader’s” version of Dio uses his time stop ability, Jotaro can use one bar of his meter to cancel the effect. If two stand users attempt to throw a volley of punches at the same time, they will enter a clash mode, which has both players rapidly hitting a button to overpower the other. Little touches like these really add a lot of personality to the game, which is saying something, considering it’s already brimming with it.

If a character uses a taunt that insult's Josuke's hairstyle, he gets a power boost. Pro-tip: do not insult his hair.

If a character uses a taunt that insults Josuke’s hairstyle, he gets a power boost. Pro-tip: do not insult his hair.

Stages feature major locales from all 8 story arcs and span a wide array of varied and interesting venues from across the globe. Each stage also has a special hazard trigger zone which can be activated when a player is knocked onto the ground in one of the flashing red radii.  Hazards include temporary damaging effects like a runaway car speeding onto the battlefield or a minuscule vampire leaping down from the ceiling. Some stages have long term or recurring effects puddles of mud that ooze out of the ground and slow characters or a torrential rain of poisonous frogs which will inflict a damage over time effect to anyone unfortunate enough to be struck by one of the venomous amphibians. The hazards can be turned off if you prefer, although this is the one fighting game where I think I’ve actively enjoyed keeping them on.

For the most part, the game feels pretty balanced. I never came across a character that felt particularly overpowered or cheap, though I did notice that the COMs will unashamedly try to spam projectile and long range attacks when you’re low on health. The combo system in the game can feel a bit awkward at times, but after some practice it’s not too hard to grasp. Veteran fighter players shouldn’t have too much trouble acclimating to the game’s mechanics. Newcomers shouldn’t have a terribly tough time getting used to the game either, though a handful of characters like the gun-wielding Hol Horse and the Mounted fighters have some unusual mechanics that take a bit of practice to get the hang of.

Whether you’re a fan of the series, a fighting game aficionado, or even just a newcomer to both, there’s plenty to enjoy in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle. The game oozes visual style, sports plenty of unique and interesting characters, and has enough customization options to please even the most ardent of Jojo fans. It would have been nice to see the Story Mode receive a bit more work and maybe some cutscenes and the Campaign Mode’s energy meter system is bit annoying, but neither of these marred my overall enjoyment of the game. For a licensed fighting game based on a long running manga, All Star Battle hits all the right marks.