Dragon Ball, Naruto, My Hero Academia. These series began many an anime fandom. If it wasn't one of these heavy hitters, it could have just as easily been darker stuff like Yu Yu Hakusho or the Japanese favorite One Piece. Whatever ignited that first spark, many fans would be surprised to learn that several top anime have their origins in comics published by Shonen Jump. And just like Nintendo has done with Super Smash Bros. over and over, Bandai Namco has been trying to bring all of the Shonen Jump characters together for a crossover fighting game several times over the years.
Jump Force is the latest of these attempts, featuring the likes of Goku and Naruto battling it out in a flashy arena fighter that uses its source material well. Unfortunately, all of the efforts seemed to go into the flashiness and fan service, leaving the story mode lifeless and its presentation uneven, at best. There's still an undeniable thrill in letting loose a Kamehameha, but lurking under it is the thought that one's money would be better spent on the inevitable Jump Force sequel.
Jump Force begins when you die. Whether you're invested in how the writers could possibly make a coherent story out of anime characters come to life, or you're just in it for the multiplayer, the game makes you watch a cutscene in which you take a Frieza beam to the chest and die horribly. The only way to save you, claims Trunks from Dragon Ball, is to resurrect you as a hero. That means you get to create your own character!
Character creation in Jump Force is one of its highlights. Remember last year when everyone was making a menagerie of impossible creations in SoulCalibur VI? Well, Jump Force's creator doesn't have the flexibility to pull off Ninja Turtles and Pickle Rick, but it does allow you to make the humanoid anime character of your dreams. You're free to make yourself a Saiyan ninja with fire fists. Some players have already gotten creative, making characters from anime that aren't represented in Jump Force, like One Punch Man's Saitama.
The downside to the custom character is that you have to play the story to unlock clothes and techniques for them. And the story mode is awful. Not just "fighting game story mode" bad; it's so horrible that I truly wonder how it was approved.
The characters' faces don't move. I need to repeat that so you understand the weight of it:
THEIR FACES DON'T MOVE.
Their mouths move when they speak in voiced scenes, but mostly their faces are just blank masks accompanied by text boxes. Imagine Goku wearing his super pissed off battle face as he engages in clueless banter with Luffy. Or Jump Force director Glover explaining the dire threat of Jump villains leading a possessed army to destroy the real world, while his eyes remain glazed over. It literally looks like someone made the cutscenes by posing the game's models in Garry's Mod.
I'm well aware, angry Reddit commenters, that people aren't buying this game expecting a Game of the Year story. Too bad you have to play at least a bit of the story to unlock the other modes. Still, Jump Force is a fighting game, so let's get to that.
One mercy Jump Force does grant is that most of the 42 characters are available as soon as you can use multiplayer. There are some villains that need unlocking, but having the bulk of the roster immediately available is a smart choice.
It's immediately clear that the developers know these characters well, adding small touches like that Sanji, One Piece's wannabe womanizer, won't hit a lady. When facing a female opponent, he blows kisses instead of attacking.
That attention to character detail extends to the battlefield as well. Vegeta overwhelms the opponent with powerful energy blasts. Yugi plays actual Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to trap opponents. Hunter X Hunter's creepy magician Hisoka can counter opponents' attacks with his weird Bungee Gum. Picking a team, therefore, isn't just a matter of choosing favorites. There's some strategy to balancing the various fighting styles.
You're picking a team because the battles are 3v3 arena-style contests. All three of your fighters share a health bar as well as Ability and Awakening gauges. The idea is that having your different fighters share these easy-to-understand resources allows for flexibility. Is your opponent easily fending off your Vegeta's assaults? Try going Super Saiyan to power up and change the nature of your attacks. Or switch to Yugi to stun and harass them. This wealth of choice should give the combat depth.
Should. At the moment, however, those playing online seem more content to cheese their way to victory. They find that one special attack that breaks your guard and rely on that. So obviously you rush them and make them fold under a pressure game, right? Too bad they use an assist move that freezes you. Many fighting games struggle with spammers - especially at launch - but I have to wonder why the developers included so many attacks that break guards, have super armor, and allow for easy stun combos.
When battles do go right, though, they look fantastic. Fighters zip around the battlefield until I land a few hits. I send my opponent flying with a dramatic kick and give chase by teleporting, only for the opponent to suddenly teleport behind me. They have me! But then I use the escape maneuver to quickly retreat and put up my guard. They back off to charge energy, but that puts me on the offensive. I charge at them and subject them to a flurry of punches, finishing with Vegeta's signature Big Bang Attack. My opponent disappears in the screen-covering flash of light as Japanese shouting fills my ears.
The twelve-year-old in me is instantly taken back to watching Naruto vs. Sasuke with my jaw on the floor. The gamer in me hates that this game has PS2-era load times. The critic in me wonders how this product shipped with such terrible cutscene animations. All of them can't help but feel their blood pumping when I narrowly avoid Ichigo's sword flash and hit him with a Super Saiyan Big Bang.
Even so, the anime fan in me knows that Bandai Namco will just make another Jump crossover game. It will probably have better cutscenes and fights that don't allow for so much spam. That guy will keep playing this game and enjoying it, but secretly wonders if he should have asked his boss to review Anthem instead.
A PS4 copy was purchased by The Gamer for this review. It's available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
3 out of 5 stars.