One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is the latest collaboration between Bandai Namco and Spike Chunsoft, the same team behind the much maligned Jump Force. While One Punch Man does have its significant share of issues, the new effort from this team has improved greatly on the formula established by Jump Force, bringing us a game that is far more enjoyable than Jump Force but still not quite there yet.
During the first few hours of One Punch Man‘s single-player campaign, I found myself pretty bored. You start by creating a custom character joining the Hero Association to protect the city from monsters and threats of all kinds. The choices given for customization at the beginning are paltry and don’t leave much room for creativity. Thankfully though, your options for customization open up dramatically by the middle of the game.
It didn’t dawn on me until about four hours in what kind of game One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows truly was. It is an MMO. You create a customized character that can be one of several different classes that can change their combat style. You also complete quests, improving your rank and social standing (think social links from Persona but far simpler), and get new items and moves to customize your character. You can even interact with other players in the Online Mode, exchange emotes, and help each other out in combat. Once I realized this, my enjoyment with the game increased dramatically. It still suffers from issues like characters popping in on the map, no fast travel option between different locations in the city from the pause menu, and not even a dash option to walk faster in the overworld. However, it was still fun interacting with characters from the show and having your OC inserted into the main One Punch Man story like an anime Forrest Gump.
Jump Force and One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows seem to have switched priorities in their design. The combat in Jump Force was fun and varied, but the RPG elements were an awful, monotonous chore. In One Punch Man, its RPG sections are dramatically improved, but it seems to have come at the cost of the combat. The combat is by no means bad, but it is very basic and optimal strategies for the different characters and combat types can be found very early on. Again, much like in an MMO, it is less about the actual combat itself and more the optimization of it to deal as much damage as quickly as possible to complete the mission. The one unique gameplay mechanic that One Punch Man has is the arrival system.
Anyone who has watched the anime or read the manga will know that a large number of enemy encounters involve waiting for stronger characters to show up to save the day, usually Saitama. This game is able to simulate that by having random characters (during single player mode) or specifically selected characters (in online and local multiplayer) rush to the scene of battle. A picture-in-picture window will be below the character’s life bar with a timer on it. Perform well in combat by doing extended combos or successfully executing defensive maneuvers like perfect guards to shorten the timer and have the more powerful character show up sooner. This also solves the Saitama problem.
Saitama beats his opponents in one punch (duh), so having him as a fully playable character would obviously be pretty boring, but leaving him out entirely would miss the point of even making the game. The game solves this problem by, similarly to season 2 of the anime, making Saitama more of a side character to the overall story, only interjecting himself when necessary. Saitama in this game is less of a character than he is a mechanic. Setting the arrival rules to Saitama only in a multiplayer match is the most fun that can be had playing against others in One Punch Man, as the battle will turn into a frenzy to get Saitama on their side to deliver the finishing blow. If you’re wondering, yes, any button will defeat the opponent, even a weak square attack, when using Saitama.
The online modes are pretty sparse and the netcode is passable, but slowdowns and stutters are almost guaranteed at least once per match. The slower combat helps alleviate this, but the lack of defensive options in the overall combat system (no quick get up, rolls, combo breakers, etc.) can leave you stuck on the ground, unable to defend yourself as the opponent can continuously wail on you and force a guessing game that is not in your favor. This is only worsened if the game decides to slow down on you during this time.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is a vast improvement over Jump Force, but its lack of combat variety and certain features in the RPG side of the game hold it back from being truly great. The multiplayer is fun when played with friends with Saitama arrival rules on; otherwise, it can get very boring pretty fast. Bandai Namco and Spike Chunsoft are definitely onto something trying to create this perfect fighting/RPG anime hybrid, and if they take the lessons learned from this game, I believe their third try will truly be the charm.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: February 27, 2020
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Spike Chunsoft