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Jet Set Radio Future: *** (three stars)

February 15, 2008

Poster from Jet Set Radio Future

Jet Set Radio Future is an excellent game combining the trick style system of the Tony Hawk Skateboarding series with a healthy dose of platforming and graffiti spraying. These disparate elements seem like they wouldn’t work within the context of one game, but Jet Set Radio Future combines these factors flawlessly. The game also displays a funky, unique audio-visual style that has yet to be emulated. The graphics are the first use of cel-shading that has remained timeless in its presentation, while the soundtrack takes a literal potpourri of different genres and smashes them together, creating 30 of the oddest songs ever to appear on a game soundtrack together. Though the game has a great deal of camera and control problems that arise from the subject matter, Jet Set Radio Future manages to transcend these problems and become an excellent experience regardless.

The story, while not an essential part of the game itself, is still rather interesting (and perhaps a touch on the insane side as well), Jet Set Radio is a pirate radio station located in Tokyo that airs illegal broadcasts. At the moment, Tokyo is controlled by the Rokkaku Group, an evil syndicate that seems to control not only the government but the police force and every other aspects of society. It is at these darkest of times that DJ Big Gouji appears to “bring the fresh beats to the streets” and restart Jet Set Radio to form a revolution of sorts. Somehow, by spraying the town with graffiti, rebellion against the corporation will be sparked and the revolutionaries will win, not by violence, but by spraying graffiti. You, as one of the GG’s must bring an end to the evil Rokkaku regime through…graffiti and grinding. Obviously, this wouldn’t work in the real world, but here it does. Your spray cans will take down policemen, helicopter, fighter jets, trains, and basically anything else you can think of. It’s truly bizarre, but a great part of Jet Set Radio Future’s charm. It is a world completely different from our own, a fantasy realm you can get sucked into rather easily. With its distinct Japanese sensibilities, the quirky story is pretty irrelevant to the rest of the game.

As note previously, the game has latched onto the Tony Hawk series to a degree – only this time, we have Rollerblades. Grinding is the focus here, with incredibly long strings of grind only separated by well timed jumps. The momentum of the speed of your grind also affects your jump trajectory, making it imperative that you time you leaps with precision. A lot of grinding gets combined with lots of tagging (graffiti spray), so a judicious pressing of the R trigger will also be required fairly frequently. And…that’s pretty much the game. Yeah, there are challenges requiring you to pick up flags, tag other skaters and giant killer robots, or race other people, but it’s all rather basic. Regardless of the fact that this part of the game is in no way revolutionary, the graffiti tagging remains fun throughout, and the satisfaction of completing the challenges presented is well placed – this game is not that easy, in fact.

However, the difficulty comes more from the loose controls than it does from the difficulty of the challenges. In my experience, stopping your character can be a hopeless effort, and you may as well fly off of platforms often. This problem becomes apparent especially in the Skyscraper District, where the entire mission consists of flying from the roofs of skyscrapers. Your timing and direction must be precise when making these jumps. Grinding, though reminiscent of EA’s recent skate game, tend to be rather difficult to stop. There’s no way to stop grinding except slowing down or jumping off the rail, but many situations have rails so close that you will just end up on another rail – sometimes incredibly frustrating. I also found myself going to the map screen more than I would have liked – some of the graffiti tags are very hard to find by yourself, and you may pull your hair out trying to find that one item you need to finish the mission off. The camera harms more than help; you can recenter it behind the character, but the use of this is limited; timing split-second decisions becomes all the more difficult where you don’t know where you are jumping.

Still, the soundtrack will keep you going. An eclectic mix of underground Japanese indie-rock, Latch Brothers remixes and some really unique genre mishmashes, it is some of the most intensely catchy and fitting music for a game I’ve ever heard. You owe it to yourself to keep playing just to hear the soundtrack, and buying the OST wouldn’t be a bad idea either. It truly fits the action, the style, and the mood of the game, something few soundtracks with licensed music have accomplished. Combined with the excellent graphical effects, it’s quite an experience overall.

Whether you will like Jet Set Radio Future mostly depends on your ability to overlook problems for presentation. Sure, it is lots of fun and even the repetitive nature of the tasks are made fun by the music, but the game is pretty much the same through and through. For the price, however, and its backward compatibility with the Xbox 360, you really have no excuse not to try it out at least.. There’s slowdown that wasn’t present on the original Xbox, but overall it still plays fine. Those with a penchant for Tony Hawk and the avant-garde would do well to check it out.

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From → Video Games

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