Jet Set Radio Future
Ah, the evil corporation, that faceless enemy that sees nothing but profits and revenue with no regard for human life and/or the betterment of mankind (unless the profits are there). Resident Evil has Umbrella, Eve of Extinction has Wisdom Inc. and Jet Set Radio has the Rokkaku Group. The Rokkaku Group is a massive conglomerate headed by its CEO Rokkaku Gouji, a man so vile and powerful he has his eyes fixed on nothing but total domination of Tokyo! Unbeknownst to even those that follow his evil will, Gouji is planning on some seriously nasty things to happen in Tokyo.
So how does a game featuring inline skating and graffiti figure into all this? Well I'm glad you asked'you see, the last bastion of freedom and spirit lies in the hands of the collective gangs sprawled across the city. Problem is, these gangs don't much care for one another and constantly bicker amongst themselves instead of sticking it to "the man." That's where you come in. As newest member of the hottest gang around (The GG's) you not only have to prove yourself to your new gang, but also figure out a way to right the wrongs that are currently plaguing the city. Of course you will have to do this using spray paint and electromagnetic roller blades as your primary weapons.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
When I heard that the sequel to Jet Grind Radio was going to be released on the Xbox I was instantly fired up, so much so that I went back and reread my original review. Wow, I gave the original a 97! Is this possible? Was it that good of a game or was I not up to speed on scoring since it was my third review? Well, while I can't say my original review was as good as I would have liked it to be (from a writer's standpoint). The game actually was that good, however, and the fact remains that it was literally a selling point for the now defunct Dreamcast. On a side note, you can now pickup a Dreamcast for as little as $49.99 and the original Jet Grind for as little as $7.99 (this is an incredible deal). But enough of this blathering, let's talk about today's topic, Jet Set Radio Future (JSRF).
JSRF takes place in a futuristic Tokyo, where really strange gangs rule the streets, but unlike the violent gangs of today, this future society seems to breed an almost mutant-like gang member. This is a setting wherein gang members wear elaborate monstrous outfits and other visually shocking apparel. Now the great thing about this future world is the really slick roller blades that all the gang members seem to wear. First off, the wearer can move very fast and the law of gravity seems almost suspended when jumping, not to mention the ability to land on your feet (without turning your legs into Jell-O) after jumping off a ledge and landing on the street some 300 feet below. Next, these marvels of engineering allow the user to grind along almost any type of edge surface. Imagine if you will, racing along a sidewalk, jumping up and grinding along a handrail and then up a 90-degree pole, across a streetlight, leaping onto the top of an oncoming bus, jumping over to a rooftop and finally coming to a stop. Yes, this is a typical move during the gameplay and truth be known, a fairly easy one too. The things you do in this game are pretty much limited to your imagination.
So, controlling the game is fairly easy with an incredibly short learning curve. Players view the game from a 3rd person perspective with the left thumb stick used to accelerate and the right side buttons used for boosts, tricks and jumping. The two trigger buttons are also important, as the left one will reset your view and the right one is needed to spray the graffiti.
The whole point of the game is to spray your graffiti over your rivals' "tag" marks whilst you invade their turf. Plus, since your gang is viewed and generally thought of as the good guys, you will investigate strange goings on around town. These typically involve burning through the scenario once and covering the other gang's graffiti. Once that is completed, you will usually meet a colorful character that challenges you to some sort of task, like follow the leader or a race around the block. If you complete the scenario successfully, the character you have just defeated will join your gang and they will be selectable from the garage (more on this later). Soon after, you will be given a choice to do battle against the Rokkaku Police force and its resident psychotic, Inspector Hayashi. Hayashi has been charged with the dubious task of eliminating the street gangs for Gouji Rokkaku. I don't want to ruin the surprises, but the lengths the Rokkaku Group will go to systematically eliminate you exceed acceptable levels of sanity.
