Jet Set Radio Future (JSRF) is less of a sequel to the Dreamcast original
than a reimagining of that game's core concepts. The same general
description could apply equally to either title. The evil and oppresive
Rokkaku Group is suppressing freedom of personal expression in the
not-at-all-dystopian city of the future, Tokyo-to (no relation). The last
bastion of individuality in this city is an extremely stylish graffiti crew,
the G.G.'s. It's up to this band of skaters to evade the Rokkaku security
forces while canvassing the town with their socially-minded graffiti. The
whole package is presented via cutting edge cel-shaded graphics and fueled
by the underground music of DJ Professor K's pirate radio station: Jet Set
I'm living in the future
The returning cast and nearly identical premise, would, at first blush, suggest a gameplay experience similar to the first game. And while the general concept is the same--skate around the levels, avoid the police and other hazards, and successfully tag all of the graffiti
hot spots--the details have been reworked from top to bottom.
The first and most striking change is in the scope and layout of the city
environments. The first Jet Set Radio featured small, compact, and
unforgivingly timed settings that required memorization of the
level's geography, opponents, and tag locations for success. The second
game uses the increased power of the Xbox to provide far more expansive
environments. Time limits have been completely eliminated, leaving the
player free to explore the city's streets, back alleys, railings, telephone
wires, overpasses, and sewer pipes without restraint.
I turn myself around, I'm moving backwards and forwards
Skating movement has been augmented by a number of easy-to-perform tricks.
Players can chain tricks together while grinding to increase their speed;
tricks can also be added to the apex of jumps, to right before landings, and
on the edge of a halfpipe. All tricks are performed via a single button
press, making their successful execution a matter of timing. Chaining
tricks together builds the trick combo count, increases the point
multiplier, and builds the momentum necessary to reach otherwise
inaccessible parts of the level. Chaining tricks and building combos soon
become required skills to complete stages. A new Boost Dash technique
consumes ten spray cans and injects the player with an instant burst of
fiery super speed. There are twenty-four playable characters that can be unlocked throughout the game, each with unique strengths, weaknesses, tricks, and timings.
And we are criminals that never broke no laws
The police are back, of course; both on foot and in progressively more
ridiculous machinery. The
original forced gamers to tag graffiti while simultaneously evading the
police--a difficult and often frustrating task. In JSRF, the evade and
tagging portions have been completely separated. From time to time while
exploring a level, chain link fences slam down and enclose the player in a
small portion of the stage until the Man has been neutralized. Players can
now fight back, though hardly on the same scale as their opponents; locking-on to enemies then skating or dashing into
them knocks them over and makes them far easier targets.
I'm painting, I'm painting again
But perhaps the biggest change has been reserved for the tagging mechanism.
The original game handled tagging via a sort of rhythm-action minigame; the
player paused in front of tag locations and input broad, semicircular
sweeps of the analog stick to drop graffiti on the walls. JSRF guts this
system completely, replacing it with a simple button press when adjacent to
a tag location. Larger tags are represented by a larger number of hotspots
and require more spray cans to complete.
I can see the people on the street
At first glance, it's tempting to dismiss these changes as a "dumbing down"
of the original; after all, with simplified tagging, segregated police
encounters, no time limit, and a one-button trick system, it sounds like
gameplay has been removed entirely. The game's first few stages are
disarmingly easy, to boot. But soon the game opens up immensely, the stages
increase dramatically in both size and difficulty, and the reason behind
JSRF's gameplay changes becomes clear. The focus has shifted from a race
against time to a platformeresque series of explorations. The challenge
comes not from rapid movement and evasion, but from understanding the
environment and discovering the path to that one final out-of-reach
location, that one last impossible tag. Executing tricks while grinding allows a level of control over speed and position not possible in the original. Tagging has been simplified because
the previous system required you to stay still; many of JSRF's more insane
tags offer no such consolation and absolutely must be targeted on-the-go.
The sprawling, trick-heavy environments are enough of an adversary that
police are hardly necessary. Some of the later environments can take well
over an hour to complete, nearly all of that spent in traversal and
exploration. Though not as challenging as the first, somewhat notoriously
difficult game, JSRF is far from a pushover.
She is moving to describe the world
The graphics are simply divine. Though the first game fizzled in the
marketplace, its cel-shaded graphical style has become one of the most
imitated trends of the past two years. Jet Set Radio Future expands on the
original's creative appearance, taking the series even closer to the
developers' vision of "living manga." The city and characters are rendered
at a much higher level of detail and resolution, giving the entire game a
sharp, well-defined look. New touches give the game an even greater sense
of vibrancy, such as color streaking out of your characters at high
speeds, or the screen-distorting waves that oscillate after a Boost Dash.
Stages are a riot of color and motion, and the engine handles their speed,
size, and complexity without dropping a beat.
Unfortunately, the camera quirks that plagued the first game have been only
superficially addressed. First, the good news: recentering the camera now
uses a different button than tagging. The bad news is that the camera can
still loses track of the character, gets stuck next to walls, roams inside
the character's head, and stops directly in front of the player. It's never
a serious problem, but it's always a mild nuisance.
