I'm always wary of fighters like J Stars Victory Vs if for no other reason than mashing a bunch up characters from various franchises only seems to work well for Super Smash Bros. Shonen Jump games have something of a mixed track record. Ganbarion-developed Jump Ultimate Stars is widely considered to be an excellent fighter, whereas Eighting's Battle Stadium: DON was absolutely terrible. Fortunately, Victory Vs is an absolute blast.
This is a no-brainer, really. If you like anime, you've probably watched at least one of the 23 series represented in Victory Vs. There's just something great about Goku, Naruto and Monkey D. Luffy fighting the likes of Ichigo, Killua and Yusuke Urameshi. Moreover, each character feels the way they should, with all their trademark techniques. There's no greater fan service than allowing players to pit their favorite characters against one another in a dream match.
This is a big one. If you've watched most any Shonen anime series, you'll know that inevitably some fight will involve buildings, mountains, or some other structure being reduced to rubble. Spike Chunsoft made sure there's plenty to destroy in Victory Vs. Fighting against Toguro of Yu-Yu Hakusho fame as Goku left the battlefield completely wrecked, with craters dotting its surface from volleys of Ki blasts, Kamehamehas and even the Super Genki Dama that was used to take out Buu. It's incredibly satisfying to survey the damage you do afterward, I hope more games employ mechanics like this.
Your mileage may vary here. J-Stars comes in two editions: Standard and Anison Sound Special. The only difference between the two is the soundtrack. The Anison Sound Special Edition comes loaded with tracks from each series, meaning you'll be delivering beatdowns to the same tracks you've heard for years. Since I already know many of those tracks (and I didn't want to pay the insane $140 asking price importers are charging) I grabbed the regular edition, which has surprisingly competent tracks that sound reasonably similar to their anime counterparts.
Show Me Your Moves
Just as with the series its emulating, Victory Vs features insane, over the top super moves. To pull one off, your team has to win a tug of war of sorts with the other team, by moving the power gauge at the top-middle of the screen completely to their side. Once you do this, you can push R3 to do some crazy technique, or in the case of some characters, transform, as with Naruto's Kyuubi mode.
Let's Go On An Adventure
J-Stars eschews your standard story mode in favor of what they're calling J-Adventure Mode. There are four routes in this mode, which have you playing as Luffy, Naruto, Ichigo or Toriko. After selecting your character, you'll end up sailing the seas, One Piece style. You'll grab quests, fight enemy ships and follow your character's progression through the J Battle Festival. You'll also earn ship upgrades that'll take you above the water, and eventually into space. It's a fun mode, but your ship moves slowly and the map feels somewhat bland, but it ultimately works as a vehicle for random fights.
Unlocking characters in fighting games is still alive and well, regardless of what others tell you. Fortunately, J-Stars dulls the pain of having to unlock your whole roster (you'll start with only Goku, Naruto, Ichigo and Luffy unlocked) by making all characters purchasable for 2,500 points. You'll get more than enough to unlock all characters after a few hours in either adventure or victory road modes.
Slowdown Is Still a Thing in 2014
A steady frame rate is key for any game, and fighters are no exception. Sadly, Victory Vs' frame rate can get somewhat sloppy, especially when fighting up close. Several times during fights, I'd be hiding behind a building and an opponent would crash through the building with a flashy attack causing the game to slow down as though it hadn't expected such a thing could happen. It's really jarring to have that happen in an otherwise fast-paced fight.
Table For Two
Fighting in Victory Vs allows for up to eight characters on screen at once, three fighters and two support characters. Despite this, the game itself only supports two player local multiplayer. This comes as a huge disappointment. With as fun as J-Stars is to play, it could be a serious contender for my fighting game party fix. Four players here would have been a greatly welcome improvment.
J-Stars Victory Vs is a fan-service game that doubles as an addictive, fun fighter. It's so fun, in fact, you'll have no problem looking past its lack of four player multiplayer and occasional slowdown. It's rare that a game combines this many varied characters—many of whom have starred in games of their own— successfully, and makes them feel as though they all belong.
With how many characters from popular franchises are packed in, I wouldn't expect J-Stars to make the trip across the pacific. Go ahead and import this game. The PS3 and Vita are both region-free making this just that much sweeter. If you've ever wondered if Luffy could beat Naruto, or Ichigo could take down Kenshin, this is the game for you.