That hair though.
The first thing I think about when I remember JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the hair. The 1980s was a decade filled with big, unique, powerful hair; Goku and Vegeta had long locks reaching toward the sky, Sailor Moon had some crazy-long ponytails, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s cast had everything from wild dual ponytails to forehead-extending pompadours. Whoever thought those were a good idea, I’d like to assign them to a Supercuts for the rest of eternity (then maybe grow out my mohawk and give them a go-around myself).
Unlike other anime games I’ve found though, every member of the Joestar clan through the manga is represented here from across the eight different parts of the main story. Instead of a retelling of an old story, however, they’re all involved in a time-traveling wacky and convoluted web of alliances and rivalries, both big and small. It makes for an interesting crossover of a family spanning at least five generations intermingling when they really shouldn’t.
This time, the focus is (mostly) on Jotaro Kujo as he and his increasingly-unwieldy group of allies and family members bounce between parallel points in history. After defeating the evil DIO and meeting with Robert E. O. Speedwagon (REO Speedwagon, ha I get it), Kujo is tasked with finding pieces of a “holy corpse” with magic capabilities. The growing team needs to use those pieces to find and kill the “Noble One” that’s resurrecting Kujo’s enemies and friends alike. Once they ultimately find out who’s pulling the strings, they need to take them out before that jerk can not only kill them all, but erase them from ever having existed in the first place. Sound dramatic? It is, but then again, so is the amount of hair product.
Oh, and in order to keep the number of characters onscreen lower during story segments while still allowing for everybody to be available in character select, they’re housed within a magical turtle that doubles as some kind of TARDIS-like dimensional “room.” But it’s totally not a TARDIS; it’s just similarly bigger on the inside. Because traveling through time and space and different dimensions, that’s just silly… not bizarre.
Fighting is two-on-two most often, with a few fights being against multiple weak enemies where you need to survive waves, and there's usually one traveling character and one from the era being traveled to. Fights can get wild fast, since being focused on only one enemy at a time means you’re often backstabbed, or attacked from behind, unless backstabs are disabled either by enemy setup or using an item on your team.
The control scheme is simple enough—one combo-ing attack button, a strong attack, a jump, a dash, and all of those with either R1 or L1 for an assigned special should you have one—and each character handles differently across the 50+ character roster. Everyone has a “Dual Heat” attack of some form that can be unleashed for massive destruction, which admittedly looks really cool with certain combinations of characters.
It’s responsive during the fight, though it's easy to be caught in combos and be unable to easily cancel out sometimes, and everything functions just as well as any Dynasty Warriors title. But it can grow frustrating since most battles are two-on-two, and both attackers focusing on one opponent can result in annoying obliterations. That's even when fighting that way yourself with a computer ally, which has some really dumb AI to the point of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an opponent sometimes for many seconds before either attacks anyone.
When more than two characters are involved and attacking from both sides, action is frenetic and can be hard to follow, sometimes even being unclear as to whom is taking punishment or dishing it out. There’s so much happening when the fists start flying in close quarters that I found myself trying to set off a special attack less to do damage and more to see who’s taking that damage.
As a result of that sparkling rainbow of confusion, the story mode is either a super-simple and unsatisfying affair, or a needlessly and uncompromisingly frustrating one. I experienced both throughout the mode, where I would be dominating without any challenge sometimes and then unable to accomplish anything the next. When I said the AI was dumb, that’s noticeable mostly with ally AI and not opposition AI. My partner characters were mannequins or targets more often than accomplices, and only occasionally about on par with the double-teaming asshole baddies.
On either extreme, the swings aren’t usually so bad as to make the whole thing unplayable. It’s inconsistent that way, and takes enjoyment out of the experience. I mean, I know it’s really designed for two players and not computer players, but this is a story mode where you don’t get the option. There is a boost to help level the playing field if one character on a team is knocked out, but it’s not big enough to turn the tide in my experience. It feels like you’ll still have a chance, and maybe a better player will be able to overcome the odds, but I still felt overwhelmed when ganged up on.
Outside of fighting is a few possible ways to pass the time: exploring the arena environments and gambling. After the necessary fights in a given area, it becomes open to saunter around in looking for boxes with power-ups and cold cash. They’re all multi-tiered arenas though, so they're limited in their scope and not much in the way of actually exploring the environment, though the details can be impressive. Because of the size, exploration is almost more of an interactive menu of what’s available in that location—break boxes, retry the last fight of that arena, or challenge a more powerful set of opponents before moving on to the next location.
When everything that needs to be “found” is laid out clearly on a map and only minor extras can actually be found, the game is just forcing players to run in an empty space to walk over to the right spot to move on. No urgency, no interesting twists, just necessary unnecessary walking. What a boring way to show everything down.
The other non-fighting distraction is, weirdly enough, to play single-draw poker with an opponent, complete with the ability to cheat or be cheated on. As simple as it is, as an amateur poker player myself, this was a fun bright spot: controlling the mental state by either cheating or preventing the opponent from cheating (i.e. grabbing improving cards on that hand’s draw). It’s not very robust for a poker game, just five-card single draw poker with few chips to play and only one betting round which doesn’t make sense, but the action being interrupted to either attempt or prevent cheating was a cool dynamic to toss in. It’s extremely easy if you’ve ever played a rhythm game, but it makes for a quaint little distraction.
Visually, I’m extremely impressed with what CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco have been able to accomplish with their recent animé titles. They have taken the cel-shaded look to a new peak with how much detail and smooth movement are packed into every bit of animation. These characters, unique and colorful as they all are, look as true to “life” as they possibly can. Even ignoring the little details, like awkward stopping movements after a walk or gesture (which most all video games have), it’s just… smooth. Exaggerated struts, fast kicks, both-palms-upward shrugging—it all looks as good as I ever could have imagined in this style that’s completely JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Add the Japanese voice acting cast to fill in the dialog, which is fully voiced throughout, and it’s executed well enough to do the job.
The story itself is bizarre but not altogether unpredictable. There’s a lot of standing around talking, not much animation outside of the fights themselves. Characters mouth along with their voices, and their eyes and expressions work in tandem with the dialogue, but it still gives the impression of static storytelling—they’re talking and reacting physically but not engaging with the story they’re telling beyond immediate reactions. There just isn't much depth to any of the massive roster, the acting is over the top, and the pressure and tension are nonexistent. With so many characters it’s hard to tell where to care about them to the overall story arc, let alone give them enough time to make much more than a cameo’s impact.
Looking at it critically like I’m supposed to, it’s not fantastic by any means. This is obviously designed with four players in mind, and the AI just can’t keep up an acceptable pace with its inconsistent difficulty. But I still had some fun with it, just from the weirdness of the story being told and the button-mashing mostly-mindless fights. If you’re a fan of the lore, then there’s likely much more deep meaning that a casual JoJo fan might miss. I don’t really see the appeal of this kind of arena fighting game outside of an arcade, but for what it is, it could be a lot worse.
Doesn’t mean I think it’s worth a full price tag purchase, but fans of the Joestars should find enjoyment in it. Everybody else, consult and test with your Bizarre Adventure-loving friend before dropping any coin on Eyes of Heaven.