Jump Force Review: A “Fighting Game” in Sheep’s Clothing

There are things that you’d think would look good together but ultimately don’t end well. Like a game of Monopoly and some of your competitive friends, what you may have pictured as a fun time slowly spirals into arguments on with a rulebook and collusion against that one guy who wouldn’t let you buy his railroad. Like eating various kinds of food, if your body has no idea how to handle them all at once, you’ll surely be making regular appointments with your bathroom reflecting on your most recent mistakes. Attempting to synthesize several genres of gameplay certainly sounds good on paper, ideally offering the best of each and using the strength of one to make up for the weakness of the other. However, unless done with very close attention to detail, it can end up as a product that nobody asked for, messy and confused, that everyone is trying to figure out. This was my experience with Jump Force for the past week on the PlayStation 4, and at this point, I have difficulty calling it a fighting game. In this review, I’ll be illustrating exactly why this is how I feel about this confused mess.

Freiza launches an attack on what looks like Times Square, which is soon put to a stop thanks to some of our Jump heroes. You end up being one of the casualties of the battle, but thanks to the literal plot device called an ‘Umbras Cube,’ you are saved and become capable of being a hero yourself. Trying to make sense of the situation, you team up with other popular heroes of Shonen Jump and face the chaos launched by your adversaries, the Venoms.

 

Production (3.8 / 5)

The models for Jump Force actually look pretty good when fighting, and specifically, while fighting. They have specials and supers that animate well and is an accurate depiction of how it looked in their respective shows. And that’s about where I stop complimenting how the game looks. They really put a lot of focus on making the fights look good, but half the time you’ll be watching cutscenes where they awkwardly stand around and talk about what to do. These scenes could have been more attractive if they were all doing something else but they’re all stuck in what looks like the default standing position for your generic model.

In fact when you’re not in battle, you’re wandering this hub world that reminds you of how this wasn’t really well-planned. Umbras Base is what it sounds like, your home when you’re not in battle. It’s divided generally into 5 major parts with different themes. But generally just look different and mostly all serve the same purpose. Aside from definitive setpieces, the entire place looks generic and doesn’t really feel like it’s inspired by the many worlds of Shonen Jump. Though this may have been intentional, as several countries in the real world are set to be the arenas that our heroes battle in, I just don’t really agree with it. It doesn’t help that the frame rate becomes shifty as you move about and pop-in just keeps happening.

Dual audio doesn’t make it on this huge crossover game, which isn’t too big of an issue as they don’t really give you any cues during battle and are mostly used to add that polish to special attacks. It becomes that much harder to give it a pass when some of the audio bugs out and the voice becomes muted. Music is generally forgettable, going for this grand theme with an orchestra carrying a tension meant for a grand battle that never seems to be presented that way in the actual game.

When you put everything together with how the game presents itself, it comes off as an edgy teenager who thinks it can make anything look bad ass if you try hard enough. A little humor and self-awareness would’ve given a lot more mileage and personality to Jump Force, which didn’t quite show itself.

 

Mechanics (2 / 5)

I spent the first few hours playing this game thinking it was a fighting game, and then the rest of my time on it wondering what it really is. It combines RPG elements with what some might recognize as mechanics from tag fighters, it’s hard to tell which one comes first.

To begin with, having the ability to fully customize your move set based on moves by other characters in the game sounds a lot like something from the Mugen engine. This level of customization made every character look like templates with interchangeable parts, making a completely exploitable system that indicates little regard for game balance. Why is this so? Well for starters it makes it evident that normal moves don’t really matter all that much, everyone has general functions that play similarly with very little deviation. Light attacks combo, strong attacks can stun or knock your opponent down, almost anything can be guarded except for charged normal attacks. What seems to matter is the utility of special moves.

Special moves in the other hand generally fall into the categories of attack, defense, or counter. There are certain moves that genuinely don’t cleanly fit into any of these three but they play a part in the rock-paper-scissor relationship all the same. Using any of them require at least one stock of power to use. There’s also the awakening bar, that works a lot like the Revenge system in Street Fighter 4, giving you access to a powerful move when it’s half full, but also lets you enter strengthened state temporarily or even extend a light combo.

