Now, I know what you’re saying, “Wow, another Sega title?” But let me just tell you that Sega–as a company–is on top of its game, arguably the company has never looked better; nor had a better outlook upon their future than it has now. While many have questioned whether they should have abandoned their hardware efforts, they’ve turned around and proved themselves as a publisher–mid-stride–and without even breaking a sweat. They now seem to be moving flawlessly through their previously determined game plan (which, I might add, seems to be set perfectly), and have created and developed a leading third-party role in each console. Sega’s division of their hit titles amongst the three existing systems is quite impressive, not to mention the fact that each of the games has turned out to be something special, and well, Jet Set Radio Future is no different.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the next venture into the world of cel-shading. While Jet Set Radio Future is merely a sequel to its Dreamcast predecessor, it expands–just as a sequel should–upon every aspect of the game; from gameplay, to graphics, to control, to camera work (we’ll get to this later). All-in-all this game is surely impressive, and it certainly lives up to, and surpasses, the standard set by its name. Sega have another hit title on their hands, and they’d just like to welcome you.
The first obvious improvement of the once highly acclaimed Jet Set game is the graphical content. While the previous title was acclaimed for its new graphical rendition coupled with a flamboyant artistic style, JSRF sets a new precedent. It takes obvious influence from the Japanese animation culture, not only in character design, but also in the environment content as well. Often you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to the market scene from Ghost in the Shell (including the people running wild, but minus the heavy artillery); or the opening Neo Tokyo sequence in Akira. From the people on the street, to the din-sum stands, to the similar look of the buildings; it all creates a cohesive feel of expression, and accents the overall urban scheme to a ?T’. Especially The similarities are especially recognized when playing the game during its nighttime levels, where darkened buildings are lit up and accented by the striking neon lights, signs and cables strung throughout the city skies. Taking largely from the now reinvented image of Sega, Smilebit have done a fantastic job on the increase of visual power.
Not only is this impressive, but the addition of each level’s player interaction makes the feat even more impressive. This vast and urban world is instilled with loads of inconspicuous, yet highly trickable elements. Everything from ramps, to curbs, to power lines, to rails, to extra platforms, etc?turn into elements of amazing design right in front of your eyes. The levels here have been created to help accentuate their interaction, along with the graphical content, and positioning of graffiti sites. They have made the environments actually look ?better’ with graffiti on then than if it weren’t there. Where in the first title, the elements of graffiti pieces, tags and burns were somewhat subtle in terms of placement, they still stood out, and at times looked somewhat out of place. Here, in JSRF, each element looks right at home, as if they were built to be there–well, they were.
At first, the idea of adding a graffiti element to the game was quite radical–mostly because it’s illegal–but Sega has opted to go with a general disclaimer of how they do not support graffiti as an illegal act. With vibrant colors and crazy designs, the Hip Hop influenced style is much more prevalent in this sequel. JSRF improves upon its predecessor even more with considerably better special effects, linked in turn with more highly defined catchy textures. The concrete now ?looks’ like concrete, with grittiness, bumps and all. Add to this the pretentious sparks from grinds, batman-like flash font types and sounds, the effects of guards when painted, the fog-like effects of the spray paint, as well as certain other amazing looking elements (gasoline-like spray paint flames), and you just have to marvel at its creation.
JSRF has become a game of much smoother motion, more so than its precursor effort. Most of this is due to the considerably increased frame rate. Overall this makes the game flow with a much smoother pace and look. The elements seem to occur with less jerkiness then the last title, and the game looks and feels quite impressive when you pull off a large line of tricks and tags in a row–when you’re in the zone. JSTR’s overall style surely gets an ‘A’ for effort, I was quite skeptical about how well, or how much, Smilebit could improve upon the look of the terrific game we all knew on the ill-fated Dreamcast.
The story from here is simple enough. The Rokkaku Corporation (pronounced ro-ko-ku) has virtual complete rule over Tokyo in the year 2024. They control just about everything you could think of, including the ‘so called’ protectors of our society, the police. Even though they’ve gained control of Tokyo, they still can’t stop the rampant anarchy of renegade skate gangs who represent and protect their turf by tagging just about everything in sight. Yet the vainglorious corporation wants to put a stop to all crime, meaning they’re coming after the only delegate of self expression and savior Tokyo has left–the skate gangs. Professor K now returns to this episode to narrate and help keep the plot lines moving, while playing some of the illest vibes you’ve ever heard.
