Jet Set Radio Future

April 4, 2020
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Microsoft Xbox

Every year or so, I go back and replay the original Jet Grind Radio. It's short, it's fun, and it's fantastic. However, ever since the sequel/reboot Jet Set Radio Future released for XBox, I'd never been able to play it. It wasn't worth buying an XBox back then since there weren't any other games I was interested in, and truthfully, I probably hadn't even heard of the sequel until years later. Recently, I was able to get my hands on Jet Set Radio Future and finally play through this worthy successor.

In summary, it plays like a more fleshed-out version of the original—but at the same time, it's almost a totally different game. Gone are the puzzle-like elements of spraying graffiti; you just spray it as you go. Gone are the arcade elements as well: there's no timer at all in the main game. Instead, we are treated to something that is more wholly an open-ended action-platformer. You still skate around areas painting graffiti, defeating rival gangs and standing off with the police; however things are much more clearly delineated now. There are defined sections where all you do is spray graffiti; defined sections where you "battle" cops (by skating into them and painting their backs); and defined sections where you battle rival gangs and recruit individuals to join your own gang. This takes a bit of getting used to at first, but it works because you can focus on enjoying one thing at a time. It's similar to the original in that you're still doing all the same things; they're just separated now and it's more clear what you're supposed to do and when. The areas, rather than being selectable from a main menu, are now interconnected areas. This is both a blessing and a curse; it's great, but sometimes it does get a little annoying as you trek back through the same area for the hundredth time. However, as I started to discover, there are little shortcuts that open up as you explore more and more, which really smother this issue before it can become a huge problem.

I will admit, initially I did not like the game. I almost quit it completely. However, this is purely my own fault for not talking to Roboy and doing his tutorials. That's right...for once, I millenialed it up and didn't read the tutorials. I am ashamed. But once you realize that you can do tricks—and exactly how those tricks work—the game becomes a blast to play. In the original game there were tricks, but they were by and large just a way to gain extra points. In Future, tricks can be tapped out to a rhythm at any time you are on a rail or in the air, and they give you a speed boost every time you perform one. This alone completely rectifies the "jankiness" of the first game that I mentioned in its review: Gone are the days of getting on a rail only to have to hop around like a jackrabbit just to build up some speed. Now you just tap X or Y, and you're rewarded with points to boot—AND it feels great to do. Amen. I played through the entire campaign without Roboy's tips—once I hit the endless "Chapter 9" that serves as the game's ending point, I talked to him and my opinion of the entire game changed. I'd be willing to bet that if I went back and played through the campaign again from the start, I'd be much happier with it. The tricks really are the backbone of the game.

On that note, there are lots of extra optional tasks throughout the game. This is why I say it plays more like Super Mario 64 or even Odyssey than it's precursor: each level contains Graffiti Souls, which in the original were optional collectibles, but now are the equivalent of Stars or Moons in the 3D Mario titles (although the game doesn't do a fantastic job of telling you this until Clutch shows up towards the end and demands that you have collected 40 of them). They still lurk throughout the levels and unlock graffiti when obtained, but you can also unlock further Souls by finding a hidden cassette tape and performing various Tony Hawk's Pro Skater-like challenges throughout the levels. Some of these are trivial, some of these are difficult, and some are just fucking bugged (like the Shibuya Terminal platform challenge—if you've played it, you'll know what I'm talking about). But they are almost all enjoyable, and once you complete those, you can take part in Test Runs, which basically follow the same formulas as the level challenges in the first game. Now the timer is back and you must complete challenges within a certain amount of time to receive a rank, all the way up to Jet. Once you earn all Jet ranks in a given level's challenges, you unlock another playable character—so there's a lot to do and it's a much longer game than the first.

Character-wise, the roster has expanded significantly. However, Future suffers even more-so than the original from "half the characters suck" syndrome. Even after unlocking everyone, I found it almost totally un-worthwhile to play as 70% of the cast. There are certainly characters for different situations, but towards the end of the game it becomes all about the "cornering" and "graffiti" stats, and none of the others really matter. Still, I can't fault the game for giving you options, even if most of them do suck. Also, they gave the Noise Tanks actual voices and ruined their design, which I'm not sure I can forgive them for.

The soundtrack is also still great, although there are a few more duds on this one. Birthday Cake is ear-rending ("Do you have a headache?"—Yes), and a few of the other tracks are not very memorable, but tracks like Concept of Love, I Love Love You and Aisle 10 save the day. I don't care about graphics that much, but I also believe the graphics have not aged as well as the original's. The bright, funky cel-shaded style of Jet Grind Radio is timeless, but the more gritty and realistic look of this game—while not horrible by any means—just doesn't compare in my eyes. Nevertheless, the game is not hideous to look at. JSRF also introduces a more fleshed-out story and some re-worked characters, and there were quite a few times where the game pointed something out to me and I thought "Ohhhhh! So THAT'S what they were going for in the original." The Golden Rhinos in this game are total wusses though.

All in all, Future is a more refined, extremely similar, yet extremely different take on the original game. I see people argue all the time on which is superior; I think you need to play both to completion. They are each totally worth it. I will be replaying this one in the future and I can guess I will enjoy it even more the second time around.

An Update

I played through it a second time and I was right.

Final Rating

Nearly Perfect