There’s a reason why anime and manga are so successful overseas. Shonen Jump series like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto are such global powerhouses because they wear their Japanese influences on their sleeves and feature vivid art and otherworldly characters that are so unlike anything else. Bandai Namco obviously believes otherwise, though, because they’ve stripped all of that Japanese artistic style away from Jump Force to create a messy, dull game best described as “The Michael Bay Transformers of anime games”.
There’s a silly, satisfying appeal to big crossover events that’s hard to ignore. Seeing your favourite characters from different shows or games cross paths for the first time and act like ducks out of water makes for plenty of memorable character moments and goofy bits of humour. Jump Force doesn’t have time for any of that crap, though. The game opens with the crossover already well underway.
Trunks from Dragon Ball Z knows all about the evil Venom creatures attacking various dimensions, and the nasty glowing cubes they’re using to brainwash famous manga characters. Naruto and Goku are just regular coworkers at a massive Jump Force home base, and everyone is well settled into the rhythm of things. Except for you.
Your window into the world of Jump Force is a custom character you create at the beginning of the game. They’re a silent protagonist who makes no decisions and contributes nothing to the plot, instead simply being there as a puppet for you to dress up in a variety of costumes. While I appreciate having a character to customise, their involvement in the game is so ham-fisted that I struggle to understand the point of having a player avatar in the first place.
The player character looks sharp, but everything and everyone else in the game is rough as hell. This game has a bunch of bells and whistles, but they’re all out of tune and broken. Every character in the cast maintains their original manga proportions and designs, but are rendered with what’s approaching photorealistic skin textures and clothing materials. The result is a horrifying mess that makes cute and heroic characters like Luffy and Izuku Midoriya look like absolute freak shows.
It doesn’t help that every scene in the game is complemented by flat and over-exposed lighting straight out of a default Unreal Engine 4 project. Some characters from a certain angle in specific scenes under particular lighting look… fine, but that’s it. Jump Force is caked head-to-toe in gritty Hollywood bloom and lighting that seems like an unnecessary and unsuccessful attempt to Westernise manga visuals that nobody wanted to be Westernised in the first place.
As you progress through the main story of Jump Force, you’re treated to cutscenes and writing that just barely meet the same quality threshold as watching a 7-year-old play with a pile of action figures by themselves. Vegeta is here, but he’s evil now! Goku is here now. Goku fights Vegeta so good that he is nice again. Everyone is happy. Every piece of dialogue is plain and predictable, and there are rarely any moments that do anything other than move the dull plot along. There are a handful of charming character interactions, but they’re sprinkled throughout a lengthy and bland campaign.
Regardless of writing, the visual quality in all of these cutscenes is also an absolute mess. The very first cutscene of the game struggles through a choppy framerate and boasts wild character pop-in and clunky animations. Those qualities carry throughout the entire game for nearly six hours of cutscenes. Villains like Frieza will motionlessly float out of scenes, and characters will awkwardly skate and slide along the ground as they clumsily transition through animations. Faces remain static and unmoving atop bodies thhat awkwardly flail and limp around, resulting in some of the most animated characters in manga history looking like broken animatronics.
Frame rate and animation issues plague the cutscenes, the hub-world, and even the menus. It’s only in combat that the game manages to maintain a consistent and professional presentation. Jump Force is an arena fighter with a welcoming control scheme. One button does light attacks, the other does heavies, and a third will grab your opponent. The left shoulder button lets you tag in your other two partners, while the right button can charge your energy meter or be combined with face buttons for special attacks. There’s also guarding and a rush-in/dodge button, as well as a team-up attack function and an Awakening ultimate attack. It’s a simple but varied set of systems that are quick to learn and easy to master.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to actually follow the action. Every time you land an attack, wild hit sparks and particles explode from your body and the camera jumps around to frame the action in a theatrical way. I often found myself losing sight of my characters in the midst of all of this. The frustrations continue in local multiplayer, where the camera randomly favours and follows one player or the other at any given moment, leading to the non-dominant player being rendered too far off in the distance to properly follow what is going on.
I was also pretty disappointed with how similarly each character plays. Despite a cast of 40 characters from a wildly different set of 15 different manga series, almost everyone has the same kind of range, the same kind of combos, and the same kind of movement. I found myself favoring characters like Ryo from City Hunter and Jotaro from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure for being some of the few characters with movesets that deviated from the norm.
Missions, cutscenes, customisation, and battles are already rather dull as is, but Jump Force manages to pile on the frustrations by making you sit through lengthy load times in-between all of these activities. Opening the customization menu? Gotta load. Entering a mission? Sit back and wait for the loading. Selecting rematch during a battle? That also leads to insane load times. Jump Force was already a mess creatively, but being so fraught with technical issues on top of that makes it hard to enjoy any aspect of the game at all.