Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lookin' back - JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Playstation)

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is an incredibly long-running manga series written and illustrated by one Hirohiko Araki. How long-running? How's twenty-one years sound?

I've only read the first three story-arcs (there are currently seven), but it concerns petty revenge between two college students in late 19th-century England for about 100 pages. After that, it suddenly switches gears and turns into crazy fight manga, with vampires and supernatural Mayan archeology just to spice things up a bit.

In the late 90s, Capcom made a pretty sharp fighting game out of the JoJo IP, using the third story-arc of the series (core themes: fighting! in Egypt!) as source material. Released to the arcades on their CPS3 hardware (the same horsepower used by perennial favorite Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike), the game is another great example of Capcom's uncanny ability to turn nearly any licensed property into a great video game.

The arcade game and its sequel was eventually ported to the Dreamcast and Playstation, the latter of which I'll be talking about today. Like Street Fighter III and its sequels, the Dreamcast was the only console at the time advanced enough to run a good port of a CPS3 game - the huge amount of 2D animation in both games requires a lot of RAM, something which the Playstation doesn't have.
The tack Capcom took towards porting the game resulted in a clever new "Super Story" mode that takes the shortcomings of the Playstation and makes them... mostly irrelevant. In the arcade game (which is still present in the port as a separate mode), there's a story, sure, but it's a mangled version of the manga's plotline condensed down into short cutscenes between stages.

"Super Story Mode," as a counterpoint, takes a ridiculously overblown approach - there are 35 stages, each corresponding to an important plot event from the manga. They don't all use the fighting game engine from the arcade game, either! There's a horizontal-scrolling shooting-game segment, a game of rigged poker, and a Dragon's Lair-esque quick-reaction story segment or two.

Of course, every segment seems to involve a fight with some asshole in the employ of Dio Brando, the story's vampiric, time-stoppin' (steamroller-droppin') villain, but what was tiresome in the manga is a little more palatable in the game's bite-sized story chunks.

The only regrettable thing about the story mode is the evaluation given at the end of each story segment: you're given a ranking from S to E based on your performance in a given segment, and the criteria feel arbitrary and unnecessary, especially considering that you can't easily replay segments afterwards. Even worse, though, is the "secret factor" available on each stage, which can only be obtained by reading the game developers' minds.
Ok, that's kind of an exaggeration, but here's an example: the game's very first segment introduces us to Jotaro Kujo, an otherwise normal hot-blooded fighting manga high-school student, who has locked himself in the local prison because he thinks he's possessed. His mother is in anguish, so she calls Jotaro's grandfather, Joseph Joestar, in from America. He was the protagonist of the previous volume of the manga, and he looks like a cowboy in his old age.

Joestar is accompanied by a close friend, Mohammed Avdol, who explains to Jotaro that the evil spirit he thinks he's possessed by is actually a manifestation of his soul, which Avdol refers to as a "stand."

Stands are actually the core mechanic of the arcade game, and the one really interesting thing that it brings to the fighting game genre besides the characters and setting. Calling out your character's stand allows you to improve your attack and defense, and you can also "program" it to act on its own for a brief period while you do your own thing, which opens up a lot of strategic possibilities. I also assume that it allows for totally game-breaking combos and the like, but I have no idea, really - I'm just assuming based on prior experience, here.

Anyway, in the game's first story segment, it's Jotaro vs. Avdol. In the manga, Jotaro doesn't actually harm Avdol - he's merely led out of the jail cell after days of self-induced captivity. In the game, you're given a typical story mode, Street Fighter II-esque battle straight out of the arcade game, and let loose to do whatever you want.
If you manage to push Avdol all the way to the right side of the stage (which is the inside of Jotaro's cell), and then defeat him without using your stand, then you get a "secret factor" afterwards. What the heck is that? Points that go towards unlocking new game features, basically.

Yeah, ok. Not a big deal. But for people who have never read the manga before (which is to say: nearly everyone in the United States at the time of the game's release nine years ago), these things are impossible to figure out without just lucking into them. Kind of weird!

That said, even without knowledge of the source material, JoJo is a pretty wicked cool game. It just exudes love, because Capcom really didn't need to go out of their way to make the Super Story Mode, but they did anyway. Really shows you that they care, y'know?

On a similar note, Tuesday will see a feature on the just released Sega Ages 2500 Series Volume 32 - Phantasy Star Complete Collection. It's the closest thing we have to a Criterion Collection for video games, right now. I hope my video capture box holds out!


Matt Schley said...

Another fine article, m'boy.

Mazo said...

The best things about the game, I've found, were that nearly every single move seemed to reference something from the manga, and Jonathan Joestar's "OHHHHH MY GOD" when you beat his face in.

The Dreamcast version was way harder to unlock characters in. I don't think I was able to unlock anyone, and that's when I was using Hol Horse and spamming bullets against everyone.

Jason Moses said...

Yeah, that's something I don't think I did a good job of articulating. The game is such a loving tribute to its source material. Even the things that annoy me, like the secret factor requirements, are kind of amazing when you think about it - you get bonus points for recreating the narrative of the manga within the context of the game.

So many games developed from existing IPs either adhere too strongly to the source material or not enough - JoJo manages to straddle the line remarkably well.

Jeff Browne said...

You seem to have a major following. Congratulations. These guys are only helping your grade.

Jojo's Bizarre said...

Wow I have Jojos toy figure now I am very excited and want to collect this Jojos DVD game from PIJ. Really a big thanks for you because I ama huge fan of adventure gaming. By reading your post I know about this. Its really amazing.