Have you ever been involved in oftentimes heated and passionate debates between the abilities of your favourite anime characters, be it with your friends or the online community, describing how character X would totally smash character Y given that the playing field was level, with all power levels equal, et cetera?
Now, you can demonstrate your support of character X with your own skills in Bandai Namco’s Jump Force, a 3D brawler that pits some of the most iconic and popular characters from Japan’s biggest manga publication, Weekly Shounen Jump, against each other, in what is perhaps the biggest anime crossover game done in the history of gaming.
Characters from the most popular Jump series from each decade starting from the 1980s joins this colossal lineup of 40 fighters (not the largest launch roster of any fighting game, per se, but definitely the largest gathering of Jump anime characters in one place).
You get the likes of the old guard in Kenshiro from the iconic Fist of the North Star and Jotaro Kujo from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure from the 1980s; Goku and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z and Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin from the 1990s; the turn of the millennium’s “Big 3” in Luffy, Naruto and Ichigo from One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach respectively; and the current, modern generation of Jump poster boys in Deku, Boruto and Asta from My Hero Academia, Boruto, and Black Clover respectively.
There’s someone for everyone, and the many series are all represented really well, making the roster alone easily the best part of Jump Force. And with DLC characters planned to come in the next few months, expect this roster to increase past the 50-man mark within the next year or so.
That said, however, if you’re not a fan of any – or all – of these characters, it would be in your best interests not to pick this game up, because it is ultimately, for all purposes and intents, a game designed to pay fan service to superfans of these characters.
Even then, there is no guarantee that even the most hardcore of fans will be satisfied considering how clunky some of the presentation in Jump Force is.
Granted, what it’s intended to do, it does well. The fighting in this game is satisfying, especially when your favourite character performs their iconic (and usually flashy as hell) move. However, some… questionable design choices severely hamper the overall experience of Jump Force, dulling its potential to stand out as a genuinely good anime fighter.
With that out of the way, let’s get into Jump Force proper.
Jump Force is a fighter in the vein of Marvel VS Capcom. You’ll always (yes, that is a sweeping statement right there, because it is true) fight as a group of three, interchanging between characters with the short press of a button.
However, unlike other brawlers out there that have separate health bars for each character, the health bar here is shared among the combatants you control, meaning battles typically last no longer than thirty seconds on average. It’s a bizarre choice, at best, but it shouldn’t really bother you when you’re locking horns with the likes of Frieza or Marshall D. Teach/Blackbeard.
Despite this, the combat is where Jump Force really shines. The controls are fairly easy to get a hang of – you have your standard light and heavy attacks that can be chained interchangeably, and be charged for greater damage. Higher mobility skills similar to the likes of Dragon Ball FighterZ, and timed dodges and reversals are also available, though those will require lots of getting used to, because the window to perform a reversal can go down to the millisecond.
With this, fighting in Jump Force really feels fluid and quick. All the characters have their own identity when you control them – their animations are all unique to each of them despite having such a simplified control scheme. What makes them even more unique are their signature abilities, which are never a dull moment, even when you’re getting destroyed by an Online opponent.
To make things even cooler (at least aesthetically), there’s the Awakening effect, which is basically a powered-up state when you fill up that gauge beyond 50%. To activate it, simply press on R3 on the PS4 or the right analogue stick on the Xbox One, and you’ll send Goku into his Super Saiyan mode, Naruto into his Six Paths Tailed Beast Chakra mode, and trigger Gon Freecs’ Adult Transformation, and so on. Awakened characters’ damage and speed are increased, albeit at a limited time, naturally.
And with an initial roster of 40 characters, you’ll have your hands (and eyes) full of some of the most iconic fighting styles and finishing moves in all of anime and manga history. Luckily, there is no episodes-long charge time for Goku’s Spirit Bomb.
ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA!!!!!
Besides the 40 Jump characters, there’s your fully-customisable Avatar which you can outfit with any combination of the above characters’ special moves, as well as two unlockable characters unique to Jump Force once you complete the main story. But if you’re all about the nostalgia and don’t really care much for the story, you always have that option of just fighting in Online and Offline battles.
To get the most out of Jump Force, you’d have to play against real-life opponents. The AI for the computer versions is very hit-or-miss, even on harder difficulties. More often than not, you’ll find them darting away from you on the battlefield, dodging and blocking without so much as grappling you once or twice.
And then in the next instance, they’ll be coming at you like a freight train, not giving you a second to breathe. It would’ve been better to have a good balance of cautious and aggressiveness in the AI, not the extreme ends of the spectrum. So in this case, Online or Local battles would be the preferred choice to get the most enjoyment out of Jump Force.
Notice that we haven’t touched on the story? Because it’s not all that special to begin with.
Jump Force takes place in the real world, where a merger with the Jump World has caused turmoil to spread across the globe, with a horde of mind-controlled villains called Venoms, led by Kane and Galena, villains unique to Jump Force and designed by DBZ artist Akira Toriyama, wreaking havoc everywhere.
You are a random civilian caught in the crossfire, only to be revived and “reconstructed” piecemeal by DBZ’s Trunks and the game-exclusive Navigator. This reconstruction puts you into character creation, where you’ll emerge as the main protagonist of the story, with abilities taken from the Jump Force roster (yup, no unique abilities of your own).
