Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 02/25/02 | Genre: Action
JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future is neither a sequel nor port of the incredible Jet Grind Radio released on the Dreamcast in 2000. Instead, Sega's development team Smilebit has redesigned the game from the ground up. The result is a product that is even better than the initial title released, and one that has only a few caveats that prevent it from achieving the status of a modern classic.
There's a story behind JSRF, but it's primarily there to setup the style of the game. An evil (and, of course, filthy rich) corporation called the Rokkaku Group is making an attempt to stomp out culture in the city of Tokyo-to. They've bought the police department and are sinking cash into the government to help accomplish their nefarious deeds. Naturally, the player's protagonist is selectable from any members of a skate gang called GG that's trying to fight the power. Unfortunately, there are a number of opposing gangs out there, and while taking steps against Rokkaku - in the form of covering the city in graffiti - the GGs must also fight a turf war. These gangs all use some wacky magnetic rocket skates to get around town to spray their message.
JSRF controls almost exactly like Jet Grind Radio did, with a few major differences. For those that never played the original, getting used to the control scheme is largely a breeze, but there are a few hurdles that have to be overcome in order to succeed. For one, jumps are "floaty," which will be especially noticeable to new players. Once a feel for these jumps can be achieved, however, controlling them becomes second nature. Another thing that might throw beginners for a loop is automatic grinding. While it's a pretty basic feature that simply streamlines the controls, it's not uncommon to see people that are picking up the game for the first time unintentionally grind rails, curbs, wires, poles, and any of the many things that these skaters can stick to.
There are a few big changes to the controls when compared to Jet Grind Radio. There's now an actual trick button. Tricks in Jet Grind Radio were almost entirely random and just happened while jumping rather high. Now, however, both the X and Y buttons can be used to pull off tricks in the air, or change the type of grind done on a rail without actually jumping off. Combining these tricks together takes some timing skill, as just slamming on the button will reset any point combo that's currently being tallied. While not really necessary for completing the game, building up trick combos are key to completing side tasks for each level, which will unlock the ability to pick-up new graffiti art for the GGs to splash around town. Another addition to the game is the ability to do what's called a "boost dash." A boost dash is the only way to achieve maximum speed, which may be required to reach certain areas throughout the city. The catch is that activating this boost takes 10 spray paint cans, which is a third of the maximum that can be held at a time.
Speaking of spray painting, the other big change in the controls comes when tagging surfaces. No longer is it necessary to put in the rolling directional combos that were required in Jet Grind Radio for the majority of the graffiti. In JSRF there are hovering markers around the spots that need to be sprayed and just holding down the R Trigger will spray each area as you pass it. This could easily be seen as good or bad. While the combos were pretty cool in Jet Grind Radio, the new system is streamlined and also means the player doesn't have to worry about having to stand still while doing a combo if there are enemies afoot.
The cel-shaded graphics practically pioneered in Jet Grind Radio have made a return, and look more amazing than ever. The cel-shading mixed with the style of the game combines for an experience that's astounding as much technically as it is aesthetically and artistically. The framerate problem of the original is almost entirely wiped out, and there's now larger, more detailed levels, some of which are brimming with activity. Some effects in the game look incredible when there's time to steal a glance, such as the motion blur when doing a boost dash. Not a lot can really be said about the visuals, other than they look absolutely fantastic. It seems as though each new game on the Xbox lately has pushed the console to its limits. The fact that more power can - and eventually will - be squeezed out of the machine is mind-boggling.
Music was also a big part of Jet Grind Radio, and the game was heavily lauded for it's eclectic mix of Japanese techno and rock, with a few cameos from some domestic names. On first listen, the soundtrack in JSRF doesn't seem as impressive as the original, but after an extended period of time, it becomes clear that the newer game is also superior in the aural category. Only a few tracks play in each level, but they rarely seem repetitive. The only gripe I can think of with the music is the lack of any way to skip or select tracks in game. Though even this is partially remedied, as it's possible to pick any track in the game as the background music to the GG's garage, which is the central hub between all of the levels.
Not all is perfect with Smilebit's creation, however. One of the major gameplay changes over Jet Grind Radio was removing the time limit the first game imposed, and instead allowing the player to explore more freely and at their own pace. This gives the game more of an adventure feel in favor of the hectic action that a time limit forced. However, another big change was expanding the environments, which now range from manageably small to gigantic. While both of these, on paper, are good ideas, they end up forming a nasty combination: it's easy to get lost with no feeling to press on further. This can make some of the later levels seem to drag on in a repetitive process of checking the map, skating to an area full of objects to pain, tag them, and repeat. While JSRF keeps a lot of its fun overall, this process gets more and more glaring as the game draws to completion. Another contributor to the lack of urgency felt is the way the police are now handled. In Jet Grind Radio, cops were in various areas around the levels, and they'd make an effort to chase you down if you were spotted. In JSRF, however, the police forces will be introduced in a section of a level, and must all be taken care of (knocked over and tagged) before the player can progress. They're then no longer a threat in that level. While this also helps put the focus on a more relaxed pacing of the game, it also succeeds in removing any sense of danger
Additionally, the level designs themselves are sometimes questionable. A good number of the city's areas provide a ridiculous amount of objects to grind. In itself, this isn't a big deal, but it soon becomes apparent that grinding these things is practically a requirement to clear the level. It's not a complaint that can make or break a game by any means - just look at the game's final grade - but it's noticeable and can ruin the enjoyment factor of certain stages.
These gripes can seem like a big deal to some people, and those are the gamers that should rent the title first to see how much enjoyment they can really get from it. However, none of them seemed to heavily detract from the experience in any way. This game comes highly and immediately recommended to anyone that enjoyed the original title, as long as they can overlook the minor flaws. Jet Grind Radio was an outstanding product, and Smilebit's redesign is superior in virtually every way.