The player is given wide freedom to customize tags' appearance. As the
player progresses through the story and acquires new characters, new tags
become unlocked and selectable. The stages also have "Graffiti Souls"
scattered in especially tricky-to-reach locations; touching these adds a new
tag to the available arsenal. Finally, of course, the player can use the
in-game editor to create custom tags. The ability to save tags directly to
the Xbox's internal hard drive is a boon, allowing as it does for a nearly
unlimited size and number of custom tags. Unfortunately, a frustrating lack
of online support makes it impossible to download tags, trade tags, or
import tags created on another platform (such as a PC). The the in-game
editor is far more robust than the first's, but without the ability to
trade, most of the impetus to create and share tags is gone.
The music, unsurprisingly, rocks. Overseen by the now-defunct Grande Royale
records, the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of excellent licensed tracks,
remixes of songs from the original, and new music from Jet Set Radio
contributor favorites. Hideki Naganuma, Deavid Soul, B.B. Rights, Guitar
Vader; the gang's all here, many of them even collaborating with each other
for the first time. A good deal of the new music has an urban or hiphop
feel; it seemsthat Smilebit's overseas adventures with Jurassic 5 and
Mixmaster Mike (in the American sections of Jet Grind Radio) has had a
lasting influence on the series' overall musical direction. This small
shift doesn't apply to every track, however, and fans of the original's
style will also find lots to love. Every single track is fantastic; Jet Set
Radio Future only adds to the first game's legendary musical prestige.
It's dark, dark in the daytime
Despite over thirty-two excellent tracks to choose from, each stage tends to
cycle through the same five or six tracks in sequence, with different
"playlists" for different environments. This lets the developers keep
introducing new music into the mix well into the game's final hours;
unfortunately, the price is repetition, repetition, and more repetition.
Some of the more difficult environments can take an hour or two to complete,
and even Cibo Matto's "Birthday Cake" can lose its charm by its fifth
Jet Set Radio Future offers a fairly robust set of multiplayer options, offering versus or cooperative play for speed races, character-tagging battles, graffiti-tagging battles, flag-gathering (not capture-the-flag), and an arena-based ball game. The multiplayer options are numerous; unfortunately, they're also uninvolving. Character movement in JSRF is too streamlined to make racing compelling, and the levels are too complicated and multi-tiered to permit graffiti-tagging and flag-capturing without consulting the map. The rules to the ball game are both simple and uninteresting. No one will purchase JSRF with multiplayer play in mind, but it's unfortunate that the copious multiplayer modes are so much less involved and interesting than the single-player adventure.
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Yet despite its solid, enjoyable gameplay and stellar aesthetics, Jet Set
Radio Future doesn't completely rebottle its predecessor's magic. Rather
than tweak and polish the first game's formula, Smilebit chose to rebuild
the title almost from scratch. This severe reworking addressed many gamers'
concerns about the first title,but at the same time introduced a number of
new problems. Though the game is more immediately accessible than the original, its increased size and scope is its ultimate undoing. The first game's smaller, timed environments and evasive mechanics
kept the player alert, focused, and on edge at all times. Failure was
common, but instructive; success was impossible without understanding. Like
a well-planned obstacle course, the original game trained the player to
succeed, gradually honing the necessary skills.
Jet Set Radio Future isn't an obstacle course so much as a playground: an
interconnected city, teeming with life and secrets, for the player to romp
around and explore. It's big, big enough to get lost in, which is both its
blessing and its curse. While the vistas may be breathtaking, it's too easy
to forget the location of the stage's entrances and exits, to lose track of
that opponent you're supposed to be trailing, or to spend fifteen minutes
searching for the right pipe to grind to your next destination. When the
environments work, they gel together like few other virtual spaces. But
when the player loses track of the next goal, the city's artificiality is
laid bare. A single awkwardly placed staircase, unclear instructional
cutscene, or misleading environmental clue can stop progress dead in its
tracks, grinding the game's carefully constructed mood to a halt like a
needle abortively scraped off a playing record.
And gravity don't mean a thing
Yet these occasional missteps are vastly overpowered by the game's and constant
stream of frenetic brilliance. Jet Set Radio is a far more accessible game than its predecessor. It gives gamers a world where
the entire city pulses to the beat of an underground radio station; where
even the slums--especially the slums!--are bursting with color;
where good and evil alike take their fashion tips from the chaotic streets
of Harajuku. Jet Set Radio Future lets gamers skate horizontally across six
alternating billboards, skate vertically up the edge of a hundred-story
skyscraper, and skate backwards on telephone wires while tagging assault
helicopters. It's a ridiculous, brilliant game exploding with intoxicating joy.
Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
|Jet Set Radio Future
|| 02.2002|| 02.2002
|Jet Set Radio Future website launches
|10 multiplayer screenshots
|5 new character designs