Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: 3v3 Fighting Game Shonen Manga Fan Wet Dream

If this review’s title is of any indication, this anime fighting game has it all: heroes and villains from your favourite Shonen Jump manga for the past 51 years. Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, My Hero Academia, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Black Clover, Hunter X Hunter, Rurouni Kenshin; heck even Ryo from City friggin’ Hunter gets the spotlight. I kinda marked out when I heard he’s in the game.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game, from its layout to its single-player mode is proof that your game may just sell on face value alone, not so much its gameplay merits. I expected a heckaton more from longtime developer Spike Chunsoft and publisher Bandai Namco since they have major access to the source material and can play around with it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s focus on the major positives of the game.

We Are Fighting Heroes

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To its credit, Jump Force’s 3D fighting is actually fun, even if it comes off as simplistic from the get-go. Basically it’s a 3v3 anime fighting game set on a 3D planescape. You have your light attacks, heavy attacks, your special attacks (hold R2 and press any face button), block button, and your dodges. Your shonen stars can also chase opponents & close distance instantaneously, parry attacks with good timing, and perform a quick evasive manoeuvre while blocking enemy attacks.

As per any shonen manga game adaptation, your obligatory shonen “awaked” states (ie Super Saiyans, Bankais) and Ultimate moves of Ultimate power (ie Kamehamehas, Gear Fourths) can be triggered if your Awakening bar is filled up. Since you have 3 characters to manage, you can tag them in or even have them jump in temporarily for a quick attack.

And with 40+ characters to work with, each of them with different moves and fighting styles that stay true to how they’re portrayed in their respective series, fighting game fans and anime nuts are going to have a lovely field day picking their favourite three-person group. Each character moves and controls differently, with their moves ranging from either close-range dash-in attacks or heavy counters that put opponents in a knockdown state. Basically, you’ll do fine if you’ve done your manga homework: Kenshin Himura has a ton of hard-hitting close-ranged sword attacks while Vegeta has his projectiles and burst attacks that closes distances quick.

Smile Bomb

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Jump Force’s fighting game system successfully focuses on simple tight controls that let you pull off crazy manga special attacks and at the same time teaches you to evade and counter oncoming onslaughts. You are given the tools to either push the offensive or play defensively with your three-person group; fights can be tense as you wonder if your opponent is going to call in a tag assist while throwing out another attack.

Most of my fights are an exercise in blocking and parrying while figuring out the best time to do a meter-burning escape. And when you come out on top, it just feels rewarding as you finish off your opponent with a three-man tag-team attack of your own. Maybe you’re a defensive player, so perhaps you’d rather have a team of parry-savvy and counter-heavy anime fighters. Maybe you rather go for broke with a team consisting of Goku, Naruto, and Luffy. Either way, you need to plan ahead and pick your team carefully if you plan on winning games against randoms.

Speaking of which, the game also offers offline and online multiplayer so you can test your skills against human players. There’s not much to say except there’s casual and ranked mode for your choosing, the connection seems fine for most of my fights, and it’s nice that the game adopts the “practice mode against AI while waiting for your match” practice. All fighting games need this option by default.

And to say nothing of how the game looks when it’s in motion. When you see the semi-photorealistic aesthetics and anime characters in action, hoo boy the fireworks and spectacle almost justify the bizarre choice in art style. I said “almost” because the game really, REALLY loves using motion blur techniques a lot as a stylistic choice. When it gets too fast and chaotic, especially when you have expert fighting game players on this, fights look like oil paintings in motion.

Graphical nitpick aside, I’m just glad Spike Chunsoft nailed the simple and fun 3D fighting mechanics and made it fun for both beginners and pros to enjoy it. Because the rest of the game is quite an unimaginative slog.

1/3 Pure Heart Emotion

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With 51 year’s worth of storylines and manga plot points to crib from, what does Spike Chunsoft and Bandai Namco do with it? Create the usual good vs evil epic battle storyline where the good guys of your favourite Shonen Jump mangas team up to defeat the bad guys of said series, with some new additions from manga godfather Akira Toriyama to spice up the roster.

Your custom Avatar fits in all of this since he/she was caught in the crossfire of Dragon Ball Z‘s Frieza’s attack in the city you’re living in. Luckily, Trunks comes in and shoves an alien artifact in your body so that you can join in the fight.

The typical good vs. evil campaign wouldn’t be so trite and by-the-books if it didn’t feel like a choir to sit through. Sure, there are some side story gems like seeing My Hero Academia‘s Midoriya and Naruto‘s Boruto bonding over their father figure issues, but it’s all pulled off with the grace of a blundering hippo. All these important cutscenes – the ones that don’t involve fighting- are done with stiff animations, talking heads, and people standing still while moving their arms slightly. They’re just boring to sit through; it’s like the worst of anime tropes magnified to full effect.

Oh and you can’t skip these cutscenes the first time around. Whoop de doo.

The only cool thing about all this exposition exercise is that Jump Force lets you customize your own anime fighter character; you can mix and match signature moves & Ultimates from different Shonen Jump series. That’s still pretty fun for a fighting game fan like me, since you can experiment if your big-eyed Frankenstein’s monster (or his bride) has the right look and fighting moves to deal with the established roster.

Oh, and when you’re done with the Campaign, you’ll get a bunch of Free Missions and Extra Missions to net you in-game cash in case you want to get those funky trousers for your Bulma or Sanosuke Sagara look-alike. These bonus fights are self-explanatory, so all you need to do is master the fighting game system and learn your character’s strengths and weaknesses.

I do wish there’s a way to open up a menu to instantly access the online/offline fighting modes and the campaign missions because right now you can only do this by moving your avatar around the game’s hub. And until you get a vehicle, it takes a minute or two to get from point A to B. I feel like this part comes off as cumbersome, poorly-planned, and unfinished; why put players through this when other games let you have quick access to basic fighting game features and options?

God help the tournament organizers who have to do console setups and matchmaking for a Jump Force tournament. Let’s hope Bandai Namco can do a patch for this.

Rolling Star

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Jump Force is a loving tribute to Shonen Jump‘s manga history in 3D arena fighting game form. It’s got a solid fighting game system with easy-to-learn mechanics, a fun 3v3 team-building system featuring a huge roster of characters you know and love, and a chance to even insert yourself in anime form to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

Now if only Spike Chunsoft and Bandai Namco can do something about the game’s by-the-numbers story, the horrendous user interface, and other facets of the presentation not related to the fighting, then we’ll have a true anime gaming hit on our hands. As such, come and stay for the brawling, ignore everything else.

Pros

-Fighting system is great & has enough depth.
-40+ roster offers character/3-person team variety.
-Fun character customization.

Cons

-The game’s story is generic good vs evil stuff with a draggy second act.
-Story cutscenes are half-assed.
-User interface and menu access need work.

FINAL RATING: 60/100

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