Celebrating 50 years of the legendary Weekly Shonen Jump, Jump Force is one of Bandai Namco’s biggest releases of the year and Christmas come early for fans of anime and manga worldwide, as a veritable who’s who of 40 of the medium’s greatest and most beloved characters come together to save the day. Evil forces have invaded our world and it’s up to Goku, Naruto, Luffy, and damn near everyone else from the Jump worlds to restore the balance and Kamehameha, Gatling and Rasengan the trouble-makers away, saving the multiverse in the process.
There is no denying that Jump Force is an ambitious title that makes no effort to hide the outright fan service as advertised — included in the roster are characters ranging from classic titles like Yu Yu Hakusho, Hunter x Hunter and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to Bleach and Rurouni Kenshin (and big props for also including niche titles like City Hunter). You really have to take a minute to drink the cast all in because it’s a downright wonderful collection. It’s when this initial wow-factor wears off, though, that Jump Force succumbs to ennui.
The battles, of course, are what the large majority of Jump Force players will be coming for. We were at a hands-on preview with the offline battle mode a few weeks ago and not much has changed with the fighting mechanics in the interim. It’s a 3v3 situation where the face buttons will pull off light and heavy attacks and grabs, as well as special moves when holding the R2 button. The action on-screen does look very impressive, as does the real-time damage your characters receive, but, for better or worse, the fighting is fairly simplistic. I never felt a need to master any specific character, as, for the most part, when you have the controls down for one character, it’s pretty much universal for the rest, so who you pick will come down to preference. Jump Force will drop you into some rudimentary training simulations at the start but outside of these, you’ll get the hang of things quickly. The special moves do look fantastic though, especially the ultimate moves, and it was genuinely a joy to go through the roster and pull off these flashy feats.
Mashing the light or heavy attack will often be more than enough to inflict decent damage on your opponent but can be countered by guarding. Guarding in turn can be beaten by hitting a grab move. Other moves can’t be stopped except by getting out of the way or side-stepping. This is about as complex as things get in Jump Force.
However, the guarding mechanic is a struggle to get the hang of. Outside of activating an escape, which will use up player stamina, a well-timed press of the guard button can offer players a fast-block, but, in action, this was nigh-on impossible to achieve and anytime I did, it felt completely random. This is all the more frustrating as some combos you will be unable to escape from and they’ll utterly devastate your health, especially in later story missions when the difficulty inexplicably spikes and enemies will ravage you.
An important note about the battles is that all three characters share the same health bar in any fight. While this could add a more tactical element, it does lend itself to making all fights feel very samey, as you just don’t have to put all that much thought into your fighting formation or what happens in the battle itself. Nearly all of my battles consisted of mashing buttons and mixing in a special move or two until a winner was decided. An RPG-like element is there, with character-levelling similar to that if Injustice 2, based on physical and elemental resistances each character has which could have offered so much more. It would have been a welcomed second layer of tactics and team building to take into account, added a slight element of strategy to help make the battles stand out that much more. It does effect damage output in some cases but a skilled player need not worry if they are adept in dodging and blocking. Jump Force never makes much of a deal about this at all, rendering it an almost inert feature entirely.
There isn’t much technicality with the movesets to sink your teeth into and I suspect players looking for a serious fighting experience will be left disappointed. Simply put, Jump Force is no threat to the big players in the fighting realm like Dragon Ball FighterZ or Mortal Kombat.
Although limited by the same issues mentioned already, the online battles offered more fun and were a definite highlight of the Jump Force experience. A few lost connection early on but those that played out offered more thrills than the game’s A.I., which can often be a predictable beast.
As Jump Force begins, you are introduced to the chaotic new order of things through the eyes of a brand-new created character after narrowly surviving an attack from Frieza. It’s a bold and attention grabbing opening that sets up the story well, but after such an energetic prologue, the game suddenly hits the brakes, meandering for the rest of the story and rarely picking up the pace again. Once you get to the main hub of Jump Force and pick which team you want to join, led either by Goku, Naruto or Luffy (whose team I picked because, honestly, being a pirate sounded really cool at the time), everything moves slowly from there on. You have to find the mission kiosks and select which missions you want to take, although you will quickly find the format of these the same — either a recruitment mission or a fight against Venoms (Jump Force’s regular enemy fodder) or some other miscreant from the game’s line-up.