The GG's hang out is called the Garage and is managed by Roboy. Here you can practice your moves and save your game, change game settings, etc. More importantly, the whole game revolves around the garage. Since it's centrally located, there are several exits to the various parts of the city. This is also where those new characters you recruit eventually end up.
So what does recruiting all these other hip-hop graffiti artists do for you? It's simple'each unlocked character has various strengths and weaknesses which can be used during the various stages of the game. Each stage has a graffiti point that allows you to swap up to other GG members. In other words, if you are playing a scenario that requires tremendous speed and your current character is slow, you can find the "special" graffiti point that teleports you to the Garage (the GG's hangout) and select a quicker gang member. By the time the game is over you could potentially have a baseball team's worth of gang members, each possessing a specialty.
There are quite a few changes/upgrades that this edition has that the original did not. First off, Sega eliminated the time clock that made you rush through the scenarios too quickly in the first game. This allows for a tempo that is much more user friendly. With the exploration possibilities and the gaggle of hidden items/grinds/hidden places the game has, players who like exploring massive environments are in for a real treat, since they now have all the time they want to look for hidden things. Next, the addition of the boost dash was quite an impressive upgrade. Basically, you must collect graffiti cans in order to make your mark on the wall. Well, when you use the boost dash, you burn off 10 cans of paint but you also rocket super fast for a brief moment, and when I say fast, I mean fasssssssssssstttttttt. The game graphics literally blur with the tremendous amount of speed that you unleash. This is particularly effective in the stages where you may need to go uphill or race an opponent. I also found that on the stages where you fight the police force (knock 'em down and spray paint them), you really lay out the bad guys when you fire off a boost dash. The game makers also threw in a combo/trick function part of the game where the original had nothing like it. The tricks often help you through the game when you need to get to a particularly tricky location. I wondered why they implemented this in the original.
A couple of things worth mentioning'one, this game can get really hard at some points' really hard. Two, the adventure isn't so clear at some points and you must look hard to figure out what to do next. Three, occasionally the camera angle will lose you in a wall when you turn too sharply near a solid object. All three of these things are minimal, but still worth mentioning.
Surprise! JSRF has a multiplayer mode that really adds another dimension to this superb game. Taking advantage of the four game control ports the Xbox offers, the game has five mission-based levels on which to find out who is the best Jet player. There are levels involving straight up racing, and a "ball-hog" type game that is a fast version of keep away. There's also a graffiti war level and a race version of capture the flag involving five hidden flags. This option is also extended to having either team battles or an all-against-all battle. While I really thought this was a good addition to the game, why the hell did they not offer this same option with the link cable? I am honestly getting really disappointed with the whole "link" idea. Why invent it if you never incorporate it?
OK, I know the words beautiful, awesome, gorgeous, flawless are thrown around the gaming world with impunity, but JSRF's visuals are almost a religious experience. Cell shading is a not often used medium in graphic design, but this game looks so friggin' good that absolutely no other system could produce graphics this sharp. I am literally speechless in how to explain how good this game looks. The characters are so bright and smooth looking yet have absolutely dead-on shadows. The movements are so fluid I would swear water was coming out of my Xbox. This is arguably the best looking video game on the market today, and that's saying a lot when we're talking about games like Halo, Dead or Alive 3, Final Fanasy X, Wreckless and Survivor (just kidding). The frame rate is laser beam fast and the horizon depth is unflinching'wow.
JSRF has the coolest mix of movement music. The songs that play along with the action are absolutely fitting. It's like the programmers had a giant puzzle and they fit all of the pieces together perfectly. Clever players will pick out a couple of cuts that were in the first game and even smarter ones will recognize the artists behind the music. The industrial DJ Professor K, spins the music and keeps the story flowing with his witty banter and street style. Prof K is a solid character who wisely does most of the talking in the game. Inspector Hayashi sounds like he's a bit out of his mind and almost has a twisted voice. I would love to give credit to the voice actors but the instruction manual doesn't list any credits.
Hidden items are always a plus in my book and each level contains an audio recording that must be found and listened to while in the Garage. There are some strange things happening in Tokyo.