And so your journey in Story Mode begins, taking no more than 10 – 15 hours across nine chapters. The thing is, most of what you’ll be doing is saving a Jump anime comrade that has succumbed to the indoctrination of becoming a Venom by fighting them. Rinse and repeat.
While most fighting games aren’t known for their story, Jump Force’s story is noticeably below average. With such a huge lineup, most of the smaller series’ characters are reduced to mere damsels in distress that need a literal punch in the face to be woken up.
You’ll get the option to “join” one of three main teams led by one of the three poster boys of Jump Force – Goku in Team Alpha, Luffy in Team Beta, and Naruto in Team Gamma – in what would seem like a story branched out into three paths. But no, that’s not the case here (well, actually, it’s a relief since the story isn’t memorable enough to be worth multiple playthroughs). You’ll basically be joining each team across the nine chapters, fighting and rescuing more Jump characters in the buildup to a final showdown by the ninth chapter.
Sounds epic? Keyword: sounds. It’s a shame, considering how each Jump character is loveable and memorable with their unique quirks and personalities (their slick fighting moves are only half of why they’re all loved in the first place), but severely underutilised to create any form of substantial drama in the story of Jump Force.
Aside from the story, Jump Force‘s presentation is another one of its glaring weaknesses.
First off, the animation in this game is very divisive. On one hand, fighting as your favourite Shounen Jump character is highly gratifying, with their flashy and eye-catching finishing moves to please the screaming superfan inside.
On the other hand, when they’re not slicing and dicing one another, they look like the HD remaster of a 2008 game. The facial animations by characters that originate from 2D anime/manga series are mechanical and nearly lifeless when presented in 3D, and the cel-shading is a little awkward at times, making them look more like animated plastic action figures if anything.
It is a shame how lifeless the characters look in cutscenes, because Bandai Namco even took the time to bring in all the original seiyuu (voice actors) for all these characters that we’ve come to know and love, only to see their animated counterparts merely opening and closing their mouths without much emotion.
And let’s bring up the 40-strong lineup again for a bit. Yes, it’s a sprawling roster, but for the more learned fans of the Jump series, you’d be appalled by some of the notable omissions and inclusions here.
Where are the more iconic villains of some of the series? Yes, Dragon Ball Z gets the likes of Frieza and Cell (with Majin Buu joining the fray in a future DLC), Blackbeard as the evil counterpart to Luffy in One Piece, and Aizen as the major villain of Bleach. But why does Naruto get the likes of Kaguya, one of the most irrelevant and shoehorned major villains of any manga series, and not more iconic antagonists such as Orochimaru and Uchiha Madara, both oozing far more stage presence and cooler fighting styles than the glorified white rabbit? (Author’s Note: If you can tell by my tone, you could tell that my inner Naruto fanboy is screaming in disappointment.)
Hell, even One Piece could’ve done away with Boa Hancock and replaced her with someone like Doflamingo, one of the major standout villains in recent years.
And if some of you have been playing for a bit already, or just watched the trailers, you might’ve noticed the dynamic duo of Light Yagami and the shinigami (Death God) Ryuk from Death Note. *SPOILER ALERT* They’re just NPCs. Yes, they don’t have traditional fighting capabilities, but if justice can be done to even Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!, a card game series, there should’ve been at least some form of that done for Light and Ryuk, making them an interesting character duo to play as. Hopefully, future DLC will include some of these omissions, but again, bizarre choices mar the otherwise stellar lineup of fighters present in Jump Force.
What should be a proper menu is part of the in-game world. To access any sort of battle or mission, you’d need to literally run (or teleport, thank the gods for that at least) to the respective vendor that hosts said feature. On the plus side, though, it’s cool that aspects of the home base have been outfitted with faithful renditions of settings from the original animes.
Want to play Online matches? Run/teleport to the Online Match vendor. Want to play Missions? Run/teleport to the Missions vendor. Want to buy some new gear to outfit your Avatar with? …You get the idea. While the intent is to make the game as immersive as possible by including an interactive hub filled with NPCs to talk to and sights to see, most of it feels unnecessary, because that’s not what fighting game fans look for in a fighting game.
And then come the loading screens. Nearly a quarter of your time playing the game is taken up with the loading screens. For a 2019 game, it’s a tad much. Thankfully, these are nowhere as long as some of the more horrifying titles out there *coughAnthemcough* only happen when transitioning between cutscenes, fights, and the in-game hub, but they still bog down the momentum of the game.
To put it simply, Jump Force is one of those games that would be cool to bring friends over, have a few beers with and geek out over whose favourite anime character is the strongest, like we mentioned at the start of this review.
However, with what Bandai Namco and Weekly Shounen Jump attempted here, there seems to be a lot of missed opportunities here with both all aspects of the game. It’s a game that’s supposed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Weekly Shounen Jump, with all the most iconic characters coming together for one epic title, but Jump Force sadly drops the ball on so many aspects it ultimately fails to live up to the impassioned expectations many longtime fans would’ve had.
If you still want to pick it up, then by all means, but know that while Jump Force shines greatly in what it does best, it’s ultimately a flawed title that lacks the polish to make it a decent fighting game.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Jump Force is a solid anime fighter in its own right, but ultimately falling flat with a significant lack of polish in many aspects make it stand out. If you’re not a fan of any of the Jump manga or anime, then best steer clear of this one.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 5/10
Presentation - 5/10
Value - 5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10