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Jump Force is the kind of game that should sound absolutely awesome on paper for anyone who happens to be a fan of Weekly Shounen Jump. Taking a premise as straightforward as having your favorite characters from the publication’s 50-year history go at it in 3 vs 3 tag team fights should by all means result in a good time for everyone involved. Well, it still sort of is, even when everything around it feels like it was rushed out the door to meet a deadline.
Let’s address the huge, plasticky-looking elephant in the room first. Jump Force isn’t much of a looker. Let it be known that giving manga/anime characters realistic skin textures while trying to retain their source art style is and always will be a bad, let alone creepy, idea. Sure, there’s some admirable detailing on certain fighters’ outfits, neat particle effects during fights, and dynamically lit environments, and that’s just about it. Everything else about how the characters are rendered feels lifeless and half-baked. Even J-Stars Victory VS, this game’s direct predecessor, looks better by virtue of not trying to do too much with its character models.
This extends all the way to the cutscenes, which are stiff, awkwardly animated affairs. Major story points have the luxury of being fully voice-acted, but for everything else, expect lots of wordless gesturing accompanied by text and nothing else, further contributing to the general unfinished vibe that Jump Force gives off.
On firing up the game, you’re greeted with an opening cutscene that puts you in the shoes of an unlucky civilian caught by one of Frieza’s energy blasts during an attack on New York. Not much context is given here. All we know is that the real world and the Jump worlds are have been merged, along with the appearance of Venoms, this game’s generic henchmen. Moments later, Trunks comes along to revive you, giving you superpowers derived from various Jump heroes in the process. From there, it’s up to you to team up with the likes of Son Goku, Naruto Uzumaki, and dozens of Shounen Jump characters along the way to solve the mystery of the worlds’ merging and confront the mastermind behind it.
Progressing through Jump Force’s single-player is a repetitive slog. Outside of story missions which consist of either confronting villains or freeing a hero from the enemy’s control, there are so-called Free Missions which let you unlock costume parts and abilities for your avatar. Speaking of customization, there’s not much in the way outside of a woefully limited selection of options. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you meet someone online whose avatar sports the exact same look as yours, especially early on in the game.
Jump Force’s main draw, of course, is its promise of taking characters from a roster that spans across 16 of Shounen Jump’s most iconic series in intense tag-based arena battles. Picking up a controller and smacking enemies about takes a few minutes in the tutorial to get the hang of, even for those relatively new to the world of 3D arena fighters. You’ve got weak attacks and strong attacks that can be chained together at various lengths, with special attacks tied to pressing R2/Right Trigger plus a face button. Throw in a few maneuverability and defensive options and you’re pretty much set. And despite the game’s roster which draws from the likes of One Piece, Hunter X Hunter, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and more recent series like My Hero Academia and Black Clover, combat feels unbearably samey after some time. While this may be a fun afternoon distraction with friends, the by-the-numbers engagements aren’t going to give this game a lot of life in the long run.
Jump Force is supposed to be *the* game to celebrate 50 years of Shounen Jump and its rich history. It’s a publication that brought us characters and stories that left indelible marks on our collective childhoods. One can’t help but feel this affair was something born from a meeting room realizing that the anniversary was coming up and going “Hey! We need a game to go out in time for this!” in unison. Jump Force’s novelty wears off alarmingly fast. In theory, I should be having a blast and giggling like I’m 12 even after threatening to slap Yu Yu Hakusho’s Yusuke Urameshi with Younger Toguro’s… well, you get the idea… for the nth time. There’s still some fun to be had here, what with the flashy combat and moderate doses of fan service, but expect to get half a season’s worth of mileage, than a full 50-week run out of this anniversary tie-in.