Jump Force is, in all likelihood, the most fanservice oriented fighting game ever made. Featuring characters from One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Dragonball and many other franchises, the game is being developed as Weekly Shonen Jump is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Having played several matches against A.I. opponents at Tokyo Game Show 2018, I’m left wondering whether that fan service will be enough to make Jump Force thrive in the fighting game landscape.
Jump Force is a three-versus-three tag fighting game where characters battle it out in 3D environments. Teams share a health bar, You can tag in characters to perform assist attacks or to swap them out, and managing. Most attacks are extremely fast, with a heavy use of motion blue emphasizing their power, and you’ll use blocks, quick dashes, and a small selection of special abilities to overpower and run straight through their defences. Standard fighting game options.
In practice, it comes across as simplistic. Mashing one of the attack buttons is a simple yet valid strategy, and while attacks change depending on the direction you are holding as you press a button, it all felt dry. You can hold down an attack button to smash through an enemy that is spending too much time blocking, and pressing block at the last possible moment allows you to instantly teleport behind the enemy.
Unlike other fighting games where you can tag in multiple characters for an assist attack, Jump Force only lets you tag in the next character in your three-man lineup. While this could allow for more strategic gameplay, as you have to carefully decide the order of your team to make the best use out of assists, it also leaves me wondering what use the third character will have. Since your team shares a health bar, it’s more important in my view to choose the first two characters while settling on a third just because. Sorry Zoro, but you’re just tagging along with Rukia and Hisoka.
My other major problem gameplay wise is what I felt to be a lack of diversity between characters. While each character has their own animations and special moves, I didn’t really get a sense that one character was noticeably different from another. Luffy felt similar to Rukia, Naruto played similarly to Goku, and so on and so forth. This could change as I spend more time with the game in later months, but first impressions didn’t suggest that there was a great deal of depth. This is a spectacle first and foremost, which is disappointing to see.
This was likely hampered by the ease at which you can defeat the A.I. in the demo I played. Compared to human opponents, the A.I. was a total pushover, seemingly content to not do anything for long stretches at a time before executing a single easily blocked combo. This is common in fighting games, but it doesn’t leave a great mark on the mind when it’s the first and only thing you can play in the game right now. Against humans, perhaps the differences between characters will be more easily noticeable, and with a closed beta scheduled for October 12th-14th, I look forward to testing this out.
Outside of the combat, what stands out the most is the visual design. In Jump Force, the worlds of manga and reality collide, merging together in strange ways. The Thousand Sunny from One Piece is docked in the middle of Hong Kong, a spaceship from Dragonball crash lands in the Matterhorn, and the Statue of Liberty has somehow been transported to the surface of Namek. There will be a story to this madness, featuring original characters designed by Dragonball artist Akira Toriyama, though it is unknown if any of them will be playable.
The environments themselves look great, though I wish there was a bit more destruction to them the more that you fight, as they feel too static at the moment. The same can be said for the characters themselves, who look downright disconcerting the longer you look at them. Because Jump Force is mashing together characters from franchises with widely different art styles, the results are often hit or miss depending on the franchise. The One Piece characters, with the exception of Blackbeard, look fine, but looking at the Hunter x Hunter or Yu Yu Hakusho cast is like staring into the uncanny valley.
At least Jump Force is more tolerable in motion, though the constant blur and speed at which you fight can be tough to follow at times. The attacks themselves look great, and the special abilities for each character are gorgeously animated and feel absolutely amazing to use. As rough as it looks right now, at least I’m not staring at the characters when they’re not moving, which is an improvement in my book, however small it may be.
Yet for many, seeing your favourite characters from widely disparate properties battling it out may be enough to push some of these issues aside. I’ll admit, watching Luffy punch Sasuke into oblivion was exciting, even if it was very easy to pull off. Despite my initial impressions having soured my view on the game, I look forward to seeing how Jump Force develops as we get closer to its 2019 release.