Graffiti souls are symbols that unlock different spray paint patterns. You can select which pattern you would like your mark to be from the list of souls you have discovered. Look sharp; while some are in plain sight, others are in areas difficult to get at.
This game is totally original, as is its predecessor. Rollerblading while spraying graffiti in a futuristic world where an evil conglomerate wants to rule the city and said city's gang members are the only ones who can stop it, by spraying paint is truly unique. Some really cool stuff going on here.
It should be noted that there are several disclaimers in both the game and manual stating that spray painting graffiti is against the law, so don't get any ideas or you could end up in jail. Strange that the game that has characters creating art on public property has all sorts of warnings, yet any number of games that involving killing does not. Don't worry, I'm not going to get all political (I like violent games), but I would have loved to been a fly on the wall of the boardroom discussion when it was brought up: Senator Jackass: I'd like to see a warning on this game that graffiti is bad and probably leads to other things like licking slugs and staying up past your bedtime to watch public access television. Ass kissing aide: But sir, we don't put any warnings on games that involve dismemberment and unsafe firearm usage leading to death.
Senator Jackass: But those are things that the Government does, so it's okay. The government would never spray paint on a wall. Do you think we are savages?
Ass kissing aide: No sir, good point.
Senator Jackass: Good, now call up my mistress and tell her to meet me at the hotel in an hour.
Yup, this game is a winner. Long time readers will note that I am a hard reviewer. For a game to even score in the 90's means that I really put it to the test. Well, chalk this one up to another reason why you should (or did) buy an Xbox. Excellent controls, easy on the eye graphics, killer soundtrack and a challenging adventure mark this as this year's best Xbox game (so far). I can't wait for the third edition.
Pick this game up; it is a hot, hot game
Download Jet Set Radio Future
Are you hyped for Jet Set Radio Future? Should you be? Instead of bemoaning the commercial failure of its predecessor or delivering a monologue about the value of creativity in gaming, we're letting you make up your own mind about this unique in-line skating/vandalism/action game. Break out the 2 pencil and take this handy quiz to find out if Sega's hipster sequel is right for you.
Question No.1: Did you purchase Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast?
a) Yes b) No, because I didn't have a Dreamcast. c) No, vandalism offends my moral sensibilities.
Question No.2: Do stylish, cel-shaded graphics (just check out the screens on these pages), huge, new environments, and dozens of on-screen characters turn you on?
a) Yes...oh, yes. b) No, cel-shading is freaky and distracting. c) No, large levels intimidate me, so I only play Pong.
Question No.3: How do you feel about gameplay innovations like faster tagging, backward skating, turbo boosts, trick combos and easier grinding?
a) Sounds sufficiently phat to me. b) I prefer my games to be convoluted, slow and incomprehensible. c) Rollerblading is a crime, even if it's fast and fun.
Question No.4: Does the prospect of controlling futuristic versions of playable skaters from the first game and hip, new guys and gals excite you?
a) Yep, I can't wait to see Cube's new outfit. b) No, I only have eyes for a certain Mr. Hawk. c) No, a great multitude of characters makes me feel insignificant.
Question No.5: Will you enjoy a bevy of multiplayer options, including both cooperative and competitive modes for two to four players?
a) Yes, but I may have to sell my plasma to afford three more Xbox controllers. b) No, I usually just play single-player modes. c) No, I have no friends to play with. Well, no real ones, anyway.
Question No.6: ISRFs soundtrack is a wicked mix of punk, techno, rock and rap with dope remixes by the Latch Brothers and no sight of Rob Zombie's "Dragula." Do you dig?
a) I'm down with that. b) Nope, I only play games with "Dragula." c) No, I hate music.
Question No.7: What is a baloo?
a) A bear b) A small jacket c) Scutch
OK, time to tally up your Jet Set Radio Future excitement. Award yourself one point for each time you marked "A" as your answer. Each "B" and "C" you get absolutely no points. Add up your score.