You know you got soul...
It’s a sad fact that many of the games we loved playing growing up simply haven’t stood the test of time; what we once thought were flawless masterpieces unfortunately eroded over the years. Revisiting such games years later, and after the initial surge of sugary nostalgia washes away, it’s all too common for a game to show its cracks, tears and glaring flaws. On the other hand, there are plenty of games that have withstood time’s cruel corrosion, either being rediscovered as hidden gems or simply outshining more contemporary releases. Jet Set Radio Future is one such game, as endlessly playable now as it was twelve years ago.
The Concept of Love
This being the follow-up to my favourite game of all time, it’s expected I would have some reservations about its quality, longevity and feeling of passion that made the original so special. But, I was ten years old so I didn’t know any better. Back then, for me at least, playing a sequel to Jet Set Radio was akin to having an infinite sheet of strawberry-scented bubble wrap, and finding this game had been bundled with my dad’s box-fresh Xbox sent both my curiosity and ecstasy into overdrive. On a side note, not only was I introduced to a sequel that surpassed the original game in every conceivable way, I’d been inducted into the next generation, a whole new world of gaming potential. Games like Halo, Brute Force, Sega GT 2002, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and of course, Jet Set Radio Future considerably shaped the latter half of my young childhood. Thus, the original Xbox remains to this day one of my absolute favourite gaming systems.
Now, onto the matter at hand: I could just say Jet Set Radio Future is brilliant and you should all consider tracking down a copy if you haven’t played it already. I could just leave it at that, because this game deserves more than what mere words can make of it. But seen as you’re here, I’ll do my darnedest to form my incessant babbling into a cohesive and convincing admiration of what is truly one of Sega’s finest titles.
I Love Love Love You
Jet Set Radio Future’s story, while entirely similar to the original game’s, is entertaining enough to warrant at least one play through. As a quick refresher, the protagonists are a small gang of skaters known as the GGs, originally comprised of just three members. The GGs seek to increase their ranks in order to rule the streets of Tokyo with their unique style of graffiti, all the while combating rival skater gangs, officers of the law, and ultimately the corrupt Rokkaku Group who threaten to erase expressionism and freedom of speech from Tokyo.
Is the story going to win any awards? Of course not. However, it’s told well enough and the dialogue itself is marvelously entertaining, especially from the returning DJ Professor K, who steals the show with his frequent radio broadcasts.
Forget Mom, Let ME Sleep!
Unlike its predecessor, Jet Set Radio Future is set in a more open, explorable alternate reality Tokyo. Instead of selecting missions from the menu as was done previously, all the game’s areas are connected to each other. While it’s not quite an open world (all areas are separated by loading screens), the sense of freedom compared to the original is apparent. On top of this, there’s no time limit, so you’re free to explore the areas at your graffiti soul’s content. Oh, and it’s also worth noting the loading times for the most part are lightning fast, as expected of the Xbox’s processing power. JSRF is not a game that keeps you waiting.
As such, the seamlessness of which the areas connect with each other, combined with the entertaining story and objectives all make for a remarkably addictive game. The different play modes of the original make a return here, but are more fluidly integrated into the game’s progression. For instance, what starts out as a “tag all graffiti locations” mission can seamlessly transition into a race with another character, or a combat section where you must subdue your foes with the power of graffiti. There are also numerous boss battles this time around, some of which require a degree of strategy to overcome.
Jet Set Radio Future also went through some mechanical changes compared to its predecessor. This time around, instead of inputting various analog gestures to finish a piece of graffiti, you now instead simply hold down the left trigger and briskly walk past the markers indicating the spray. This is probably the game’s most controversial change as there was a level of satisfaction to the analogue tagging of the original. However, I’d argue the system implemented in the sequel is superior; you’re no longer hampered by policemen that camp next to the larger tags, and it keeps the game progressing at a sensibly quick pace. Does this make Future an easier game than the original? In a way, yes, but there’s plenty of challenge to be had elsewhere to make up for this.
We Can Do The Scrappy
The seamlessness of which the areas connect with each other, combined with the entertaining story and objectives all make for a remarkably addictive game.
As you explore the twisted suburbia that is Future’s Tokyo, you’ll likely run into several optional challenges. These often come in the form of other characters you can interact with. Most of which can be unlocked by completing whatever task they set. While many of the game’s varied cast of wonderful skaters can be unlocked by progressing the story, an equal amount are unlocked only by completing these challenges. These range from characters we saw in the previous Jet Set Radio, as well as many new faces, including members of the other skater gangs.
Additionally, the player can find items known as Graffiti Souls, which add to your selection of graffiti to be painted across Tokyo at your leisure. As you’d expect if you’ve played the first game, a good number of these pieces are actually works of art from prolific graffiti artists across the world, so collecting them is certainly worthwhile. All in all, Jet Set Radio Future is something of a completionist’s dream; there’s a ton of unlockable content in a world that’s a huge amount of fun to traverse and explore.
Grace and Glory
What kind of person would I be if I wrote a retro piece about JSRF and didn’t talk about the sublime soundtrack? Quite an awful person, I should think, so let’s remedy that right now. Many of the original game’s artists return here to contribute their works to the partially licensed soundtracks. The legendary Hideki Naganuma and Richard Jacques both created many original songs for the game, as well as remixing several from the original. The incredible Japanese rock band Guitar Vader also return with a couple songs. Several newcomers appear here, too, including cult Japanese band Cibo Matto, Scottish indie outfit BIS, and The Latch Brothers: a side project headed by Mike D of the Beastie Boys. If you can’t get hold of the game, the entire soundtrack is easily found on YouTube, and it’s more than worth a listen.
In closing, there is much more I could say about Jet Set Radio Future that I haven’t even touched here. The excellent 4-player VS mode, the improved ability to create your own graffiti, the wider variety of tricks and so on. I know it’s a dreadful cliche to say, but this really is a game that must be played to fully understand it. Unfortunately it’s not the easiest of games to get ahold of these days, though cheap copies do occasionally pop up on eBay and Amazon.
But in case you needed any more convincing, Jet Set Radio Future has a sewer level that doesn’t suck. That is all.