The creation of comic books and action figures started never-ending debating about which characters could beat who in a fight. Could He-Man beat up Superman? Would Link win a sword fight against Sephiroth? What evil robot’s weapon would Mega Man need to beat the Terminator? The list of potential matches goes on and on, and we have seen some crossover battles in comics, movies and video games. Jump Force is the newest game to throw a bunch of manga characters in the ring together to see what happens when Naruto decides to throw down against Goku.
Jump Force was partly made in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. This title is aimed at manga fans and features 42 playable characters, forty of which are from popular mangas including Black Clover, Bleach, Boruto: Naruto Next Generation, City Hunter, Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest: The Adventures of Dai, Fist of the North Star, Hunter X Hunter, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, My Hero Academia, Naruto, One Piece, Rurouni Kenshin, Saint Seiya, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Yu Yu Hakusho. Additionally, a few characters created for Jump Force are featured along with Light Yagami and Ryuk, though those characters from Death Note are not playable.
Jump Force is a story of worlds colliding. Freiza invades New York City and goes on a destructive rampage. Eventually Goku, Naruto, Luffy and other characters from the Jump worlds are able to chase him away, but not without a civilian casualty. Trunks is able to revive the civilian casualty using something called an Umbras Cube which turns this unlucky chap into someone capable of unleashing all the anime super powers on their enemies. This innocent person turned manga superhero is the character that the player controls throughout the story campaign.
Fan service is the name of the game in Jump Force and being a hardcore fan of the Weekly Shonen Jump is practically a requirement to enjoy this title. There isn’t much in the way of introducing who all these characters are or what exactly is making the Jump worlds collide with the real world; it’s as if the Umbras Cube has explained all this to the player’s avatar since all these different worlds are coming together and nothing seems that strange. Players familiar with all these franchises will need no introduction to these characters, but people who pick up the game because they enjoy a couple of the featured animes may have some questions about who everyone else is.
In between battles the story mode uses the Jump Force HQ as a game lobby, which seems cognizant of the fact that this is just a video game world where a bunch of characters from different comic books came together to hang out in the real world for a bit. We get that this is clearly fan service but there doesn’t seem to be much effort to provide any substance beyond that. This is a missed opportunity since there are moments where the writers could have created some meaningful and poignant interactions between characters who normally wouldn’t encounter each other but instead of interesting story progression or character development, everything is geared toward moving toward that next fight. The story ultimately balances on that tightrope between generic and nonexistent, with no shortage of what amounts to filler content.
An argument could be made that people play fighters for their combat and not the story, and while this argument is not necessarily wrong, games like Dragon Ball FighterZ and the Soulcalibur series show that fighting games can excel in both areas. Jump Force does at least have fun combat. The battles are fought in teams of three and watching the characters zip around the screen and unleashing devastating special attacks on each other is a delight. The combat system attempts to add depth by allowing dodges, blocks and counterattacks to make active defensive tactics an important part of battle strategy, but this is a fighter where button mashing one’s way to success is a viable strategy.
As far as what can be expected of a fighting game, Jump Force does have the basics covered. The player has some freedom in customizing their character to choose voice, gender, skin color and fighting style among other personalization items. The player can earn in-game currency by completing campaign missions to purchase new cosmetic accessories for their character, and earn more currency by completing specific challenges found in the Free Missions and Extra Missions. Competitive multiplayer exists in ranked and unranked online matches as well as offline local competitive play, which is in this reviewer’s opinion the best way to enjoy Jump Force.
Visually the game is strange. The character models maintain their original anime designs and proportions, but are given 3D models to look more realistic. Some characters look like they could almost be a modern take on claymation. Sometimes the animations don’t quite look right, where the character models almost appear more like they are being controlled by a puppeteer than acting of their own accord. This is more of an issue during cutscenes, as the character models look fine in combat. The blending of the Jump world with the real world is a stylistic decision that works well. Seeing the ruins of real world locations mixed with anime Easter eggs would be a great way to convey the invasion of the Jump world entities. It’s a shame the narrative doesn’t live up to the visual representation. Loading screens are a frequent occurrence.
While it can be enjoyable, Jump Force’s power level is nowhere near 9000. This is unfortunate, as the concept for Jump Force is a good idea at its basic level and it’s clear the developers are passionate about the source material but the title ultimately does not live up to the idea’s potential. The story fails to really explain what’s going on and who all these characters are, but also is able to do so in a way where you don’t really care that you’re missing out on what should be pertinent information. The gameplay itself is enjoyable though not groundbreaking, and while there’s a fair amount of fun to be had here, there are more worthwhile options out there.