In many fighting games, bits of story often only distract you from what really matters: the competitive action. Developer CyberConnect2’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven is the rare case of a fighter in which prolonged dialogue sequences between stages aren’t only welcomed—they’re actually preferred, as the two-on-two combat registers as a poor imitation of 3D beat-’em-ups, from the camera without a useful reposition button, which made the similar melee madness of 2004’s Ninja Gaiden more intelligible, to combos that lack the fluid feel one expects from a series of well-timed blows.
Nodding to its comic-book source material, Eyes of Heaven’s story mode plays like a stiffly animated cartoon between battles and falls right into the popular Japanese trend of adversaries chatting with each other before getting into showdowns. This unoriginal anime/manga routine is strangely engaging in Eyes of Heaven, thanks to dialogue that puts a sardonic spin on various tropes, including villainous threats (“The way you think is as stupid as rat shit smeared all over a toilet”), a race to acquire a powerful artifact called the Holy Corpse (“To put it simply, it’s the mummified dead body of a great man who died a very long time ago”), and a hero’s reluctance to conform to the script’s calling for exposition (“Explaining is such a pain in the ass”). When the plot introduces a small turtle that the heroes can ridiculously teleport inside of, a character named Mista talks about being desensitized to “weird shit,” serving up a metatexual critique of the predictability of manga weirdness.
This writing, while merely filler between bouts, is far more entertaining than the combat that’s supposed to be Eyes of Heaven’s focus. This is the first JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fighting title that takes combat beyond the standard 2D variety popularized by Street Fighter II. In giving combatants the ability to roam in three-dimensional space and turn their backs to each other (most fighting games enforce a face-to-face stance), CyberConnect2 follows the lead of the 1999 Capcom game Power Stone.
But Eyes of Heaven is missing its ancestor’s logical ease of play. The camera in Power Stone allowed you to see everything that you needed to, meaning you weren’t going to get hit out of nowhere due to a lack of sight. Although Power Stone benefitted from smaller arenas in this respect, there’s no excuse for Eyes of Heaven’s behind-the-protagonist camera, which often renders your character invisible after you fall down from a direct hit. This game also misfires with its inclusion of environmental objects that can be thrown at foes in that you have to press two buttons to pick up an object. This deviation from the more appropriate single-button press, as in Power Stone and Super Smash Bros., renders a potentially fun dynamic incredibly awkward.
Eyes of Heaven also lacks that very basic element that all good fighting games and beat-’em-ups have: a sense that your button inputs and character actions are in sync so that the game correctly rewards or punishes your hand-eye coordination. This limitation is especially unfortunate given the emphasis on tag-team play. Since Eyes of Heaven borrows so much from games like Dynasty Warriors, right down to the emphasis on mashing one button multiple times for a flashy combo, CyberConnect2 could have at least made the two-person combo as serviceable as it was in the 2004 brawler X-Men Legends, which gave you a simple bonus if you and an ally simultaneously hit an enemy with a special attack. Here, you have to activate a “Dual Combo” timer before a teammate can arbitrarily jump in on a combo. You would expect a game that prides itself on bizarreness to avoid such bureaucratic and automated design, but Eyes of Heavens is all bark.