Jump Force Review — An Unambitious and Disappointing Crossover
Jump Force is a tremendous disappointment that almost completely wastes the potential of its vast cast of characters.
I’ve been apprehensive of Jump Force since its initial reveal back in June of last year. It’s easily the most ambitious anime and manga crossover video game of all time, and yet, it stumbles so hard. Like, really hard. Like, so hard I can’t believe this is the final product. With all of the advertising put into this game, you’d think we’d get something really solid. Conceptually, Jump Force has everything it needs but its execution is where it falters. Ultimately, it amounts to a forgettable game that’s easily one of the biggest disappointments of 2019 so far. Unfortunately, my initial apprehensions have come to fruition.
Over the nearly two years now that I’ve been at DualShockers, I’ve reviewed a decent amount of anime-based video game titles — My Hero One’s Justice, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker, and The Seven Deadly Sins: Knights of Britannia. I can confidently say that all of these games are a better investment than Jump Force. I said back in my Knights of Britannia review that the PlayStation 2 generation was essentially the Wild West of anime games. Even very niche franchises got their chance at a mediocre game or two. But today, I think anime and manga fans have the right to expect a little bit more. Unfortunately, at its very best, Jump Force amounts to a mediocre anime brawler that doesn’t do practically any of its source material justice.
“Jump Force amounts to a mediocre anime brawler that doesn’t do practically any of its source material justice.”
Jump Force’s most offensive issue is its story. It’s the bread and butter that molds these characters together. It’s what we’re all here for; because who doesn’t want to see Death Note’s Light Yagami interacting with Vegeta and Yugi Moto in fun and interesting ways? Well, they certainly interact, but it’s definitely not fun or interesting.
On the outside, the idea of a force made up of Shonen Jump’s best and brightest sounds cool. But the storyline has these characters going from mission to mission doing the same things over and over and over again. You play as your own custom anime hero, who is granted special powers that are fully customizable throughout the storyline. This is a relatively cool aspect of the game that works to make this more than a simple crossover. You’re placed at the forefront of the story as its hero.
I was pretty amped to be able to place my own creation next to these iconic heroes and heroines. Seeing your hero throw out a Kamehameha wave or Rasengan has its charm, but suddenly the mess of a battle system gets in the way. But let’s not go into that just yet. Your protagonist is silent outside of the occasional grunt or one-liner. I can get past that, but many of the actual Shonen Jump heroes are silent too. The game’s story is compiled with scenes that are voiced and silent, making them feel incredibly disjointed and boring. What’s the point of these interactions if we don’t have the iconic voices behind them?
Funny enough, some of the voiced scenes will have silent characters for what I assume was voice actors they couldn’t get back to reprise their roles. With such a large roster it’s understandable that it’s difficult to acquire all of these voice actors who are responsible for decades of iconic anime, but it’s still disappointing nonetheless.
Essentially, the story has the world of Shonen Jump entering our own. This means that a large majority of the stages are famous locations like New York City, Hong Kong, Mexico, etc. There are only a handful of maps that are actually based on the Shonen Jump characters. If it were up to me, I think it would’ve been vastly more interesting to have a game where only the worlds of Shonen Jump crossed over. You could probably come up with some crap about a custom avatar for the player to create. Sometimes it only feels like the game is set in our world to justify having a custom character. I’m sorry, but I really don’t think it’s cool seeing Goku run around New York City outside of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
There’s an evil plot to destroy the world and create it anew. It’s so throw away and poorly written, I find it incredibly difficult to really acknowledge any effort in the writing at all. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Naruto take Light Yagami and Rurouni Kenshin out for ramen? Literally, any sort of scene where the characters weren’t talking about evildoers or fighting would’ve elevated this game greatly. There are also rarely scenes where specific characters’ personalities shine through. One specific one that stuck out to me for example, Deku of My Hero Academia is feeling down about his skills so he’s toughened up by Jotaro Kujo and Kenshiro. Unfortunately, if the narrative doesn’t revolve around having the player thrown into a battle, then the narrative doesn’t exist.
This is why 95 percent of the game is made up of fights. And fights themselves lose their charm incredibly fast. I think anyone with two eyes and the ability to play a video game could see that Jump Force’s gameplay looked wonky. Lo-and-behold, it is wonky! It’s somehow a step below a multitude of anime-based brawlers that have released before it, making me wonder further what the hell happened?
The control scheme itself is rather simple, but it doesn’t feel natural at all. Characters have a strange delay in their movement startup. You’ll be mashing the same combo inputs time and time again. Strategy feels totally randomized as every attack and skill is safe on block except for circle, which grabs. You’ll learn how to escape combos early on by mashing the block buttons, the timing never feels precise and it’s never satisfying at all. It’s not fun.
The one saving grace in Jump Force is its skill animations. While character models and environments themselves look more like an impressive fan project in Unreal Engine 4, super moves are the outlier. Seeing Yugi Moto summon Slifer the Sky Dragon as an attack in a fighting game really never gets old. Exploring each character’s unique super abilities is fun as opposed to their relatively generic combos. Particle effects are also really rad and every character’s appearance will become more ragged as they beat the living crap out of each other. These small details in design are really what I was looking for in every other aspect of Jump Force.
Players can also explore a hub world that’s inhabited by other players’ creations. Think Dragon Ball Xenoverse or Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker. It’s a cool inclusion but can feel a bit tacked on. Jump Force has light RPG mechanics that feel ultimately inconsequential to the overall gameplay. There’s no sense of growth. It’s almost as if the development team wanted to include some type of multiplayer based around leveling but didn’t have the time to do so.
Being side by side with other unique characters only goes as far as online PVP. There’s no PVE content to be found and it feels like a missed opportunity. Albeit I can’t be sure how well it’d work with the game’s fighting mechanics. The hub world is also used to do just about everything else in the game like taking on side missions, upgrading your characters, and purchasing outfits. If all of these things seem pointless to you, there’s a handy quick travel button that makes accessing these things a breeze. If you’re a fan of game’s like Xenoverse and Shinobi Striker though, you’ll likely find this feature to be charming for what it is.
How can we talk about iconic anime without music though? It’s nearly impossible. Again, Jump Force doesn’t include any music from the original series it has at its disposal. Instead, we get a weirdly Marvel-style soundtrack that in my opinion just doesn’t fit at all. There is one diamond in the rough though: the hub world’s music is really catchy.
If you’re purely looking for a game that’ll let you beat the crap out of your friends as iconic anime characters, there’s definitely some fun to be had in Jump Force. But with plenty of other great anime-based games on the market, I’d recommend starting with something that respects its source material better. The roster is admittedly impressive, and seeing the slew of characters at your disposal is cool every single time. But without a concise direction and a battle system that’s lacking in nearly every regard, Jump Force is a major disappointment that I’ll certainly remember for all of the wrong reasons.