Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Switch

It’s very easy to write off anime franchise fighters. More often than not they are button mashfests with little thought to balance or mechanics that only want to show off the cool moves of their anime cast and make money off of hardcore fans.

My Hero One’s Justice 2 is that, but it’s also something more. Bandai Namco has been using this space to try out some really neat aspects of fighting game design, and that’s a pretty brilliant idea. Any arena fighter like this will make the majority of its money off of hardcore fans of its parent IP, which gives designers a little bit of leeway to try new things with less risk. And One’s Justice 2 tries a lot of new things, which might be enough reason to check this title out even if you aren’t a My Hero Academia fan.

So let’s talk about some of these ideas. Well first of all, One’s Justice 2 really embraces its identity as a single-player fighting game, much like Netherrealm Studios does with its games. It has quite a few single-player modes to choose from, including story mode, arcade mode, and mission mode, all which bring a different spin to the single-player experience.

Story Time

Story mode tells the stories of the last few seasons of the My Hero Academia anime, while allowing you to relive the battles through gameplay. Its main new idea is the ability to experience the story from multiple viewpoints. You get to play through as both the heroes and the villains and many chapters will have both a main story and a sub story. Not only does this allow you to see what supporting characters are doing during main story events, but it also lets you view the My Hero Academia story form an interesting chronological viewpoint, which posits certain events in parallel rather than sequential.

Mission mode is a more RPG focused mode, which a lot of fighters seem to have these days. You’ll add people to your party, upgrade them as you fight, and take place in territory acquisition battles. In the end you are still just fighting battles one after another, but it can get a little addicting.

Arcade mode is basically what you’d expect. Fight through a series of battles and take on a boss at the end. No surprises here.

Character creation

Fighting through these modes will give you parts for this game’s next big idea - its character creation mode. You can’t make your own custom hero, and that’s OK. Instead, you can design costumes for any of the other characters in the game. It’s quite powerful, allowing you to change elements right down to their voice. Once again this is something we have seen Netherrealm do in their games, but One’s Justice 2’s costume editor is much more powerful.

One’s Justice 2’s interesting ideas extend into its core combat. Frankly, its character design is some of the best fighting games have had to offer.

“RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE THEY WERE JUST WORKING WITH THE CHARACTERS FROM THE ANIME/MANGA” angry fans are typing out in the comments.

Yes, but I’m not talking about visual design. I’m talking about mechanical design.

It genuinely feels like you are controlling these characters because they each have combat mechanics that mirror their powers in the anime. For example, Todoroki can burn himself out or freeze himself by using his fire or ice powers too often. Instead, he has to juggle using them each about 50 percent of the time. Kaminari can generate intense surges of electricity that do a ton of damage, but you need to be sure they take the opponent out because it will leave him vulnerable and stupefied afterward. Ochako can control space by causing elements of the arena to become weightless. There are tons of interesting characters with tons of interesting systems, from the Nomu’s of season 1, to season 4’s Overhaul.

Even the controls have some neat ideas in them. You can decide on how to trigger your special and normal moves, adding in input leniency at the cost of inaccuracy. You can choose whether to turn auto-combos on or off, allowing you to mash away, or to focus on grinding out the highest damage combo possible. I can think of so many competitive fighting games that would benefit immensely from these two options, and yet it’s One’s Justice 2 that is willing to experiment with them.

Looking good

It’s also worth noting that One’s Justice 2 is just absolutely gorgeous. I’d say it’s on par with some of the best looking fighting games out there, like Granblue Fantasy Versus. The character models look like they come right out of the anime, the action is super smooth, and the effects on every attack are brilliant. I particularly love the comic book style onomatopoeia effects that come out every time you use a special move. Not only does this add a little bit of zing to each hit, it actually tells you exactly what is happening, communicating special hit-states to newer players.

The only major problem I have with One’s Justice 2 is that… the gameplay isn’t great? It’s not bad, it just knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more. There’s basically just one attack button. Everything else is a special move. It is, by far, a mash-fest. The biggest mix-up the game has to offer is armored moves and throws.

To be fair, it does a fantastic job of communicating when these moves are occurring. Your character flashes different colors when they are invincible, armored, or throwing an opponent, and that’s great. Frankly, this is yet another thing that probably should be integrated into higher level fighting games.

But at the end of the day, the allure of the combat itself wears off fairly quickly. This isn’t something I’d spend a lot of time playing with my friends on the couch, or with randos online.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t sink quite a few hours into it though. It also doesn’t mean I won’t come back to it, when I have an itch for more My Hero Academia content. It just means that it’s not going to be the next big competitive fighting game, and I think that’s OK. There’s something valuable about a design space that isn’t looking to compete with Street Fighter and instead just wants to please a small but dedicated fanbase with some new and interesting ideas. That’s exactly what My Hero One’s Justice does, and if you sound like you are part of that fanbase, you should check it out.