No one can accuse JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle R of being anything but faithful to its wild and flamboyant source material. From the second you launch the game, you’re bombarded with half-tone art that fills every menu, snarky dialogue cut-ins, and references alike. All Star Battle R doesn’t let you forget its roots – combat is stuffed full of iconic bass-boosted sound cues, Romaji visual motifs, and gorgeous keyframes that convey the caricatural dynamism of the manga’s style.
Everything about this game is rooted in its committed stylistic and aesthetic direction, from characters moving through the borders of manga panels in their introductory animations, to the cinematic close-up every time the game’s taunt mechanic is used. But when it comes to some of the meat behind the copious amounts of flash and glamour, All Star Battle can also feel lacking.
As All-Star Battle R is an overhaul of the 2013 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle (the ‘R’ presumably standing for remaster or remake), a majority of the original game carries over. Fundamentally, what All Star Battle R does maintain is that it’s a solid one-on-one fighting experience full of flair, with a standard spread of game modes.
From the second you pick up a controller and choose any of the game’s 50 characters, All Star Battle R’s satisfying controls and punchy effects make the personality of each apparent. The visual design of All Star Battle R isn’t all shine and polish either, as the stark visual clarity of its hit effects had me intuitively understanding where there were gaps in my enemy’s attack patterns, and vice versa when I had to go on the defensive. It’s a good thing this is the case, as the game doesn’t have too much in the way of modern practice tools, such as access to transparent frame data or tutorials for advanced techniques.
What it does have in spades is fan service and deep cuts to the reference material, like unique interactions when using special moves on certain characters, or some of the details in the scenery. I, for one, was ecstatic to be greeted by series icon, ‘Asian Man,’ upon launching the game, alongside more notable series mainstays. Every menu therein also has its own thematically appropriate character that will chime in to narrate your navigation through the game’s interface.
This isn’t to say it’s too good to get tired of, especially if you’re not a JoJo enthusiast. All-Star Battle R is eager to show off its stellar voice work, but its constant dialogue can get testy on repeat – especially evident in matches between two of the same character. If I wasn’t so entertained by the character Melone exclaiming euphorically every time I flipped between a page of the settings, I’d probably have been a little peeved.
New original content, features and characters in All Star Battle R are unquestionably good, at least. The ten new characters, like the rest of the cast, bring responsive playstyles that ring true to their thematics, and have clear thought put into their individual mechanics. Each has a variety of mechanics that reflect the gimmicks of modernity, such as two characters being able to team up, or fighting styles that harken back to older JoJo games. Changes were also made to a certain character to avoid spoiling the ongoing serialisation of the series on Netflix, hinting at a later coinciding update that features their full array of abilities.
A new assist system can be used in a variety of ways – adding an extra layer of expression and resource management to battles, fitting right in with the game’s existing mechanics. Alongside this, overall gameplay adjustments work to make All Star Battle R faster, where the original could be sluggish at times.
It’s precisely because of the charm and energy All Star Battle R has that moments where the game feels empty are much more noticeable. The enthusiasm that the carefully crafted main menus bring peters out on weaker reused and poorly placed UI elements, just as some of the excitement from the game’s enjoyable combat dissipates in the face of multiplayer issues. This has a habit of kneecapping the game’s greatest strengths, and turning them into annoyances.
Foremost in my mind is the game’s ‘Easy Beat’ system that allows players to complete basic, if suboptimal, combos with any character by pressing the basic attack button repeatedly. In an ideal world, Easy Beat is hard to criticise – it’s a mechanic that allows anyone to pick up a controller and feel like they’re doing something exciting, and shows off the extent of a character’s unique personality and abilities. The system does an excellent job of putting an early focus on intentional decision making, and gradually eases players from the ‘button-mash’ phase to using their own combos. Unlike the original All Star Battle, the feature can now also be disabled.
But like Dio’s Stand, the world of All Star Battle R is not a perfect one, and like that character’s powers, its greatest nemesis is a persistent tendency for time to stop in mid-battle.
All Star Battle has neglected to integrate rollback netcode in the game, meaning that a tenuous internet connection between players sees gameplay constantly interrupted, or that at least one fighter moves at an irregularly slow pace, quickly stealing any momentum or enjoyment from a match.
While playing online, my ambitious combos and setups were often foiled by constant pauses, watching my character flail aimlessly, while my opponent would use Easy Beat to unleash a lengthy string of attacks – made lengthier by the excruciating game pace caused by the netcode – over and over again.
At best, I would be playing a stilted match at half speed, interrupted by the constant appearance of the ‘transmitting…’ dialog box. At worst, I felt punished for trying to play the game without my training wheels.
The apparent lack of a proper lobby system and skill-based matchmaking is another true enemy of All Star Battle R – while there is a matchmaking option that allows the toggling of Easy Beat and cross-region play, I was arbitrarily locked to ‘EU’, with no way to change it. It’s not like it mattered anyway, because I didn’t manage to find a match using the system, nor were any of the players I encountered online from anything other than the ‘EU’ region anyway.
Add to this waiting times of up to ten minutes to get any match at all – especially concerning considering I was playing during the first few weeks of release – and the occasional crashes with no real indication of who, or what caused them.
This had the unfortunate effect of turning the appeal of All Star Battle R on its head – smug bluster and ludicrous taunting became frustrating, not fun, only made worse by the difficulty of finding a match. While I can’t be certain, I imagine these issues have no small role in stifling All Star Battle R’s competitive scene.
Ranked mode doesn’t have much of the way in rewards either – profile customisation titles like ‘winter catfish’ and ‘tacos’ are hilariously obtuse, and the only manner of earning gold – All Star Battle R’s in-game currency for cosmetics – is a weekly challenge system that requires playing specific characters to fulfil.
While this is understandably a means of populating servers and encouraging players to try new characters, in practice, it fails at the former and tends to incentivise picking up characters just for the sake of rewards.
‘All-Star Battle Mode’ replaces the original All Star Battle’s Story Mode – the various ‘panel’ battles present throughout representing different parts of the anime and manga series, as well as a few ‘what if?’ scenarios that would otherwise be relegated to the realms of fan-theory and spinoffs. These fights are simple, with little in the way of narrative at all – unique dialogue exchanged between characters doesn’t extend beyond what they already have in other game modes.
The Arcade Mode shares a similar fate – it feels like an add-on mandated by the laws of fighting game production, a simple consecutive fight and score system. Like All Star Battle R’s online modes, these modes are a little devoid of life, and feel like a missed opportunity for something more.
It’s a shame, because the unlockable items you can earn by playing these modes are genuinely appealing. Character costumes and colours, voice lines, and poses all take centre stage, sometimes simultaneously, at all stages of the game’s combat. Concept art and the model gallery all highlight the work and artistry put into the designs of characters, but you have to take some pretty pedestrian steps to get there.
Despite all this, I still found myself enjoying All Star Battle R, queuing up round after round in search of the game’s next ‘greatest high’. Quality matches may be far-between, but when you do find one, All Star Battle R can be an absolute treat of split-second conflict and cel-shaded spectacle.
A few changes to online support here, and solo content there, could see All Star Battle R turn frustration into the frivolity it so eagerly points toward, should Bandai Namco see the game’s potential as a long-term investment.
As someone who has been clamouring for JoJo games to come to PC and non-Japanese markets, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle R feels held back not by the failings of its design, but the support of its fundamental features. With any luck, these issues are just the growing pains before greater days.
3 Stars: ★★★
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle R
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 1 September 2022
The PC version of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle R was provided and played for the purposes of this review.