As a massive fan of anime brawlers, I was madly in love with (and rabidly excited for) Jump Force when I first saw the trailer for it last year. A Shounen Jump 50th anniversary brawler, developed by studio Spike Chunsoft, promising a wide variety of characters powered by the same engine from the Ninja Storm series? Yes, I’ll take two please. What I didn’t know, however, was that the ghost of J-stars past was waiting just around the corner with a folding metal chair, all too ready to crush our hopes and dreams.
So, this tale of woe begins with booting up the game for the first time. As you boot, you’re thrown straight into the action by immediately entering the story mode – and in all fairness the story does get off to an interesting start. You play as a random civilian that is unfortunate enough to be caught by a stray lazer beam, compliments of a fighting Goku and mind-controlled Frieza in New York. Your character is then revived by Trunks through something called an Umbras cube, giving you anime-like powers in the process. You then get to create this new and improved you in a character customization system that, whilst essentially just mixes and matches hairstyles and features out of its character roster, proves to be enjoyable. I wish there were some unique options for hair and the like not attributed to an already existing character, but this is not a deal-breaker by any means.
Now, the annoyance of not having a main menu aside, the start of the game had me pretty intrigued – unfortunately the rest of the story didn’t. It really isn’t anything to write home about and honestly proved to be a slog going through the whole thing. Part of the reason for this is that the story doesn’t have as much fun with itself as it could have, and it tries to be this serious narrative – and whilst I’m all for serious stories, when you have so many characters from so many different series and you fail to capitalize on that, I deduct points. There was so much that could have been done, but instead so little was achieved save a handful of interactions that evoked a grin or giggle from me (like Boruto calling Vegeta an old man).
Now, the annoyance of not having a main menu aside, the start of the game had me pretty intrigued – unfortunately the rest of the story didn’t.
Your main hub of operations, the needlessly large Umbras base, also serves as your menu wherein you can play multiplayer games, shop, accept missions and upgrade your character – and this system doesn’t work as well as it has in other games. The lack of a sprint button or anything like it makes traversing the base a bore and offers no motivation to go exploring after your first time getting stuck in a large, empty tunnel moving slower than I do going back to work after my lunch break.
Thankfully the combat does, to some degree, not share this dullness. Jump Force brings combat to the yard that is admittedly rather flashy, albeit somewhat shallow. There’s nothing wrong with simple combat mechanics – when I reviewedMy Hero One’s Justice, it proved to be a blast with some very simple, yet well thought out mechanics. The difference here is that the mechanics present in Jump Force appear to not understand what they want to be, as if the developers never took the time to decide just what kind of brawler they wanted to make.
Jump Force brings combat to the yard that is admittedly rather flashy, albeit somewhat shallow.
When you’re getting your brawl on, you have access to a number of different attacks and defenses. You get your staple rush attacks which are light attacks, you get heavy attacks and you get your signature moves and ultimate moves, as well as dashes to close the distance between you and your opponent. On the defensive side of the spectrum you can naturally block most attacks or avoid and sidestep them – you even have an escape move handy at the cost of your mobility meter if you get caught in a combo you want out of.
These mechanics are fine and each of them have counters if your opponent gets cheeky, but then Jump Force tries to be clever with different attack attributes such as slashing, striking or special attacks per character as well as elements to specials and the like, and I honestly don’t see the point to this addition. Sometimes less is more, and Jump Force did not appear to get this memo because it engages in the same pointless convolution when it comes to upgrading your character.
When it comes to the fighting, I only really found any sort of pleasure in the game by fighting other people either online, which is pleasantly stable for the most part, or locally. This is because the AI is dumb as hell. It lets you get away with so much, and when a game becomes an operation of understanding mechanics and reading your opponent to find vulnerabilities in the way they fight – the AI is grossly insufficient.
It’s not all bad as some level designs are pretty cool (seeing the Statue of Liberty on Namek was pretty fun) and the beautiful particle effects can make for some flashy fight scenes.
Graphically, Jump Force is an inconsistent mess of note. Facial and running animations for characters are lazy at best and character models are largely substandard, hideously so in some cases (*cough* Rukia *cough*). It’s not all bad as some level designs are pretty cool (seeing the Statue of Liberty on Namek was pretty fun) and the beautiful particle effects can make for some flashy fight scenes. However, these are tragically marred by some hideous drops in frame rate when you launch certain attacks. These drops are also prevalent in some cutscenes and… oh boy, here we go.
Now I don’t want you to think I’m nitpicking when I talk about how hideous the cutscenes in Jump Force are. Before I saw them myself, I thought people were exaggerating when they told me of the horrors, and I didn’t want to believe. Fast forward to a controller being in my hand and, oh boy, they really were that bad – and we’re not talking your normal garden variety bad either – we’re talking “we made our team of human-rights-violatingly sleep deprived interns animate all the cutscenes four days before launch” bad. Textures pop in, character models and faces look stiff with moving lips and voice acting if you’re lucky (a lot of cutscenes aren’t voiced, making them pretty lifeless, awkward and largely boring). There are a myriad of issues here, but overall this aspect of the game falls grotesquely under par.
The soundtrack Jump Force brings to the table, whilst nowhere nearly as aggressively insolent as its visuals, unfortunately also failed to really evoke any sense of atmosphere. It did what it had to do because I wasn’t fighting or running around in silence, but there just wasn’t that moment where I was captivated by the music playing in any given situation. Now music isn’t as critical for a fighter as it is for a more narrative experience, but I wish they did more because atmosphere for this kind of game – especially when the action starts rolling out – is important. Also, if you’re looking to play this game with an English voice over, then you’re fresh out of luck because you won’t find that here.
At the end of the day, I wanted to believe in Jump Force. Even as people were telling me the game wasn’t great, I really wanted to believe – and when I picked it up, hoping to have a good time with my friends, it honestly just broke my heart. Is this game worth the price of admission? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. If you’re really a fan of these types of game, I could justify picking it up at a deep sale if you’re looking to play it with a few friends for a night or three before moving onto something new. It saddens me to know that there were likely a lot of passionate devs on this team that love anime, and what possibilities the medium presents in gaming. Maybe, down the line, it gets patched up a little and this starts showing, but as things stand now, a lot of passion and potential simply isn’t realized and I struggle to not give Jump Force anything above a mediocre grade.
Jump Force is an unsatisfying monument to wasted potential. Combat can be flashy and fun, but it’s drowned out by a poor story, stiff animation, and overtly complex mechanics.