My Hero One’s Justice 2 – Passable Fan Service
PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4
In doing my review for this game, there was a point where I had to stop playing this game. Not because of any gameplay issues or dissatisfaction. But because the story mode in the game had progressed further than where I was in the actual show. I had to stop, go back to the show, and then return to the game after.
Such a scenario is indicative of the big challenge for a game like My Hero One’s Justice 2 – whether it seeks to cater primarily to the existing fanbase, or to a dedicated fighting game audience, or even to expand the appeal of the franchise to a wider audience. In attempting to do a bit of each, this game, while a solid experience overall, never manages to find solid footing.
The Story Mode was a major challenge for me because it makes clear assumptions about its audience – that players are not only fans of the show, but also have up-to-date with the very latest episode. This was a major hurdle for me and prompted my stopping with the game.
Story has been a weak point in many fighting games. My Hero One’s Justice 2 (MHOJ2) has the advantage of being able to tap into an existing narrative and world. But in some ways, that story may actually be a crutch instead.
In Story Mode, there are multiple chapters where players are shown a series of summary videos. Sometimes the videos transition into a playable fight. Sometimes they transition into the next chapter of videos.
Unfortunately, the story mode and its videos are a poor mechanism to convey the story. The first chapter in this mode begins in the middle of the show’s third season, which is already an odd place to start. Each video consists of still images and voice dialogue taken from the show. An entire episode of the show is cut down into what is essentially a 3-minute slide presentation.
This was the point that I had to stop playing the game. I was halfway through Season 4, and my progress in the game was passing the point where I was in the show. And the in-game videos were a pale shadow of a full episode. They serve as a functional reminder and refresher, but it has also lost all the narrative beats and emotion from the actual show.
In order to enjoy the Story Mode to its fullest, not only do players have to be exceedingly familiar with the entire run of the show (i.e. up-to-date with the latest episode), but also already invested enough to a point whereby its threadbare videos can elicit any amount of emotional response. Story Mode assumes that its audience and players will do all the emotional heavy lifting when it comes to the story and characters.
Watashi Ga Kita (I’m Here)
The characters in My Hero Academia are colourful, imaginative and in some cases, just wild. Imagine a hero with the head of a killer whale, wearing a three-piece suit and literally named Gang Orca. Or a psychotic villain whose costume consists of dismembered hands placed all around his body. Characters that are this fantastical are accompanied by equally incredible powers. Within the show, the boundaries and parameters within which those powers operate are conveniently loose. Characters gain new abilities or morph existing ones as the plot demands.
To have this game try to put harder boundaries and limits and build systems around these powers and characters is a big part of its appeal. If the game had adhered purely to the show’s logic, every fight would either end in seconds or huge swathes of landscape would be turned into rubble. Balancing the interaction between characters, and codifying the on-screen powers allows for this game to exist. Now players can actually set up a bout between All Might and Ochaco without it being a complete one-sided stomp. And players can set up any number of imaginable face-offs with a large number of selectable characters (38!) either in a 1-versus-1 or in team battle modes.
Climbing the Hero Billboard Chart
The fundamental thing about fighting games is in its underlying systems. And the major challenge for this game, in finding a balance between catering to the show’s fanbase, to fighting game enthusiasts or to a broad audience, can be felt within these systems. MHOJ2 is not the deep technical game that fighting game fans would desire. But neither is it a shallow, one-dimensional game that favours button mashing over skill. It lies somewhere in-between, and it does not feel naturally comfortable for anyone involved.
The game has all the hallmarks of a serious fighting game – blocks, parries, unblockable attacks, combos that can be chained into other combos, and moves to retaliate when pummelled by an unstoppable barrage. Timing, anticipation and situational awareness remain the key to successful fights. Except when it does not because sometimes button mashing and spamming the same attacks are the most effective ways to victory.
One for All or All for One?
A game like this faces unenviable challenges straight out of the gate. It has to be clear about its own identity and acknowledge who its target audiences are. Because in its current form, MHOJ2 attempts to equally satiate the show’s audience, and offer a rich fighting game experience while also trying to entice new audiences to the franchise and material.
There is a solid game at its base, and players will find plenty of variety and visual punch to satisfy a fun, casual tryst. Ultimately, the game passes, but it does not excel in whatever it was setting out to achieve.
My Hero One’s Justice 2 was reviewed on the PS4 with code kindly supplied by Bandai Namco Australia