JUMP FORCE Review: Forced Fun

PS4 review code provided by Bandai Namco

PS4 review code provided by Bandai Namco

Goku, Luffy, Naruto, Ichigo, Yugi and Rurouni Kenshin in 3v3 battles with crazy exciting movement and action? Too good to be true? Unfortunately, it is. Developed by SPIKE CHUNSOFT and published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Jump Force is a lot of flare and little substance.

Story

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I wasn’t expecting much from this story, large cross-over events normally happen when there is a “big, bad evil” that is taking over everything and the good guys have to team up in order save the world/universe. This is exactly what Jump Force is, fairly generic bad guys and the good guys grouping up with small quips and pretty shallow interactions which lead up to epic fights. This is totally fine, I don’t think anyone is expecting Shakespeare from this game. However, because so many people love so many of these characters’ complex emotional stories and backgrounds, it is rough to have all that be totally ignored and brushed over by terrible writing and animation.

Let’s address this animation. Honestly, I would have preferred 2D concept art with text or narration instead of this unbearably bland expressionless animation that takes longer to load than to watch most times (and then you have to load have into the fight or main lobby). Even if the story was amazing and beautifully complex, the delivery in these horrible animations would drag it down a lot. The story plays out by running from person to person (which is not clearly labeled unless you get physically close to the next story mission), talking for a minute and going to a map and fighting with some bad dialogue before and after every battle to give some form of motivation to fight.

Gameplay

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When first picked up, Jump Force feels like a spectacular rush of energy and physical attacks. After a little bit, it becomes a button masher with a sprinkle of dodges and escapes. But after a bunch of hours and focus on evaluating enemy animation and audio cues, the battling becomes a solid game of push and pull with a lot of fun flare and potential. There is a lot more to the basic fighting than I think most people realize is important and impactful. Let me break down each part quickly between offensive and defensive actions:

Offensive: Light attacks allow for a fast rush of attacks that can be slightly charged. The heavy attacks are just a slower, more powerful version of the light attack. Grabs are used at close range and are fairly simple and do moderate to low damage. Abilities are used on a meter which stacks up to 5x and can range from parries, stuns, long-range hits, AOE attacks, buff and nerfs. A teammate can be called in for a quick assist which varies depending on each individual character and support type. A character can use a second gauge which fills up by taking damage that can unleash a superpowered ability or you can use it to “transform” your character giving them speed and attack boosts for a while. All these together gives you a wide selection to keep your opponent guessing what will be coming next.

Defensive: The main defensive ability is the block/dodge move which is assigned to the same button.”. Holding the button blocks and tapping it while moving in any direction will dodge a short distance very quickly (even immediately depending on the circumstance). The blocking system I have found to be unreliable at best, I just desperately tap to dodge out of anything if I can. The mobility button can be used to close gaps for an unexpected attack, but the player can also use that button to jump out of a combo attack and stop taking damage. I found getting out of taking damage in a combo WAY more useful than rushing in to attack an enemy. There are a few abilities that perry enemy moves and strike back. These two main ways to avoid hits allows for the match to become almost a ballet of attacks and dodges.

After the player creates a character and runs the first few missions, he or she is placed into a lobby that is fairly open and seems like a fun place to explore, but it is ultimately an excessively spread out store and mission starting screen with barely any personality or reason to exist. This area is where you access all single player features. That makes sense, but why put the multiplayer aspect in here? I have to load up the single player base and mission area just to access the local multiplayer area, it just stands as an inconvenience.

Visuals

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Jump Force is art in motion, literally. When this game stands still or is up close, it’s pretty ugly and odd looking. Although, It is quite impressive and entertaining to see all these characters from different anime’s and manga’s come together in one arena, even if they don’t look all that great. The motion and battle can get pretty chaotic which can really distract from the game’s core mechanics and being able to play more accurately, but it is really fun and entertaining to watch.

Audio

The music in the game is bad. It is either boringly generic or really bad, mostly the never-ending lobby music that is only roughly 30 seconds long and sounds like weird 90s rom-com resort music. The sounds of battle, those are amazing on the other hand. All the yelling and screaming from anime battles with names of complex moves and energy/magical attacks all sound perfect.

Replayability

After playing through the story, the only thing to do is multiplayer and collecting more gear for your character, which is pretty much all the clothes that the other playable characters use. The major problem is that those items do nothing for the stats of the character, they don’t look very good in reality, you can’t try them on before purchasing them and they cost an absurd amount of in-game currency. To put it in perspective, a pair of normal shorts with no design would probably take 10 to 15 matches of gold earned to purchase. That is for something basic, any other vanity item could be double or more than that (this currency is also used to get new abilities for your character, so you can’t look cool while using the moves that you want).

I think as a competitive fighting game, it would need a lot of fine tuning before becoming people would pay to watch. With online and local versus, there is a lot of fun to have with friends who are big manga and anime buffs, but the matches can feel repetitive and generic after an hour or so. The games complex controls and various mechanics does leave it room to become more interesting and deep, but the over the top movement and action makes it difficult to do anything but tap dodge until your super attacks are ready or you see a gap in the opponent’s movement for an advantage.

What It Could Have Done Better

Well, this area could be very long, but it comes down to overall quality. The organization of the lobby area and high price points for new abilities and athletic items is baffling. The facial animation and general animation for all cutscenes were moderately horrible and laughable. The story was okay, but really undercut the personal and powerful stories and connections of all the characters, it might have been better if there was no story mode but just a general arcade mode and a much more fleshed out multiplayer system. I could go on, but it is safe to say that the developers put a lot less care and time into this game than they should have.

I have one last criticism about the gameplay itself, there is one shared health bar between all three characters. This is somewhat new for team based fighting games and I don't think it was the right choice. That makes using assists a very low risk and it means that you can just use one character the whole time which loses one of the best aspects of team fighting games, juggling health. Giving health bars that have some potential for regeneration or risk during assists would enhance the game’s core gameplay a lot.

Verdict

The actual fighting and customization of your character with various abilities of different anime characters feel pretty great. However, the chore of going so many different screens and places just to do one thing can feel exhausting. It can be a really fun game when played with another person especially the more you know about the characters and their specific moves and fighting styles, otherwise, it is just a flashy button masher. It is hard to say what this game is at the end of the day.

On one hand, it is really fun and entertaining to go full fanboy and team up your favorite characters and fight your friends with over the top moves and a light show of death. But on the other hand, there is nothing else of real substance or quality to the game, it almost seems like an exceptional modding of another game with a bunch of cool skins instead of a real triple-A game. If you love these characters and love ridiculous fight scenes, it is worth playing and getting when it is at a much lower price.

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