JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is an institution in regards to manga. Hirohiko Araki's bombastic creation has captivated audiences for more than twenty years now and has accrued more recognition within the West thanks to the recent David Production adaptations of the first four chapters of the saga. If you've been a long time fan, then it's no surprise that yet another video game adaptation is coming down the pipe for JoJo. CyberConnect2, makers of the recent Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 and 2013's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle, brings the series' diverse roster of characters to PlayStation 4 (and PlayStation 3) with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven.
Some will argue that 2013's All-Star Battle is, perhaps, the closest anyone has come to making a worthwhile JoJo game. They, of course, would be wrong as they've forgotten about Heritage for the Future on PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast from back in 1999. But what about CyberConnect2's latest effort at the tough task of adapting such a strange series full of overwrought characters even more over-the-top narrative and a style that is wholly unique? Eyes of Heaven is, in regards to presentation, the strongest entry thus far as the PS4 version looks marvelous.
The Araki aesthetic that makes JoJo so unique makes the leap to the PS4 much in the same way as the recent Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. The many hues and nuances of the boundless roster of characters (spanning across the entirety of eight volumes of the manga) are translated over flawlessly thanks to the decadent cel-shading, explosive special attacks, and the signature sound effects that have helped to define the entire approach of the series. These characters are larger-than-life (as they should be) with move sets that recreate the feeling of the manga and animated works so very well. The sweeping movements, elegant poses and downright ridiculous abilities (all named after quotes from the character) guarantee diversity as far as how each character plays and feels.
It shouldn't be a necessity but a word of warning. This game will spoil key details of the plot, character reveals and more as it introduces characters and locations from all the volumes of the manga thus far. JoJo fans in the West are likely familiar with, at least, the first three arcs through "Stardust Crusaders" with the recent "Diamond is Unbreakable" arc now being simulcast as well. The fully localized release of the next volumes of the manga is still in the works so fans unfamiliar with anything past the third narrative turn will likely feel lost. This is a game that is clearly reverential towards its source material, working with such an intimacy with the canon that even long-time fans will be surprised.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven has a surprisingly competent story mode considering it is nothing more than fanfiction. That isn't an insult but, rather, it is a strange story full of contrivances to make sure that every major and minor character gets at least a single moment throughout the mode's duration. It is, well, dumb in the same way that much of the base plot of the source material tends to be. That, too, is a compliment as this is a manga/anime that has a lot of fun with its world and characters and this game is no exception to that rule.
Where CyberConnect2 stumbles, however, is with gameplay. This is, at its core, a fighting game. It is a 2-on-2 fighting game to specific. That is a significant change from the standard 2D mano y mano fighter from All-Star Battle. The visual flair and attention paid to detail on each of the characters loses its shine as each newly introduced warrior requires grinding out fights to unlock abilities for use. Players will spend much of their early hours with Jotaro Kujo, the protagonist from the third "Stardust Crusaders" arc, only mashing basic attacks and occasionally using Star Platinum (Jotaro's Stand) to OraOraOra!! (a simple powered up version that is a flurry of fists) his foe. Every moment of surprise at just who was going to walk into the theater of battle was accompanied with the knowledge that seeing the full extent of their abilities was going to require an unfun grind. It's especially frustrating if you know what's in store for each of the fighters and their Stands yet not being able to experience the full extent of what CyberConnect2 did to pay homage to Araki's work until you've got your points accumulated. Further insult to injury comes from the near brain-dead AI as playing through the single-player story means players will be stuck with various AI partners that sometimes decide to run into walls, fall off buildings often and offer terrible support for said fisticuffs.
AI opponents, by comparison, range from similarly lacking in a semblance of real AI to outright unfair in its execution. Each character's limited toolset, at least in initially playing them as they're unlocked, means that battles unfold in one of two ways: An utter landslide or randomness that isn't appreciated such as stunlock or the AI foe suddenly deciding to back off. Players will have to attempt the fight again should their character go down while conquering the incoming duo of attackers requires knocking out both to secure a victory. Numerous victories were narrowly snatched away thanks to the strangely inconsistent AI in Eyes of Heaven.
Worst of all? The combat just isn't as fun compared to All-Star Battle or even Heritage for the Future. There is a different approach, sure, but even playing online in a co-op battle against another team resulted in frustration several times. There is no local multiplayer but the online option isn't captivating compared to sticking to the single-player campaign. The move away from the 2D fighter mechanics feels like a real step back yet, more so, it feels like a lesser effort as compared to Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Accessibility is fine and well but to have such a grind to hide all the best ideas of the game in a package that is relatively unfun is not what this storied franchise deserves.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven delivers a truly authentic visual representation of Hirohiko Araki's work. CyberConnect2 nailed it visually but failed to iterate on their past works with other licensed anime products to produce, instead, a forgettable 2-on-2 fighter. JoJo deserves far better.