With hundreds of properties to work with and a massive array of powers to choose from, the crossover potential for an anime/manga style fighting game is endless and Japan has capitalized on this fact many times in the past. The latest crossover of these series happens to be Jump Force with its focus being on Shonen Jump properties. With an odd stylistic art choice and bringing in over forty different characters from sixteen different series, Jump Force seems like it has potential but does it take advantage of it?
Due to unknown forces the real world, has been merged with elements of various Jump (manga) worlds. With cities across the globe coming under attack from mysterious enemies known as Venom being led by numerous villains from popular series, the Jump Force has been organized to take them down and protect what is left of the world from falling into complete disarray. During a battle between Goku and Frieza in New York a random civilian is blasted with a stray energy blast and mortally wounded. With no other option, Trunks chooses to revive the civilian with a powerful “umbras cube” that not only brings them back to life but gives them powers that match those of the heroes and villains.
As such, the player takes on the role of this newly revived fighter who can be customized at will and learn a wide array of abilities but not quite all of them. Being recruited as the newest member of the force, the player must team up with the rest of the group to put a stop to the plans of two original characters and potentially put the world back to the way it once was. Now it is worth noting right off the bat that those who are looking for an interesting story or one with twists that you won’t see coming will be disappointed here.
Jump Force’s storyline plays things as safe as possible and the actual progression of the story also feels like a humdrum affair as you rescue various heroes and do battle against evil forces to move the story along. Even the various interactions that fans of the series’ could have hoped for are kept to something of a minimum as so many elements of the game’s story are kept so rigid that outside of exchanging some lines of dialogue, you won’t be seeing many funny crossover interactions which is highly disappointing in a game where seeing Light Yagami, Goku, and Kenshiro all in the same room would be ripe for interactions that just don’t exist.
Before getting into the fighting players will find themselves navigating a hub world. This area allows for interaction with various NPCs who can give you mission select screens, shops to purchase items, upgrade areas, and locations to partake in online and offline battles. Players control their create-a-character here and will be able to purchase various outfit pieces that allow them to change the look of their fighter, be it costumes from the various series or generic items, skills from unlocked fighters, and even ability enhancements that provide overall boosts to your character’s stats. It is worth noting that this area can be accessed either through online play where other players can be seen running around or offline if you want to stay in the game and not be disconnected when the terrible servers drop you from the lobby.
When entering into any battle players must select three different fighters for their team. Story missions will often relegate you to certain characters and limit your choices until some fighters are unlocked while free missions and the like will offer nearly the full roster right off the bat. Once you drop into a fight players must win two rounds while using a, generally, fast-paced feeling combat system. There are two strings of auto combos available in the form of quick and heavy attacks, guard breaking attacks that take time to charge, blocking, dodges that make use of the block button, and a dedicated grabbing button. There is even a dash button that will allow you to either quickly move in on a distant opponent or run away to avoid attacks or gain distance from a foe. There are also mechanics that allow for instant dodging or countering when blocking or attacking at the exact moment your opponent does as well as the ability to burn your entire movement gauge to escape a combo.
Outside of the standard fighting mechanics each character is equipped with four unique abilities that require the usage of the ability meter which is simple enough as it only requires holding RT and the chosen face button. One of these skills does require the player to use their “awakened” ability. As the player takes damages and dishes it out their Awakening Gauge will fill up and when it is at least half full it may be used to either Awaken and provide a status boost or unleash an instant fourth skill, an Awakened Ability. For many characters the Awakening is a full transformation, such as entering Super Saiyan form, equipping full armor, or something else that fits that character’s specific original storyline.
With over forty different playable fighters and a customizable one players will find that there are so many different play styles available here. Various characters will be stronger at long range while others can specialize in close quarters combat. In fact thanks to the wide-ranging skills there even some that provide various debuffs and buffs, deal damage over time to certain parts of the map, or even throw up walls to protect the player from incoming attacks. Along those same lines though it is extremely evident that attempting to actually balance these characters’ abilities was an afterthought, just like the enemy AI. There are a large number of abilities that are flat out better than others of the same category simply because the either track the opponent better or bust through a guard with ease. Some skills even take priority over others despite being used later, making for a highly unbalanced set of abilities. This unblockable and guard breaking abilities happen to play a factor into the aforementioned enemy AI as they generally are little more than turtles at higher difficulty levels.
When the opposing team simply guards non-stop until they are grabbed and thrown, hit with a guard buster, or an unblockable skill it turns what can occasionally be fast paced highly frantic looking action into a crawl. It doesn’t help that transitioning mid-combo into a special ability is about as complicated as the fighting system can be as not only do grabs phase right through blocking enemies if used after a combo leading to fights that often look more like beating down a wall than something one would expect from two teams of three fighters fighting one another. This part happens to be due to there being no reason to even swap characters in combat since every fighter on your team shares the same life bar, so be prepared to really only use them for an occasional assist attack or extending a standard combo a bit. Don’t get me wrong, when the combat in Jump Force actually works well it is a great spectacle thanks to the visual flourish of most moves and the fast-paced action that ends up becoming a fun core battling experience but be prepared for some waiting after every fight.
The reason for this happens to be the incredibly long load times that happen for literally everything in the game. Loading into the hub-world takes nearly a minute after completing a fight, a little over thirty seconds to load up the fighter selection screen, and then another minute to load up the stage. This often leads to load times of up to three minutes total simply to start a new battle. Even rematches against foes that defeated you require over thirty seconds of loading. Even cutscenes require more load time than they generally run for, but make sure you are paying attention as it is impossible to pause them. To make matters worse even customizing your character or even loading up a store in the hub can take up to twenty seconds so no place features a quick loading system outside of altering the character’s skills.
Visuals & Audio
Now anyone that has kept an eye on Jump Force has seen that Spike Chunsoft’s option of using Unreal Engine for the game has led to something of a unique pseudo-realistic design for the characters. This may work well for the environments in the game, of which there are a number of fun stages that show the great merging of real-life locations with signature Jump areas, and with the Awakened abilities that are absolutely glorious looking when used, but range from being decent to downright terrible looking when applied to the characters.
Character designs at least attempt to stay true to their original appearances but the transition to being more realistic have created some real monstrosities. While fighting these character models may not look too rough and the characters’ appearances changing when they are hit with massive attacks that show battle damage is a nice touch, but whenever you see them in cutscenes the true horror comes forth. To make matters worse, cutscenes will see character models jittering around randomly, having hair or pieces of clothing spinning wildly out of control, or flat out clipping into other character models in what ends up being some distressingly bad scenes.
The voice work for the game retains only the original Japanese voice work for the game, which is fitting considering the massive array of series the game pulls from, and with all of the original Japanese voice actors retaining their roles fans will be happy in that regard. The soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag as there are unfortunately no tracks or themes used from any of the series in the game and instead we have a mixture of standard tunes used throughout battles and while walking the hub-world.
Jump Force is a very odd game. It takes the combination of numerous classic series and while fans of these Jump series may wonder why some characters are included over others, the roster is impressive in size and the massive array of abilities and their unique implementations in combat make for a variety of playstyles in what ends up being a fairly decent and enjoyable brawling experience. That being said, horrendous load times, poorly designed AI that slows the game’s pace down, and terribly handled visuals filled with glitches and flat out game crashes make this one that even hardcore anime and manga fans will likely want to pass up.