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Jet Set Radio Future – Retro Game Review (Microsoft Xbox – 2002)

By Abdul Hussain

Platform Used: PC (via the CXBX-Reloaded emulator), with the following hardware specifications:

  • OS: Microsoft Windows 10
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-6700k
  • GPU: nVidia GeForce GTX1070
  • RAM: 32GB

Jet Set Radio Future is the sequel to the Jet Set Radio game on Sega’s last ever mainstream competitive gaming system, the Sega Dreamcast, in which you play as a group of graffiti-spraying characters from a group called “the GGs”, whereby you skate, spray, and grind your way against a megacorporation that oppresses people and engages in surveillance and so on and so forth, whilst dealing with rival groups in the process.

To conclude the introduction, and the basic plot: the plot is not exactly spectacular, and how the plot unfolds from a story-telling perspective is functional, but again, not really thrilling or attention-grabbing to the point whereby the story is merely a secondary tool in the game as a whole, therefore almost being more in line with a classic Nintendo or Sega mascot title than a story-first game title like Deus Ex, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, especially if the gaming elements is fantastic to the point whereby a game is replayable from an entertainment perspective (id est: replaying the whole game, from start to finish) rather than a content perspective (id est: a game having several different endings, or a game having collectibles in awkward gaming locations, et cetera).

Game Controls, Game Progression, Game Design, Gameplay, and Game Music

The game controls very similarly to its Sega Dreamcast predecessor, with the Left thumbstick dedicated to character movement, with the camera controls largely being automatic, with the Left trigger on the Microsoft Xbox controller resetting the camera position, but what this game has that its predecessor does not, is the ability to use the Right thumbstick to look around from a first-person perspective, and the ability to just press the Right trigger button to spray graffiti depending on where the game wants you to do so, whereas in the original Jet Set Radio game, you are forced to push the thumbstick in specified directions whenever you graffiti-tag a location, which does take a lot of time. The reason for these changes made in Jet Set Radio Future, alongside the omission of a stage completion clock in Jet Set Radio Future (the original Jet Set Radio had the time limit setup) is largely to accommodate for the game’s focus on navigation, exploration, and graffiti-tag-based combat, making it a more fast-paced game compared to its predecessor, and speaking of “fast-paced”, Jet Set Radio (Sega Dreamcast) runs at 30 frames per second, whereas Jet Set Radio Future bumps this framerate count up to 60FPS, making this game more fluid than its predecessor, though this was most likely made possible due to Microsoft Xbox’s hardware, which is an x86 CPU-based PC with some semi-customized components, beating its competitors in the hardware department, though in typical Xbox fashion, it did not get first place in terms of hardware units sold.

What is unfortunately a missed opportunity is the fact that the Right thumbstick was not fully utilized, whereby it would serve as a camera control in third-person mode, whenever you are browsing the world in-game, though to be fair, not a lot of games at, or around the time of this game’s release made use of the “left stick = character control, right stick = camera control in all circumstances” setup.

Do you see a timer on this screenshot of the game? I don’t, because this game doesn’t have a timer, unlike the original Jet Set Radio (known as ‘Jet Grind Radio’ in the USA) game
Graffiti-spraying efforts are relegated to just tapping the right trigger button on the Microsoft Xbox controller, with the game telling you where to spray. Simple huh?

Another downside that this game has in terms of gaming basics, is the god-awful map that can confuse first-time players of this game, as it does not clearly show the gamer as to exactly where the item/game locations are, leading to utter confusion in certain situations. To remedy this, if a remake was to ever be made, a two-dimensional map would be ideal with thorough detailing in terms of item/location heights.

This game’s map system could do with a overhaul if you ask me. It’s alright in some cases, but for tough-to-navigate areas, it can be really confusing

Now, pushing comparisons to its predecessor, and its minor downsides to one side, this game excels in the gameplay department, ranging from its fluid, snappy navigational controls in terms of skating and grinding up poles and rails, to spraying graffiti and running around the game world, and speaking of the game world, while the game has moderately sized maps that encourage exploration, they are also challenging to navigate to, albeit in a mostly fun way, with certain occasions whereby it can feel more frustrating than entertaining in the process.

Grind, grind, grind, baby!

Game progression-wise, the game can be finished in around 12-14 hours for the basic campaign, which makes the game not outstay its welcome and is reasonable, though completionists will spend more time to grab every single collectible item there is. This game can be finished in a less than a week if the game sessions are split into 4-hour chunks.

Music-wise, the game music, composed by Hideki Naganuma, and others, have done a stellar job with regards to making the music fit in with the themes of the game, and the soundtrack is even great to listen to outside the videogame, which is not always the case when it comes to videogame music.

Technological Aspects of the Game: Graphics and Sound

Graphically, much like its predecessor, the game has a cartoon/anime-like vibe to it, thanks to its art design and cel-shaded graphics, which has aged better than games that go for a “realistic” look, and also helps with framerate, as usually, cel-shaded graphics are not as technologically challenging as realistic-looking graphics that strive for an extreme high polygon count and texture quality. Basically, the cel-shaded graphics are pleasant to the eye, has aged well, and is easy to render, all of which are great, especially when the game never drops a single frame throughout the campaign, but however, there is no native wide-screen support, though older games, like Jet Set Radio Future, and some others, did not always have this as standard, which is understandable.

Sound-wise, the game has limited audio options, but what this game does offer, is functional. Sound effects, are functional, the dialog audio is functional, and the music quality is good too, especially when this game is under two gigabytes in size, with all of the files extracted for use with an emulator, like the CXBX-Reloaded emulator that I have used to play this game from start to finish.

Closing Statements

What do I have to say about this game? The game: great, the soundtrack: awesome, the game world: nice, audio quality: functional, especially when the game is small in size, the graphics: timeless, and fluid, with no frames noticeably dropped, and the plot: secondary, and okay, but who cares when you can skate up poles, skate across walls, and spray graffiti like there is no tomorrow, and did I mention that I actually enjoyed my playthrough of this game? No? Well then, I have just mentioned that I actually enjoyed the game from start to finish, especially when I first played the game all the way back in 2002 on the original Microsoft Xbox. Sadly though, while its predecessor has gotten a remastered release on the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC, this game is seemingly forever consigned to merely being a Microsoft Xbox-exclusive, and is so sorely underrated and undervalued that this game did not sell particularly well when it was released, though nowadays, this game still has a cult following, and some folks wanted to be able to play this game in the modern day. Fortunately, this game is playable on the CXBX-Reloaded emulator from start to finish now, so special thanks to Luke Usher et al for making this become a reality, though improvements to the emulator still need to be made so that it does not become “just a JSRF launcher”, to use Luke Usher’s words, but that said, Microsoft Xbox emulation has been one of gaming’s biggest struggles in the console emulation department sadly, so the developers behind the CXBX-Reloaded emulator have their work cut out as a result.

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