Since the dawn of more-than-one-fictional-character-with-superpowers, people have longed to see them punch each other really hard. Not in a serious way, more in a no-holds-barred-no-consequences kind of way. Enter fighting games. The perfect opportunity for heroes and villains alike to test their mettle and meet in completely non-canon scenarios, wearing completely nonsensical clothing, all for the enjoyment of whoever so holds the controller. I mean, there usually is a story in there somewhere, but that tends to be drowned out by the aforementioned clashing of fictionally historical characters…or historically fictional characters…or a bear in a hat.
With a concept so closely surrounding the idea of decking villainy until it says uncle, it was never too hard to foresee a fighting game featuring those lovable chaps from U.A. High. This is especially true if you knew about the one that already came out for the 3DS, but let’s not argue semantics. That being said, some concession may have been given to this Japan only predecessor, as One’s Justice focuses on the tale of My Hero Academia from the appearance of Gran Torino. Now, if you’ve never seen the series itself before, this won’t mean a whole lot to you; however, if you are a fan, this leaves some pretty important beats in the story out. This is somewhat dealt with in the addition of classic/what if scenarios, but it is still a fair ways off a complete rundown of the story. Of course, if you wish for a full rundown of the story, a fighting game is far from where you should turn. Sure, there are dialogue sections that set up each bout, but they are so pared down that they lose any impact. Even titans of the series are reduced to examples in exposited backstory, their clashes meaning little more than the tutorial match.
Speaking of tutorial…gameplay. Okay, so that segue was weak, but I really wanted to talk about this game’s measure in stress reduction: Normal Mode. Though combat is not exactly a complicated affair, Normal Mode allows players to forgo memorising combos and simply mash the regular attack button. In doing so, the game automatically strings together appropriate combos and sends your enemies flying. Is this a cheap tactic? Yes. Do I care when I use it against CPUs? No. If the game can decide that difficulty is simply halving my damage and doubling the opponent’s, then I can simplify my controls. And that isn’t a random example of computational tomfoolery, there is one fight in this game against Nomu that is frustratingly bonkers. There is no way that one Nomu punch equals thirty-three of All Might’s. No way.
To delve into the details a little more, Manual Mode is how you want to play if it is the learning of combos that interests you. Switching to this will force you to learn the appropriate timing for activating your Quirk-based strikes and when it is best to use them. I would like to point out that you can still play this way in Normal Mode, Manual Mode simply removes the crutch of falling back to button mashing, but I digress. Each character naturally possesses their own style of combat and learning the range and extent of their Quirks is key to survival. Midoriya, for example, mostly relies on close combat to deal damage; however, his Delaware Smash provides a ranged option to be wary of. Other characters possess a slightly more unique mechanic, such as Todoroki and Dabi’s fire burning their foes, dealing incremental damage over time. Toga is even able to temporarily transform into her opponent, going so far as to mimic support characters. I mean, they aren’t called Quirks for nothing.
Also, support characters. Known affectionately as sidekicks, these friendly faces serve to get you out of trouble…when they actually hit an opponent. A simple enough mechanic, sidekicks appear out of thin air, deal a single attack and then evaporate, charging up their gauge for next time. Of course, the nature of these attacks vary, though any help is appreciated when your face is being slammed into the ground by the likes of Muscular. Said sidekicks can also aid in Plus Ultra attacks, super moves designed to deal cinematic damage and climactically win a fight. With charge being built up through regular combat, these moves come in two flavours…first and second. Okay, so they don’t really have names, but you use one bar of charge for your into Plus Ultra and two for when you want to see those awesome combos from the series recreated in a far less flexible visual medium. The aforementioned sidekicks come in with three bars, combining your first level Plus Ultra with their support techniques. The game itself tells you how big of a gamble this is, as using all your accumulated power can result in a truly frustrating miss. Like when Nomu slaps you with a basic attack and immediately undoes your supercharged barrage. Stupid Nomu…
Looping back to the story of the game, most of your time will be spent playing through the same levels. Be it for the sake of completing each fight with an S-Rank and discovering the hidden objective (which hover between obtuse and difficult), or simply because the game is divided into both Hero and Villain sides. As such, apart from a few side fights, you will be playing the same matches from the opposite perspective. Though this may sound cool on paper, getting to know the motivations and intricacies of the evil side of things, it ultimately does feel like retracing your steps. Combined with the knowledge that the story progresses identically in both sides, there is no real compulsion to pay attention. I mean, forcing us to win in a fight our character is going to lose anyway is one of the most frustrating concepts in gaming. Spending twenty minutes slamming our heads against a wall, only to have our victory torn away in a cutscene is just…annoying. Let us see a scenario where evil wins, let us see what happens if All For One triumphs, if Stain had completed his mission. Make it worth our while to play again…and I don’t mean the paltry amount of in-game currency.
And what does one spend said in-game currency on? Cosmetic items. In fact, decking out you favourite character in new duds may just be the entire point of this game. Ever wanted Yaoyorozu to rock Uraraka’s visor? Go for it. Ben interested in seeing what Mount Lady’s mask would look like on Tokoyami? You have an interesting imagination, but let it run free. The world is your somewhat-limited oyster, so shuck it. True, not every item is compatible with every character, but when you can give All Might a top hat, I say we all just count our blessings…then laugh at them. Specifically, putting Stain’s mask on Shigaraki and making him look like an unhappy pig, or putting Iida’s glasses on All For One to create the worst incognito disguise of all time. You…you kinda need to see it. It’s amazing.
Look, My Hero One’s Justice is not the most well-balanced fighting game around, nor is it the pinnacle of AI technology; however, I don’t think it was ever trying to be. As simple as it sounds, I think the game was just trying to be fun. Are some of the fights frustrating and clear examples of artificial difficulty? Yes. But they were never entirely unwinnable. Even I managed to get through each fight in a few tries and I’m terrible. And that’s what I enjoyed. There exists both a way to win for casuals and people with a more vested interest in mechanics. Everybody wins…well, only one wins in a fight, but you catch my drift. And whether you play Normal, or Manual; Hero, or Villain; there is one thing we can all agree on: Bakugo’s gauntlets look cool on anybody…also, that Mineta cosmetic item is a little creepy.