I really have to complement Sega on their choice of musical direction here. FINALLY, we have a soundtrack worthy of listening to without the game. Through the last few games–heck, the last ten games I’ve played–the continuous droning of guitar power cords, and the generic poppy techno samples ran inordinately through the my ear drums. It’s not often we are treated to the presence of ?real’ artists gracing the efforts of our video game world, though it is becoming more evident in the industry. Songs like Concept of Love by Tears of Technology are exactly what I was listening out for. Thanks to musical director, Hideki Naganuma (recently known from Wavemaster’s), we have been treated to a score of sound that’s a motley collection of hip hop, techno, and jungle. As the original sound director for the first title, he set a precedent that pleased me, even though the Japanese soundtrack had a better selection than the American version.
Many of the artists in this game may not be known to you, some of them hail from the recently closed record label, Grand Royal (owned by the Beastie Boys). Mike D actually appears on five of the songs as a member of the Latch Brothers, with the other artists Tick, and Wag–they represent and cover the urban feel perfectly and seem to offset the soundtrack in the correct direction. Since the label has now closed, this title will represent their final work as a company. The tracks are manned, created, and remixed by the GR artists; Bran Van 3k, The Prunes, and BS 2000. Hip Hop and America are not the only musical/cultural influences, however. The soundtrack for JSRF represents a culmination of European, American, and Japanese artists and styles of music. We are graced with artists such as, Bis, Cibo Matto, Scapegoat Wax, and Russell Simins, all of which create the proper feel and vibe for the game. Each fits their category well and they provide an overwhelming aural satisfaction to the ear. While some of these artists may be unknown to you, I can assure you they all do quality work and are very good, especially in this game. Both Sega and Smilebit should be thanked for their efforts on improving the music in video games. While Sonic was a little better, JSRF surely puts all others to shame when it comes to the sound-check.
The gameplay elements of JSRF are simple enough, you begin your journey as a kid named Yoyo who’s dream is to become a member of the GG gang from the previous title. The characters returning this time are the two leads from the previous game, Corn and Gum. Later, through challenges, races, and trick attempts, you will acquire some familiar characters, along with some new ones. Just as in the first title, each has their strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll usually end up choosing which characters best fit your style, both in terms of look and play. The missions scheme is simple for the most part, you are given set tasks such as; reclaiming GG turf, claiming rival gang turf, beating down the police, and the occasional challenge for a new character. There’s also a multiplayer split screen mode that can be somewhat entertaining, as you can race and tag against your friends, but the main event still remains the most entertaining. Overall this hasn’t changed much from the previous title, though Smilebit has included more exploration missions and has cut down on the amount of time attacks such as in the last game.
What once again makes this title fun is the control scheme, while quite simple it can be used in completely unique and complex ways. Surprisingly, the Xbox controller was not a hindrance at all. It might take adjustment for some, but in the end, the controller, even though it could be better, works fairly well and comfortably. Just as in JSR/JGR, you are able to jump, grind, and tag walls. New to the scheme is the ability to skate backwards, and to boost (by lighting spray cans on fire). These two elements alone create a whole new world of possibilities that make JSRF a much more extensive experience.
While the controls are tight, the graphics are amazing, and the sound is outta this world, the camera is still a pesky bugger that needs attending to. Because of the 3D environment that games are set in today, the view of you characters has yet to be perfected. The problem here lies in the fact that, for the most part, you can see your characters from any angle. So even though they might give you movement of the camera, it still becomes difficult to keep your sense of orientation along with seeing and recognizing any oncoming action. It seems to be a troubling problem in many games today because it’s taking away from the aspects of the game; after a while it becomes second nature to flip the camera in the direction you’re facing with the trigger, but that’s one more element that could present an annoyance. The camera certainly does a better job tracking your movements than JSR/JGR ever did, but it still presents a problem that needs to be attended to. In the more confined spaces, the awkward angles the cameras swing to often distort your perception of things.
As far as JSRF is concerned, the game is positioned to be one of the leading titles on the Xbox today, and with good reason. JSRF is simply a great effort from Sega and Smilebit. Most game developers should take note of this title, of its style, and its development technique. Perhaps they should garner influence from it–including the fact that it’s a superior sequel. JSRF truly represents the new image and style of the new ,redefined, and improved Sega. They should be proud of all their efforts, this one in particular. Since the development of Fear Effect, cel-shading has taken off and has been advanced an amazing amount; JSRF is proof of that. With its unique and inventive style, Jet Set Radio Future is yet another representation of the new ideas in the gaming industry and, just like all before it, it should be supported. Don’t allow an innovative and original title like this to go to waste.