During a fight, you’re most likely going to use light attacks to open up your opponent, which easily leads to an auto-combo, but the thing is it doesn’t really work like a combo you normally see in other fighters. Hitting the guard button at just the right time will allow you to do the old anime trope of teleporting behind your enemy and countering, which is something you can also do on the latter part of a combo. You also have an alternative method of using up your dashing stamina to instantly recover and escape.

So all of the above roughly covers what you can do during combat. Which makes for this crazy, fast paced arcade-like experience for a brawler. There are several opportunities for reversals and picking up whichever character is simple enough as they all run on more or less the same rules but with just different special moves. Though what’s built around this combat system tends to muck up the experience.

First of all, you form a team of three which seems to be more on simply following a trend. Assists and tags have a shared cooldown for both characters in reserve. The entire team also shares the same lifebar without any reason to switch them out except if you want to maybe extend a combo or just have a different set of special moves. I already had a capable enough moveset for my character so I just stuck with using her. Considering I just wanted Picollo to just spam beam attacks whether I was attacking or defending, my third man Kenshin almost never saw the spotlight.

There’s also a levelling system that scales your stats as you raise your level. A really odd addition for a game that presents itself as a fighter. The bigger deal seems to be in the passive abilities you can equip on your supports as you increase your level. Also, there are affinities for several types of attacks which I generally did not pay attention to, they still die if you hit them enough times. It’s also highly possible to bridge stat gaps by simply consuming an item that gives you a sizeable temporary buff.

Yeah, that was a lot to talk about, wasn’t it? But honestly, this is the bulk of the game. There’s a lot of mechanics that overlap and maybe even contradict the idea of making a good fighter experience. It’s fun at first because you feel like you can do some interesting things, but soon as you’ve figured out how things really work, you’ll probably just stick to doing that. How the game works was never creatively explored and if you setup your protagonist right you’ll never have to really change your strategy.

 

Content (3 / 5)

So the campaign gives you an ‘excuse plot’ to go to various locations to collect your buddies and join forces which roughly translates to ‘go fight these guys with these team mates’ ad naseaum.  You get some story battles if you progress far enough but they all generally translate to ‘you need to fight these guys,’ meaning the story itself is just padding. There’s also free missions that allow you to grind for whatever it is that you need at a much more efficient rate, but the idea for something that resembles a fighter is not a very welcome idea.

What’s good about the content is the fact that there are 40 playable characters in it, all of them recognized for their own signature moves which look great, especially the awakening specials. If you want to watch something flashy, well this isn’t a bad game to go with.

 

Features (1.5 / 5)

You can choose to play online. But with the entire game built with 1v1 combat in mind, there’s actually not much reason to go online unless you want to fight other players, hopefully with levelling stats off if you want the game to feel somewhat fair.

It’s also possible to play as 2P offline but it’s not split-screen action, which may be an issue for some people who are used to that kind of format.

Finally, it’s possible to record matches as well as go into a photo mode in a similar way to Smash. Which admittedly makes good wallpapers.

 

Conclusion

This can’t be a fighting game, the elements built around the fighting game mechanics just makes  a lot of its nuances pointless. You can just out-stat your enemy if you wanted to, a fully customizable character leaves giant holes for exploits. It just seems like a set of good ideas but couldn’t go well together, as if they couldn’t agree on what was the main objective for the experience that was Jump Force.

RPG elements with customization? Level-scaling? Item buffs and a vague affinity system? Wait, doesn’t that sound like an MMO? At least, that’s the conclusion I came to after many hours of trying to make sense of this game. It’s a PVP-based MMO. While the mechanics and moves don’t feel very refined, it all makes sense when you angle it towards that idea. Considering it that way, it’s actually not that bad if only it had some more content.

So, would I recommend it? Well, maybe in parties. Vanilla versus gameplay actually has some merit in it, but I’d tell you to skip the campaign.

 

Jump Force on the PlayStation 4 needs a new training arc, 2.6 / 5.

Available on PlayStation 4 and PC.

 

We’d like to thank Bandai Namco Entertainment for providing us with the review copy.

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