15 Great Games: Jet Set Radio Future (2002)

JSRF

Jet Set Radio Future is the coolest game ever. You need to accept as much. Now that that’s out of the way, we can go on.

It’s not often that an unsuccessful game gets a sequel, but maybe in the case of Jet Set Radio, it makes sense: not that many people had been exposed to the game due to its release on the Dreamcast, and with Microsoft’s new Xbox on the horizon, there was perhaps the feeling that the game might have found a new audience there. Either that, or Sega didn’t want to let a promising idea go unexplored further. Whatever the truth, JSRF came out on the Xbox just in time for the Japanese launch, and just like the Xbox in Japan, it failed to make a splash.

Yet even then, we ran like the wind, whilst our laughter echoed under cerulean skies...
Yet even then, we ran like the wind, whilst our laughter echoed under cerulean skies…

I’m not going into the why’s of that – a game like JSRF was always unlikely to find success. It was too strange for its own good. Strange in this case is a good thing, though. Because grinding at high speed in the 99th Street while pulling tricks on the longest rail of the level is a joy to be sure. The cel-shaded graphics were the closest thing to an anime back in 2002. And I can’t even begin to praise the soundtrack, which took the best tracks from JSR and added even better ones of its own.

While the result is a far easier game than the original, again this is not a bad thing here. Jet Set Radio was very much a game. You had clear objectives, a timer, a sort of QTE mini-game for the graffiti, and overall, it was tough. It was perhaps its biggest failing, together with the spotty grinding mechanic. Sometimes you just want to kick back and relax, you know? JSRF does exactly that. No timer, no mini-game for the graffiti, and  automatic grinding is easier than ever. The main story is a cinch, and while the side stuff will take you a long while, you can always take your time.

You are skating, spraying, and dancing. Sometimes doing everything at once. Except the dancing.
You are skating, spraying, and dancing. Sometimes doing everything at once. Except the dancing.

I spent hours just skating around the Skyscraper District once. I had no real purpose: all the graffiti souls had already been taken, all the graffiti sprayed. I did it because it was cool. This was not possible in JSR, because the timer would constantly call you back to the reality of the game. JSRF never did that. It’s arguable whether it is the best game ever or not, that depends – among other things – on the value you put on being challenged. But one thing is for sure: Jet Set Radio Future is the coolest game ever.

Playing today: I am sorry to say that, much like the vast majority of Sega’s exclusive catalogue on the Xbox, JSRF is effectively stuck on Microsoft’s first console. While JSR was eventually updated in HD for the 360 and PS3, this trend only seemed to work on Dreamcast games. If you don’t have an Xbox, and few still do, you can still at least play the game on an Xbox 360 thanks to backward compatibility. The only problem is that the framerate is not quite as smooth as in the non-emulated version, especially in some of the busiest levels (expect a lot of slowdowns on the 99th Street). But if you can stand these occasional problems, it’s very playable. And it would be a shame to miss on it. It really would.

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