My excitement for these missions soon ran dry, not helped by the absurd amount of loading screens you are consistently forced to endure which will try your patience. There are so damn many of them and they will occur before, during, and after battles and cutscenes. Even if Jump Force was a faster paced game, any momentum it could possibly have built up would have been royally kicked the curb by the repeated loading screens. They might actually be burnt onto my retinas.
It is also tricky actually trying to get a sense of where the next mission is located within the Jump base, as the game makes no effort whatsoever to guide you in the right direction. I often ran right into a cutscene by chance, but not after jetting across the map like a man possessed.
Additionally, the cutscenes are not helped by the lack of vocal interaction between characters. This isn’t to say that the cast never talks — they do, just only on seemingly random cutscenes. Suffice to say, it is quite jarring and really takes you out of the scene, especially in some exchanges where only one character talks out loud and the rest are all subtitled. It is an inconsistent and altogether odd choice because with the voice talent on hand to Jump Force, the fact they have not been utilised at every opportunity is extremely disappointing. When voices are applied to their respective characters, the work is stellar, as expected. Without, there are many missed chances to make certain conversations truly memorable – Izuku Midoriya being pushed into training with Jotaro Kujo and Kenshiro, and Zoro sparring with Himura Kenshin both as obvious examples – and it all comes across so bland. A lack of English dub will also surely be a blow for many western anime fans.
A separate cutscene gripe is the character movement, which is clumsy and awkward to watch: the stiff way they turn and gesture being the most obvious, to times when a character will just walk off screen (this gets even worse in the actual context of the scene when it’s already been established the character in question is being pursued by the good guys and then very, very slowly escapes and everyone just watches it happen).
The character creation system in Jump Force is a nice, if basic, feature. I, of course, created my anime vision of Bob Ross thanks to a large afro being one of the hair options. The customisation does offer nods to other characters that didn’t quite make the cut but, although clothing items are unlockable in-game, overall, isn’t greatly engaging and one that many likely won’t bother with after having to create their character for the purpose of the story.
The character models are certain to be a talking point amongst the anime/manga community as well, with Jump Force being the first time this roster has been rendered to look so, well, human. As great as the visuals are, especially in 4K, it is quite a weird experience to see the 40 characters like this and it’s fair to say some pull it off better than others. Ryo Saeba possibly looks the most normal whereas Trunks looks painfully jacked, his shoulders almost level to his ears. Others appear just plain silly, like Blackbeard, his mouth always being open when he talks. Even though it is very much the same in the One Piece anime and manga, it is laughably bad in 3D.
It has to be mentioned about the roster, however, that there is a severe lack of diversity within – of the 40 characters within Jump Force, only three are female. Even a previous Jump outing, the Japan-only Jump Ultimate Stars, had nine. It is a shame, but hopefully the upcoming Jump Force DLC will address this imbalance and see to adding popular female characters like Nami and Sakura from One Piece and Naruto respectively.
Jump Force is a game that is ripe with potential, although none of it is ever properly realised. All the ingredients for a great fighting-adventure game are here, boosted by a stellar cast and tremendous voice acting, alongside flashy moves and great graphics to boot. However, many smaller issues add up quickly and amount to a half-baked, under-realised and frankly disappointed game that is set to leave even the biggest anime and manga fans underwhelmed. This was meant to be a celebration of Shonen Weekly Jump, but despite its best intentions, can’t help but feel half-hearted in its execution. The story drags its heels, the loading times (and frequency of them) is outrageous and the fighting is both simplistic and difficult, hampered massively by an essentially non-existent guarding system.
For me, there just is not enough here to keep players’ attention in the long-term and it’s doubtful the upcoming nine DLC characters will do much to change opinion. It is evident that Jump Force should have been so much more and still needs refining.
Jump Force is a game I really wanted to like and play over and over again, but, after a few hours, it really loses its allure, leaving it not much more than another fighting game whose gimmick overshadows its actual content. That said, there is a grandiose roster for hardcore fans to enjoy and lovely graphics (some models aside), especially in the attention given to special moves.
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Jump Force, ultimately, is a title that doesn't do much to sway non-anime fans and will leave its faithful needing more, with its slow story pacing, uninspired combat and plenty of technical issues meaning its true potential may never be realised.
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