Right from the initial announcement made at E3 2018, excitement levels were pretty high for Bandai Namco’s Jump Force. The reveal came in collusion with the iconic Weekly Shonen Jump manga magazine embarking upon its 50th anniversary and the sheer thought of a 3D arena fighting game on the horizon, featuring some of manga’s greatest heroes and villains that have ever been seen, was something to look forward to. It seemed like the ideal way to celebrate such an important anniversary. Now that Jump Force on Xbox One has arrived, is it a total knockout or does it possess all the thrill of a time limit draw?
Unfortunately, the realisation of Jump Force doesn’t quite meet the expectations and the all-star gathering appears to be something of a wasted opportunity.
Jump Force sees an instantly recognisable raft of characters from the world of manga collide, with the turmoil spilling over into the ‘real world’. Someone powerful is wielding the magic of umbras cubes – cybernetic devices – to bring out the worst in humanity and turn ordinary folk into deadly warriors known as Venoms. The evil energy within these cubes is also used to control the heroes and villains we know and adore, to do the bidding of the mastermind behind the goings on. Your task is to save the multi-worlds as part of the J-Force, led by Director Glover, and restore order by collecting the cubes from the fighters you defeat.
Everything you do in Jump Force goes through the hub world, the Umbras Base, which is similar to the one in Dragon Ball XenoVerse 2, albeit a lot smaller. Here, you’ll take on missions, partake in local/online conflicts, mingle with other heroes controlled by real people and spend in-game currency, Gold. It’s such a bland place to spend most of your time in though – with nothing standing out amidst the design of the base – that you’ll be wanting to leap straight into the Key missions to get the story rolling.
The basic premise serves as a decent platform to explain the merging of all these franchises, with a cavalcade of high profile heavyweights like Goku, Naruto and Luffy helping lay down the foundations as the leaders in the J-Force camp. Any fans of Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and Hunter x Hunter, will be more than satisfied with the characters showcased; and the inclusion of the likes of Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh, Deku of My Hero Academia fame and the main duo found in Saint Seiya, ensures a real variety is present throughout. It’s darn disappointing then that the storytelling accompanying them is laboured and lacklustre.
After the intense opening cutscene there are rarely other moments of such exhilaration, with most narrative-based interactions essentially consisting of Director Glover telling you Venoms have been spotted or welcoming a new recruit into the fold after freeing them. Even when out in the battle zones, the pre- and post-fight chatter is tedious and follows similar lines of dialogues. All in all, it’s a very repetitive process for each story-focused mission, but sometimes in fighting games, the action itself can provide enough joy to counteract such things. And whilst that’s sort of the case, we must first go over the real hero of the piece – you.
Creating a custom avatar is a crucial order of business and whether you decide upon a male or female character, the options to tailor them to your desired appearance are more than satisfactory. Of course the usual choices come up, in regards hair style and colour, eyes, mouth etc. but there’s also a grand selection of facial features and accessories to adorn; most of which will be familiar to manga enthusiasts. Throw in the decent amount of existing and unlockable clothing too, and you’re sure to produce a rather unique fighter.
The fighting styles are limited to martial arts, ninja, or a strong ‘pirate’ type, but that’s not much of an issue when your special abilities can be altered on a whim, thus ensuring a freshening up of your arsenal is always possible. Want to stick with moves you know like the Kamehameha blast? Not a problem. Fancy switching out the Shining Sword Attack for Gaara’s Sand Tsunami instead? That’s easily done, and they are all simple to execute mid-battle thanks to Right Trigger bringing up all of your equipped manoeuvres and the corresponding face button press required.
As for the action itself and you’ll go into battle with up to three characters on your side, ready to be tagged in and out to get some neat combos going, whilst making use of all the different abilities at your disposal. Unlike most tag team encounters, in this there’s just the one health bar to be shared between them and once that’s depleted, the winner is declared – at least it saves worrying about a last ditch tag from the opponent when you’re on the ropes and clinging on. All the while, and alongside the special ability gauge, an Awakening meter fills up for damage given and taken, which will see you able to pull off spectacular moves and unleash the beast within to provide a much needed power boost. That’s a game-changer, especially given the amount of damage the Awakening manoeuvres do to the opponent.
Every fighting game has various stages to do battle upon, with gamers having their favourite places to scuffle, whatever game series it is. The arenas in Jump Force are mostly designed with real life locations in mind, such as New York, Hong Kong and Mexico, and in truth they are tremendously boring – I suppose when you’re used to the fantastical environments of manga, it’s hard to reach those heights.
There’s no denying that the arena fighting is electric though, with rapid movements, counters, chasing and attacks from the second the bouts begin. Some of the abilities are brilliant to see and trying different characters can be quite fun to get a feel for. However, seeing what’s occurring is trickier than you’d expect and often – on the darker stages more so – it’s tough to figure out who’s landing the attacks when they’re engulfed in visual effects. As the dust settles momentarily, realisation then sets in that a beat down has just been laid upon you. What’s the point in fighting if you can’t make out what’s happening half of the time?
Visual hindrances aside, the allure of Key missions wears thin quickly anyway and then you’re left to try your hand at Free missions, which have set objectives to fulfil in order to acquire items, moves, Gold etc. Again, these won’t keep you busy for too long, and even using a variety of teammates can’t paper over the cracks of monotony. There are Extra missions that pop up eventually, but the purpose of such missions is to enable you to break through the level caps every now and then.
As a last resort, Online Battles and Offline Battles are present to provide opportunities to test your skills against the A.I., your buddies or the online masses via 1vs1 matches. The longevity isn’t great sadly, with very little about these one-off encounters that could really be considered enticing. But hey, at least it’s another way to earn more XP for levelling up the main and support characters. In doing so, their overall stats increase and it’ll allow you more choice in terms of the support skills they possess.
Moving onto the overall roster and it’s pretty impressive to have just over 40 characters to get your hands on. Whilst I dare say there are too many safe choices from Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, it’s great to find characters enlisted from Bleach, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Rurouni Kenshin to broaden the spectrum. Those who were created specifically for the story though are nothing to write home about in terms of design, mainly because they look rather similar to other characters created by designer Akira Toriyama.
The audio of Jump Force does nothing to help its cause as the soundtrack on loop in the hub and during most interactions is really annoying. All of the voiceovers are in Japanese too, which for some may be a hassle given how it can be tough to follow subs and keep a keen eye on the events developing on-screen at the same time. Otherwise, the battle music is on-point and merges well with the blasting, conjuring and frantic action.
Given that Jump Force is supposed to be a celebration for Weekly Shonen Jump, I’d just cancel the party. The biggest names in manga have come together for a fast-paced, enjoyable fighting experience and instead it’s dragged down by a lacklustre narrative, repetitive missions and too many visual effects for its own good. Being a hero is cool and performing all the different abilities is neat as hell, but there’s just not enough variety in things to do that’ll make you want to serve as part of the J-Force for long.
Now I’m off to find the Dragon Balls so I can wish for a better game.