Game review: J-Stars Victory VS+ for PS Vita

Way back when I a wee teen, I had a friend who went to Dallas all the time, and he would pick up issues of Weekly Shonen Jump for me. Not the compiled individual comics, but the actual issues imported from Japan. They’re all black and white comics on really cheap paper, and most of the stories are broken up into frustratingly short blocks. But oh how I loved those comics, and I kept buying them for quite a while before I got too sick and too broke to afford them.

J-Stars Victory VS+ is thus a perfect game for me because it’s got so many characters I read during my misspent youth, plus many others that I’ve come to know through later compilations or their anime adaptations. It’s an extremely flimsy premise drawing all of these characters together, but then it’s a fighting game and plot is pretty much secondary to the reason for playing.

Having said that, for as much as I enjoyed the game I also had problems with several parts of it, not the least of which is how the adventure mode draggs on and on before getting to the end of the story.

Before I cover the problematic parts, I want to talk about the things I did like. The combat is good and usually easy to grasp regardless of which character I’m handed to play with, and each character has their own special moves that come from their respective series. The arenas these fights take place in are nice and varied with plenty of color and personality, and buildings and walls explode with satisfying force when I attack an enemy and send them flying.

The adventure mode has a huge overworld map, and your characters are given a ship that they have to upgrade over time to visit new areas. Again, there’s plenty of variety and color, and the map is littered with “virtual fighters” created by the mysterious voice overseeing everyone’s battles. For the most part, these fights are optional, but they can give you more XP and more chances to practice with various combinations of fighters and support characters. There’s also a nice touch to earning XP, in that everyone in your party gains a little even if they didn’t fight. So you don’t have to fight with everyone just to get them up from level 1. (Though the fighters you use will level up faster than the fighters watching from the sidelines.)

The combat system is unique in many ways, or at least it is to me, as I’ve never played anything quite like it before. In most fights, you go in with a partner controlled by the CPU and have an additional support character who can be briefly summoned for special attacks. To help keep track of who you’re fighting, you tap the lower right corner of the screen to lock onto one fighter. You can lock onto the same one as your partner to do some devious double-teaming, or you can square off with the other fighter and hope your partner doesn’t screw his own match up too badly. (More on that later in the complaints.)

Once you’ve done enough damage and tilted the battle in your favor, you can tap the upper right corner of the screen to launch a Victory Burst, and from there you can tap it again to unleash your character’s ultimate attack. This never failed to give me a little thrill when I could pull it off and have it connect. (It can miss or be blocked, so you have to try and time it just right.) But conversely, nothing filled me with dread more than having the other team launch a Victory Burst and unleash a can of ultimate whoop-ass on me or my partner.

Unfortunately, the game tends to drag pretty quickly and should be played in little doses. A few fights here and there are fine, but even swapping characters, playing for extended periods tends to get a bit dull. Despite the surface variety to character’s attacks, the actual mechanics are almost identical for each fighter. Which is actually a good thing, really. If you had to remember specialized move sets for 32 fighters, things could get pretty confusing. This is especially true when you get dumped into a single match with a character you don’t know how to play. But, as I said, after playing for an hour or so, the fights all get into a routine that leaves little room for variety.

It doesn’t help that the story just keeps dragging things out. First your crew is summoned by a mysterious voice who claims that you’re invited to a Jump Tournament, and the winners will get a wish granted. To enter the tournament requires finding three pieces of a Hero Emblem. How do you find it? By visiting pretty much ever location on the map. Since several of these require upgrading your ship, you keep going on little tangent quests, further dragging the process out. But then you finally get the emblem and enter the tournament, and after three fights…you’re given another quest to find three keys, which again requires going all over the map and upgrading the ship again. And of course at many of the locations where you don’t find the part you need, you’ll either be invited to another fight, or you’ll be tasked with a quest to go to another location and fight. And then once your ship has a cannon, some quests will task with going around and shooting various animals. This is a major pain in the butt because of how the canon aiming several limits the ships movement.

This is not helped by the overworld map design because the camera only faces one direction and cannot be rotated. So it’s possible to run into extra battles because you can’t see an off screen enemy. Bringing up those hunts again, since you can’t rotate the camera, or move the ship side to side, often you have to fly a wide path around to get “underneath” a target before attempting to line up a shot. And right as you do find a shot, here’s an enemy you didn’t see charging at you to pick a fight. Oh hurrah.

Another problem is that up until that tournament, you’re given a very small roster to work with. After the first arc, you’ve got the ability to make a team with whoever you like, but it’s still only a portion of all the possible unlocks without playing through the other three adventure modes. So that’s a crap ton of busy work, and you may spend a lot of it with a character you don’t even really like.

Then there’s the partners, who seem to lose half their IQ and fighting ability as soon as the CPU takes over them. I could play the same character and wipe the walls with my enemies, even handling double teaming without too much trouble. But the CPU-controlled partner frequently gets mauled by the enemy they’re facing, and sometimes it was possible to lose matches without me losing once because my partners was just fighting that poorly. So I didn’t just have to fight my opponent. I had to fight him and babysit my dumb ass partner.

For the same reason, the energy meter for the Victory Burst could become infuriating. I would be waylaying one enemy, but for every attack I landed, my partner might catch two or three punches in the face, tilting the meter in the enemies favor. So then they trigger the Victory Burst, and the enemy I was beating senseless suddenly drops an ultimate attack on me and there’s half of my life bar melted away in one hit thanks to my partners ineptitude. Super duper. (T_T)

It’s for this reason that I’d really much rather have had an option to play one-on-one more often. Unfortunately, about the only time this happens, the game sets a stipulation where I must beat my opponent twice to win, while I can lose if I fall even once. And usually these matches involve someone I’ve never fought before while giving me a character whose moves I don’t know. It’s…not ideal.

I should also mention the voice acting, which is sparse to say the least. There’s a lot of written dialogue for all the characters on your ship, and that’s kind of cool. But interactions between them are all accompanied by sound bites like this:

Clearly, they weren’t looking to get any awards for the voice acting.

Despite these problems, I really did love the game, and once I’ve had some time away from it, I can see coming back for the other adventure modes, or for the arcade mode. It can get monotonous if it’s overplayed, sure, but a few quick rounds playing Son Goku or Yusuke Urameshi is at least good for a bit of nostalgia.

I give J-Stars Victory VS+ 4 stars and would recommend it to fans of Jump comics and their many crazy characters.