With a name like that there’s only one region we can possibly be dealing with. In fact for a Japanese animation fighting game it’s bordering on modest. Especially given the games premise. J-Stars is a collection of some of the greatest characters from the world of Manga and anime beating each other senseless. Impossible speed and beams of light shooting from limbs await. And Power Ranger sparks instead of blood. Check out the “Let’s Fighting Love” trailer underneath.
Clearly J-Stars’ biggest asset is the access it has to an amazing roster of characters from many different iconic anime universes. Particularly for fans of the shows the characters represented in J-Stars certainly do justice to the genre. It’s difficult to think of a show or character that isn’t represented in J-Stars which does great service to fans. I don’t know every show intimately but doubt anybody will be disappointed by the characters available.
Sadly J-Stars relies on this fact far too much. Having the characters is one thing but without the gameplay to back it up it just isn’t enough. Making your way through many of the characters on offer quickly shows just how similar they are. There are a few different specials and of course the appearance of the moves changes between characters but it’s nothing like working your way through the characters in a game like Tekken.
Especially given the amazingly huge variation between the characters and the worlds they live in this really stops J-Stars dead in its tracks. In any cross-over title like this the characters are the biggest appeal and having them feel the same or even similar to control is completely wasting potential.
It also allows the gameplay to become samey and boring very quickly. There is almost always a series of simple moves you can repeat to win effectively. There’s very little point in countering or performing elaborate combos when you can win by spamming the same simple ‘one two’ combo repeatedly. And win well. Fair enough you might want to create more of a challenge for yourself or become more skilled at the game but it’s still annoying that there’s no point in doing so other than pride.
It also ensures that J-Stars makes almost no use of the characters and their almost unlimited creative potential. Instead you’re landed with a basic and repetitive fighting game. Specials are often an area of expertise for Japanese games – bring on the aforementioned beams of light and such. Why hit someone hard when you can hit them a million times and then hit them hard? Why stay on the ground when you can jump and temporarily fly as you beat someone with impossible strength?
Sadly none of this feels like it should. There’s nothing particularly satisfying about performing the actual moves which really just leaves the spectacle of them. Again not usually a problem for Japanese titles but this is a mediocre looking PS3 game with a few dabs of polish here and there shoved into a PS4. It’s not exactly a terrible looking game but it does look obviously last generation and it’s impossible not to notice during these otherwise spectacular moments of Japanese style choreography.
The same goes too for the environments and the character models which all look disappointing. It’s just bad enough that you can never really let yourself enjoy the game. Given the amazing artwork that exists in the world of anime and Manga J-Stars should really have been a bit more style conscious.
The fidelity disappointments continue into the audio as well which is nothing to shout about. It really detracts from the scene when a thousand fists are flying through the air beating someone and the audio sounds like it was ripped from a VHS of an old Jackie Chan movie. The sound and visuals just don’t match the potential of the on-screen action and therefore keep it from being anything more than average.
Thankfully for me though, looks aren’t everything. And although I’m a bit of an audiophile there have been great games with poor audio. Underneath there isn’t enough that J-Stars breaks through as one of these bad looking, ear bending classics. There aren’t all that many game modes to talk of aside from the usual campaign and quick match options. The story follows a very strange structure that takes place on a world map, that looks particularly terrible, with you floating around in an airship taking part in what are essentially a series of individual fights.
The story itself breaks one of my cardinal sins and is told almost entirely through a set of text boxes for you to read. There’s nothing quite like that moment when a box pops up and your heart sinks a little as you get ready for a nice read before you progress. Stale pictures of all your favourite characters will be set up like the cardboard pop-ups you used to find in Blockbusters (remember video stores? Google it). A lot of the animation is ironically removed from the scenes and the anime characters. Even using the admittedly terrible in game graphics would have been better. At least it would have helped in some way to keep you immersed. Rather than that J-Stars has some terrible effects and then makes it worse by using the unimaginative pop-up book style to tell a narrative that is concerned only with cramming as many references to shows and characters as possible.
J-Stars is a great premise with an amazing offering of characters that sadly never amount to anything. Their individuality is lost somewhere in the overly simple gameplay. The audio and visuals help only in removing you from the experience as you are made abundantly aware that you’re playing an average looking PS3 game even on the PS4. The plot is a forced attempt at referencing the characters that, for those who are familiar will seem overly in your face and for others will still mean nothing. There isn’t really a solid fighter underneath the exterior and ultimately that’s what lets J-Stars down.