Jujutsu Kaisen is a phenomena. With countless Anime Award nominations (and wins) for its first and second seasons, the JJK train just keeps moving. The Shonen Jump (Shueisha) manga created by Gege Akutami has found new lives in almost every medium. While the Jujutsu Sorcerers have found their way onto mobile devices with Jujutsu Kaisen Phantom Parade in 2023, Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash brings the hit anime to console players.
Published by BANDAI NAMCO and developed by Byking, Gemdrops, Inc., Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash continues the long and mixed-reviewed history of anime-based arena fighters. Just like 2023’s Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm CONNECTIONS, this anime-adapted game finds itself iterative of its genre instead of pushing forward. The aesthetic looks familiar, the anime adaptation is a streamlined visual novel-styled endeavor, and you play with two characters informed by their relationships in the series, each with a unique joint attack.
Many of Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash’s nuts and bolts are exactly the same as the video games that came before. So much so that, at times, it can be hard to get invested. Yes, even when you’re a massive Jujutsu Kaisen fan like myself who was excited to play as familiar members of the cast. The first hour of the story moves smoothly and keeps you engrossed. You play Yuji Itadori, Megumi Fushiguro, Satoru Gojo, and Nobara Kugisaki in this first Chapter. Each one of them brings enough excitement just by being themselves. The battles are mostly easy. However, as an arena fighter, the verticality of the stages adds a lot to the repetitive areas, even when they begin to grow stale. It helps with intensifying battle situation beyond on plane. The ability to fight in the air and move across different height levels of each stage builds dynamic fights enhanced by new character combos.
In the game, you pick two players to fight against opponents in 2v2 matches. While you only control one, the second character is necessary. To meet match-win conditions and challenges, both characters share equal weight in accomplishing them. In multiplayer, this is pretty straightforward and mostly not frustrating. But I can’t say the same in the Story Mode, which takes you through Season 1 of the anime and Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash offers players 16 playable characters and doesn’t skip on including the popular ones. You get to play as Maki Zen’in, Toge Inumaki, Panda, Aoi Todo, Mahito, Kento Nanami, Suguru Geto, Jogo, Hanami, and the King of Curses, Ryomen Sukuna, in addition to the core quartet of the series. Each character has a unique skill set and fighting style in normal and cursed energy modes. Most surprisingly, though, the game goes one step further. It also adapts Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie as well, with Yuta Okkotsu making an appearance as a playable character.
The game’s mechanics are straightforward. Characters build Cursed Energy by landing attacks. With simple controls, hitting “x” repeatedly automatically strings together combos and changes when you add a directional input. These count as normal attacks, and hitting enemies with them is a rather easy way to build up cursed energy instead of locking it behind successful combos. Once filled, you can activate Cursed Technique attacks and Domain Expansions, which interact with your opponent to varying effects. While the hit detection is a constant struggle, landing one of these two is satisfying. However, the input delay for some of the powerful tag-team attacks becomes increasingly frustrating the harder the fights get.
Each subsequent episode of the Main Story yields higher relationship scores, which impact the different character combinations you can create. Like others in the genre, different combinations give the player unique synergies and power dynamics. That said, the explosive animations they bring to life almost always trap you rather than immerse you. By completing battles, players increase their fighter’s power level, unlocking stronger attacks as they progress. Over time, the stage will evolve and collapse from the immense power of Cursed Techniques and Domain Expansions, which offers the players more depth to their play.
However, the variances in characters create an extremely imbalanced fighter pool. When playing in free matches with characters of your choosing, this isn’t as apparent. As you start 1v2 matches against actual characters and not curses, everything gets a little out of hand. The most noticeable is when you fight as Nobara against Maki and Toge early on. You get stuck in a series of Toge Cursed Technique animations. As the fights increase in difficulty, it’s clear that it’s not necessarily the AI’s skill but rather the imbalance of the character’s selected powers. This increases when you play against characters like Sukuna or even just Toge.
The beginning of the Story Mode battles are also frustrating because of the text boxes that appear over the screen as the fight starts. It’s supposed to be intro dialogue and quippy moments, but instead, they block your view. I played Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash on a 64-inch TV, which didn’t help. All that meant was that I had a bigger black text box over my character at the beginning of almost every fight. This often led to missing attacks right out of the gate. Or, hoping that I wouldn’t get hit when trying to land a win condition that limited the number of hits that I could take. By the end of the game, powerful techniques have become commonplace, each outfit set loses appeal, and you can’t learn a new domain. It just becomes too stale.
The biggest factor that keeps the Story Mode from offering Jujutsu Kaisen fans exactly what they want is that iconic battles are held on the same stage as each other. While you may be fighting with your own unique cursed technique, the stages disrupt any immersion. Instead of embracing locations to let the player play through pivotal story moments, it reduces environments. And that’s the game’s biggest flaw. It takes epic battles and reduces them to their bare essentials, the people involved.
While using screenshots of the animation is commonplace in arena fighters and anime games as a whole, the character models’ lack of actual scene reenactment makes them feel hollow. Everything is an adaptation of a story, sure, but the emotional weight is lacking. This is the most apparent in the Jujutsu Kaisen 0 elements. The use of voice actors in this game helps make them feel somewhat more immersive. However, the lack of animations, in game-engine or from the series when coupled with the lack of stage variance is something that will keep JJK fans from getting exactly what they want.
I love Jujutsu Kaisen. It’s one of my favorite shonen. Akutami’s writing regarding grief and resiliency remains one of the strongest. None of that spark is here. Whether you’re in love with the franchise because of the manga or because of MAPPA’s groundbreaking animation, Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash feels like a placeholder. In the adaption of the story, you can see the care that went into preserving pivotal moments when possible. However, as an arena fighter, the character imbalance doesn’t seem to show the same care. At the end of the day, still images of one of the most praised animated series just feel hollow.
Outside of the Story Mode, Co-Op offers players the best experience for their time in Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash. Fighting through waves of enemies proves better than simply doing a 2v2 one-time battle. Not to mention the coordination it takes as well to work with your partner.
There is something about picking your favorite character and fighting through waves of curses that just feels good. Sure, it may not have the emotional depth of “Hidden Inventory / Premature Death,” but it is the most fun with the game. Finally, the game offers players who purchased the Digital Deluxe or Digital Ultimate edition of the game a minigame: “Jujutsu 2024.” Styled minigame after the retro ‘80s classic R.B.I. Baseball is paywalled but a neat addition nonetheless.
As a whole, Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash isn’t bad, per se, but it is lacking. Maybe it’s hindered by the expectations associated with the IP, or maybe it’s just too much like every other arena fighter we’ve gotten. Either way, the lackluster take on the genre has a lot of jujutsu sorcery to learn. The game can find its standing with a patch or two and a larger roster. But for now, it highlights why fans and the stories they love deserve something more than arena fighters. Though, I’m fairly certain if you pick up this game, you know what to expect from the genre. You get just that.
Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash
Jujutsu Kaisen: Cursed Clash isn’t bad, per se, but it is lacking. Maybe it’s hindered by the expectations associated with the IP, or maybe it’s just too much like every other arena fighter we’ve gotten. Either way, the lackluster take on the genre has a lot of jujutsu sorcery to learn.