Back in the day, while I was stuck in GameCube land, my best friend was helping me migrate to the magical land of Microsoft. He would buy up cheap, unknown games, and Jet Set Radio Future remains the best of his collection.
I haven’t played it recently, but I’ll always I remember it because of its odd nature, the crazy characters, the catchy music and the fact that every time I loaded it up, it warned me that “graffiti is a crime, so don’t do it!”
Over time, the game has managed to hold a special place in my heart. I’ve played as everything from a soldier to a cyborg savior. I’ve taken control of men and women, big and small, young and old, beautiful and ugly, human and elf and plenty of other crazy designs.
But there is one, only one, instance in which I’ve played as a teenager who fights crime with a pair of roller blades and spray paint to the tune of techno/rap music.
Having to give it a genre, I’d have to call it a platformer, but it’s an outside-the-box kind of game. You play as part of a gang of rollerblading youths with a skating robot friend and a DJ who has the only real voice in the magical land of Tokyo.
The land is controlled by the police, who hate self-expression so much they’ve allowed deadly force to be used against those simply being themselves and enjoying the unique arts of graffiti and in-line skating. The gang you’re part of is called the GGs. They start off small, but through the game they grow into a type of movement.
The “Future” part of Jet Set Radio Future is because it is a sequel to Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in the U.S. due to copyright issues), which gained a cult following. However, it was only released on the Dreamcast which meant that many hadn’t played it, including myself.
JSRF, however, is so well done it’s worth playing even without trying its predecessor.
The game’s premise is that your gang needs to take back the city and allow everyone to start expressing themselves again. Narrated by DJ Professor K, the gang takes back the city one district at a time. Open world but linear in nature, you start off in your gang hideout, and by taking back districts, you unlock more districts to explore.
There is a sense of “do whatever you want,” but you can only spray paint certain points and can’t do it again later, so the plot really does lead the story forward, and it is just as crazy as the concept.
After you’ve decorated a district with your spray paint mastery, sometimes you’ll be attacked by the Rokkaku Police, who will occasionally block off your area and try to kill you for the dastardly crime of shredding up the town in skates. To defeat them, you have to knock them over and then spray paint them.
Apparently they’re so stiff, the colors make them cowards and they’re defeated. They’re easy, but the police aren’t the only villains in the game.
Rival gangs also try to take you out. The evilest gang is the Poison Jam: purple monsters who spray paint poison tags around the city. To defeat them, you have to cover up their tags with your own and then usually pull off the same tricks they do. After that, they leave in a huff.
Your gang, the GGs, starts off with 3 members: Beat, Gum and your starting character, Yoyo, the newest member of the gang. As you explore the city, you’ll run into other crazy folks with skates on their feet. To have them join your gang, you’ll have to either race them or pull off their tricks to show them that you’re the best around.
The game also deserves credit for its music and art style. The music is electronic in nature and always fits perfectly in the levels. I believe that video game music is perfect when it’s okay outside the game but blends in-sync with the mood of the game, and JSRF does just that.
The look of the game is also unique. Most games nowadays have switched pallets to Red, Brown and Black, but JSRF gives gamers a blend of every color of the rainbow, and the areas each have a different feel to them. Some are brightly lit and happy, some feel down-trodden, others feel less colored and grayish. The cel-shaded art unites them all perfectly to make JSRF‘s world a gorgeous one.
The game does have some issues, though. The mega-tricks involve perfection, and the slightest off-movement will leave you having to go all the way back to the beginning to do it. It’s frustrating when the controls decide to ignore you in that crucial moment. There are a few bugs in the game as well, but they don’t really hold you back.
Ultimately, tagging is the biggest pain. JSRF can get obnoxious about how and when you hit the spray button. Sometimes you waste a can and miss getting the tag because the game didn’t register it right, or the camera moved oddly. It breaks play a bit when you have to go back to finish a tag a second or third time, but it doesn’t really ruin the game.
JSRF, like many games of the time, doesn’t hold your hand. Where nowadays gamers are kept in line if they look away from the main goal for a split second, JSRF makes you work to progress where to go and to navigate your way around. This isn’t as much a complaint as it is a warning.
Why You Should Play It
Play it for the experience. Rare is the game nowadays with ideas so odd and unique that it overshadows how you play.
JSRF isn’t about the controls, it isn’t so much how you play it, but what you’re playing. The crazy story, mixed with the great background music and crazy style of visuals combines together to make the game something few have had a chance to play.