J-Stars Victory VS+ is a game that exists to drag anime characters together and have them fight each other.
Someone thought it'd be cool if Luffy from One Piece could face off against Naruto, and came up with this game as a not-so elaborate way to make that happen.
And it's functional. You can punch, you can kick, you can do special moves, and it works. But everything it promises sounds far better than it actually feels.Quantity over quality
As someone with entry-level anime knowledge, I found the roster of characters impressive.
It spans the big hitters such as Ichigo from Bleach and Goku from Dragon Ball, right down to some truly bizarre and obscure characters I had to Google. You can't fault its range.
It's a team-based fighter, essentially, which masks its lack of depth by using open battlegrounds and destructible scenery. Most fights can be won by hammering buttons, and it's hard to see the need for any real strategy.
You'd think that the sheer thrill of seeing worlds collide head-on would be enough, but characters feel samey and their unique traits are somehow lost in translation.Open seas
A perfect example of the game's missed opportunity is J-Adventure mode, which has you building a crew of fighters from various anime and manga while playing as Luffy (One Piece), Naruto, Ichigo (Bleach), or Toriko.
The way you actually navigate the hub world is a delight, steering an upgradeable sailboat around gorgeous blue seas and occasionally bumping into (semi) familiar faces for a spontaneous scrap. It's like the game Sid Meier would make if he got really into anime.
But the presentation's all a tad cheap-looking, with unvoiced and static dialogue sequences featuring what look like slightly off-brand versions of your favourite characters.
And the dialogue's not much better. The opening section of the Bleach-themed Pursuit arc essentially consists of Ichigo and Yoruichi repeating to one another that they've "never felt Spiritual Pressure like that before," and agreeing that this is most curious.
"Are you going to go and investigate?" asks Yoruichi. "Of course," replies Ichigo. "We can't just let it be. Who knows how much destruction it might cause..."
And that, with a little intervention from a mysterious voice from the sky, is pretty much that. You're invited to punch and kick dudes in a tournament where dreams come true.
It's like videogame dialogue from from 20 years ago - an afterthought, or even an inconvenience.Nice but dim
At least they have fun with the lazy writing: the mysterious voice in the sky calls himself the God of Jump World, before saying "something like that, anyway."
You know, while it's nice to see a bit of self-awareness, it'd probably be more funny if it wasn't in a £30 game sold in no small part on its characters.
But then, this isn't Tolstoy; this is anime. Characters nonchalantly mentioning that their infant companion is "the son of the Great Demon Lord" is dumb, but precisely why anime can be so entertaining.
And, flimsy story aside, the mash-up stuff is quite appealing. It just feels less fan-service and more fan-fiction, focusing on the quantity of characters it can mash in but never giving them enough individual quality for you to care.Fighting for fighting's sake
The story of J-Adventure, however, remains preferable to the bland combat alone, which is why the standard Arcade mode and the scenario-led Victory Road are barely worth bothering with.
And while it might be fun in multiplayer, nobody's playing the Vita version online and none of your mates have it.
So what are we left with? A game about anime characters punching each other in the face that somehow manages to feel pedestrian - the worst sin of all.