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JUMP FORCE Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

Jump Around

JUMP FORCE, developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by Bandai Namco, is a 3D fighting game featuring some of the most iconic characters from the Weekly Shonen Jump roster. The Big Three of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach feature prominently. Granted, the granddaddy of shounen action manga, Dragon Ball Z, knocks Bleach into honorable mention territory. This is particularly odd as the entire Dragon Ball franchise has its own fighting series in the Xenoverse series. Having published two games already in a similar genre, one would think that JUMP FORCE would be a slam dunk. One would be wrong.

Still Life

Looking at certain still images of JUMP FORCE, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s a pretty game. Custom characters look reasonably human and a good deal of the roster have been translated into a real-world-adjacent aesthetic rather nicely. Ironically, the older the series the better the adaptation looks. It’s the more recent series that suffer the worst in adaptation. Pretty much all of the One Piece characters look vaguely terrifying, with the Naruto and My Hero Academia characters following close behind. Mostly, this comes down to none of the character models having facial animations, with the notable exception of Midoriya Izuku who has two: angry and worried. Everyone else has a perpetual scowl etched on their faces, regardless of what they’re saying at any given moment.

With a wide range of series to choose from, you’d expect to be defending the Leaf Village with Naruto, storming Hueco Mundo with Ichigo, and sailing the Thousand Sunny with Luffy. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of fighting arenas are based in the real world. The only one that looks halfway distinguished is Times Square because of all the billboards. Perhaps it’s my ignorant American showing, but everything else looks like it could have just been replaced by the Dragon Ball Z Wasteland and nothing would be lost. In thirteen hours of gameplay, the only fantastical setting I fought in was Namek, and that was only once.

The Gang’s Mostly Here

JUMP FORCE draws on the long history of Weekly Shonen Jump manga characters for its roster. One to six characters represent each series with the more popular series having greater representation. For example, Naruto has Naruto, Sasuke, Kakashi, and Boruto. Meanwhile Yu-Gi-Oh! only has Yugi Moto, albeit in Yami Yugi form. Each of these characters has their own array of special moves, an Awakening move, and combos. You can also round out the roster with up to six creatable characters, choosing from three different fighting styles. Your custom characters can learn most of the moves that the manga characters have, with many exceptions.

Honestly, the robustness of the custom characters is disappointing. There are few aesthetic options that aren’t just a copy of pre-existing costumes. The three fighting styles are relegated to Martial Arts à la Dragon Ball Z, Pirate à la One Piece, and Ninja à la Naruto. These styles determine your basic combos, your throw, and your in-combat run animation. Sadly, they’re all hand-to-hand styles. Considering the wide range of weapon users on the roster, even down to Ryo Saeba with a gun, it’s surprising that your custom characters can’t use a weapon in their standard combos. Special attacks allow the use of swords and guns, sure, but even equipping a sword cosmetic doesn’t allow the character to use that sword in those attacks. Rather, you’re constrained to a standard blue energy sword. Even then, not all of the animations line up during the weapon's special moves. While the animations with the custom characters tend towards good, a fair few of them look rushed. Special mention goes to the overworld run, which looks like a combination of high knees and butt kicks. I guess heroes need to keep in shape somehow.

Final Flash in the Pan

JUMP FORCE's story is little more than an excuse to have all these characters fight each other. Briefly, all the worlds in the Jump universe are colliding to Earth. Caught in the crossfire, your character is brought back to life as a hero to fight alongside the other heroes from the Jump Worlds. While you'll be fighting the usual stable of villains from Freiza to Blackbeard, original villains Kane and Galena round out the evil side with their array of Venoms. Venoms are non-descript combinations of each of the three main series. They're created via a similar process that resurrected you, but they're pure evil. Likewise, Kand and Galena can use Umbras Cubes, the MacGuffin of this setting, to control pretty much anyone they please.

While occasionally JUMP FORCE hits home with the odd interesting fight, like Zoro versus Kenshin, normally they’re rather thin on the ground. Typically, your character accompanied by two other Jump heroes arrive on the scene, find a villain or corrupt hero, and fight. Rinse and repeat. This would be less of an issue if the fighting mechanics were any good. Rarely will you do more than hit light punch ten times in a row and maybe attempt to land a special move afterward. There is little by way of tactics or strategy to employ, even when considering who to bring along with you on any given mission. JUMP FORCE tries to vary things by giving certain special attacks an element and implementing elemental resistances. However, there is no way of really knowing who you’re going to be fighting beforehand and no easy way to check who is weak to what element, if there is any weakness at all. Thirteen hours in and the first order is still the best strategy.

Conservation of Ninjutsu

JUMP FORCE breaks typical team-fighting conventions by sharing your special and health meters across all three characters. This removes the effectiveness of having multiple characters. Add to this that you can’t swap characters out while you’re in the middle of being attacked and I start to wonder why the option is even there. Worse, it takes about fifteen seconds for your first character to leave the battlefield after the swap. They also retain their hitbox. While this can mean you have fifteen seconds of double damage, it also means, more likely, that your opponent can hit both characters, dealing twice the damage to you, locking you in a combo again. It just seems more effective to keep one character out at all times and never switch.

Then there's the Awakening system. Awakening is functionally a transformation. Goku awakens into a Super Saiyan, Yusuke Urameshi awakens to a half-demon, and on and on. Following suit with the rest of the mechanics, your main character is the least interesting in that they have no special transformation, just an increase in power. Awakening attacks, meant to be a finisher or catch-up mechanic, deal limited damage and can be blocked by a simple block. Given that they're telegraphed like a good shounen attack, it's common for both you and your opponent to whiff on these allegedly ultimate moves. Further, your Awakening meter only increases as you take damage. So if you're attempting one of these attacks, you're likely in dire straits and need to level the playing field, which makes missing one of these attacks feel that much worse.

3

The Verdict: Bad

I really can’t overemphasize how much of a missed opportunity JUMP FORCE winds up being. Between the lackluster character creation, limited move variety, strange or lacking animations, and repetitive gameplay loop, there’s just not enough here to really recommend. The only reason I kept playing it as long as I did was that I wanted it to be more than it was. Finally, at the thirteen-hour mark, I realized that what I had seen was what I was going to get, over and over.

John Gerritzen
Written by
Tuesday, 26 February 2019 06:10
Published in Action

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John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.

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