A crossover fighting game starring Shōnen Jump’s most iconic characters is fan service at its greatest, but in the case of Jump Force, it isn’t all too great.
Title: Jump Force
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: February 15, 2019
What better way is there to celebrate Shōnen Jump’s 50th anniversary by creating essentially a 3-on-3 all-stars fighting game with the franchise’s most known characters from its abundance of universes? There isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s executed with finesse.
Seeing perhaps the most iconic characters of the Shōnen Jump universe turned into fully rendered, realistic 3D models was a bit unsettling for me. If anything, the characters appear as if action figures sprung to life but still looked inanimate at a quick glance. But the graphics in this game do make sense when you delve into the story.
In Jump Force, the real world and the manga worlds are merging. Hostile anomalies called “Venoms” are attacking humanity; they were once human with ill intent who have harnessed the power of these devices called “umbras cubes.”
The game starts off with Frieza invading New York City with an army of Venoms which start to decimate the place. Goku then confronts Frieza as the alien casts out a death beam, only to miss his target. The missed beam fatally strikes someone and the camera switches over to a first-person perspective. This faceless victim is luckily saved by Trunks who uses an umbras cube to resuscitate them and turn them into a hero.
From here, you make your own character who is then the protagonist of the game’s story, though you never utter a word anywhere other than when you perform a move in combat, like a Kamehameha or a Rasengan.
It isn’t the most compelling story, but it is interesting enough for most players to hopefully give it a shot. It’s difficult to write one where worlds collide without having cliche tropes such as amassing all the good forces to combat an amalgamation of the bad guys from their respective worlds.
Which group you join in Jump Force determines your hero’s abilities. If you join team Alpha, you are given a mix of Goku’s, Piccolo’s, Gaara’s, and Zoro’s abilities. If you join the Beta team, you get Luffy’s, Boa Hancock’s, Boruto’s, and Sanji’s abilities. Joining Gamma would give you Naruto’s, Sasuke’s, Trunks’, and Sabo’s abilities.
It isn’t the most compelling story, but it is interesting enough for most players to hopefully give it a shot.
You can equip yourself with three special moves and one ultimate ability from any character once you’ve gained enough gold to purchase abilities outside of what the game starts you off with. That’s a very welcomed feature and adds more depth to a rather shallow character (in terms of their personality).
You get a glimpse of who the antagonists are early on. They somewhat resemble Hit from Dragon Ball Super and Android 21 from Dragon Ball FighterZ. After revisiting a trailer released earlier last year, it made more sense. But it also made me more appreciative that they are also original creations made by the great Akira Toriyama.
I noticed throughout the story that cutscenes started using a more traditional visual novel type of delivery. You see a text box with the currently speaking character’s name at the top of it; you hear no dialogue. You just see characters standing still, slightly moving their mouths to show that they’re speaking. It’s inconsistent throughout the story and really disappoints me; it made me less compelled to go on with the rest of it.
If you can look past or agree with the renditions of these characters and their oftentimes lifeless facial animations and stiff mouth movements, you can tell there was some serious work put into other aspects of this game’s graphics such as the combat and outfits.
The visuals of each characters’ moves are nothing short of awe-inspiring. The particle effects, camera angles, cinematic moments, and flow of the combat almost make up for the wonky facial animations and character models. When characters take a considerable amount of damage, their outfits start to wear and tear. It’s a neat attention to detail.
Speaking of combat, it holds up decently well, given that it’s also accessible enough for newcomers to this type of game to not feel left in the dust. It’s essentially a 3D arena-style fighting game. You pick your characters (in this game, you pick a team of three) and choose a stage. The camera angle focuses on the third person perspective of your character which puts you in better control in fights.
In terms of accessibility, the button layout for combat is simple enough for those who are oftentimes feeling overwhelmed from complicated layouts. You have two face buttons for different attacks, another for grabbing, and the fourth for jumping. Each character has three specials which are activated by simultaneously pressing the right trigger and a face button. However, you do need to build up your special meter to perform these moves.
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There is a second meter that fills up throughout the match, which gives you access to your ultimate ability. Once that meter is halfway full, you can click the right analog stick to activate Awakening. For most characters it’s a form change, like Goku, Vegeta, or Trunks becoming a Super Saiyan, or Frieza transitioning to his Golden form, or Luffy transforming to Gear 4, or Yusuke turning into his demon form. Once you’re in your Awakened form, your character is stronger and faster until the bar depletes.
There’s a designated button for blocking, tagging teammates in and out of battle, and additional methods of countering your opponents’ attacks. Though the layout is simple enough, the dedicated and skillful players will utilize all the buttons given to really optimize gameplay strategies.
While being a tag-team fighter as well, the life bar is shared among the three characters you choose. The game does not punish you for leaving one out in combat for too long, which is actually a very welcomed feature to Jump Force. It adds more depth to the simple mechanics. But for those who want to play as one character the whole time or forget to switch out in the heat of battle, there’s no penalty.
Aside from the story mode and the combat, this game gives you extra missions with special conditions for an additional layer of challenges. It’s always nice to be given more content with higher difficulties.
If you want to show your skills off to the world, there’s online play; both with friends or randoms worldwide. It holds up very well in terms of net code and input response times. After losing quite a lot and winning only a handful of times, the online matches were rather stable. To get the best online ranked experience, I suggest you keep your search preferences to match you with players who have a good network status.
Sure, the matches stable for the most part, but friendly matches are a point of contention. As of now, rematches are nonexistent, so new sessions have to be made every time a battle concludes. This seemed rather odd that it wasn’t a launch feature.
After finishing the story and trying out the challenges, you’ll mostly be compelled to just playing online, unless you have friends or siblings close enough in proximity and a spare controller to duke it out locally. Or you can be one of those combo artists and come up with the craziest strings and mixups. To each their own.
For those without a PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold subscription, the most you have outside of online play are the aforementioned modes and a player vs. CPU mode.
Gameplay, customization, graphics, and modes aside, this game has some technical faults that could be even more off-putting. I’ve been playing this on a normal PS4; not the Slim or the Pro. There are some really bad FPS hitches in the hub world. Even when the lobby I was in wasn’t too populated, there were frame issues that made going from one kiosk or NPC to another feel like such a drag. A friend who got the game at launch tells me that his game was also experiencing this issue, and he was playing on a PS4 Pro.
These problems would be slightly mitigated if there were a menu or quick travel option to get to where we want to go, but unfortunately, there isn’t. To make mode traversal even worse— at least on consoles— the loading times are painfully long and happen too frequently. If I can make an estimated guess, it feels like 25% of my time playing Jump Force was spent in loading screens. All that downtime adds up, although Bandai hopes to change that soon.
Lastly, the roster can be a point of contention for many. Frankly, I’m okay with what we’re given. It’s great but the character rosters from the DS games and Jump Stars’ predecessor, J-Stars Victory VS had stronger rosters. Sure, there are some favorites or standouts from previous Shōnen Jump crossover games who didn’t make the cut like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Gintoki Sakata, or Hiei. There are some who would have made sense to put in but are probably DLC or just not in altogether, and it’s understandable to be disappointed.
There can never be a perfect roster for a fighting game, especially with a crossover title. There are odd picks and cuts here and there, and there are more representatives from some series compared to others. Hopefully, the character pass can help mitigate the frustrations of people who honestly want this game to succeed and have a proper sequel.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.