"When you really stop to think about it, Jet Set Radio Future is basically a fetch quest title: the main objective is to go around and search for tagged surfaces, so you can spray graffiti over them. Sure, it's slightly different since you're not collecting items when you find them, but the concept is the same. Apparently, Smilebit thought that wouldn't be enough, so they added a side quest where you do more fetching. Needless to say, this could have easily been an unfortunate wreck."
When you really stop to think about it, Jet Set Radio Future is basically a fetch quest title: the main objective is to go around and search for tagged surfaces, so you can spray graffiti over them. Sure, it's slightly different since you're not collecting items when you find them, but the concept is the same. Apparently, Smilebit thought that wouldn't be enough, so they added a side quest where you do more fetching. Needless to say, this could have easily been an unfortunate wreck. Actually, I should say this could have been a second wreck, considering how Jet Grind Radio turned out.
That's fortunately not the case, since it seems Smilebit learned from the mistakes they've made in the DC "classic", and made JSRF, a remake, a bigger and better game, to the point where its "fetch" aspects take almost a backseat to the other improvements. The two big problems I had with the original was the fact that the environments felt so closed, and that your characters felt a bit inflexible and floaty when you take control of them. These issues just went against what the game was trying to achieve: the freedom of moving all over the place without a care in the world, without "The Man" holding you down. With JSRF, these issues have been fixed. Moving your roller-blading player feels much smoother, where you can maneuver, turn, and jump around with better ease. It's really a good thing the developers got this aspect improved, because navigating the game's huge environments would have been a pain otherwise.
In Jet Grind Radio, there was only one area I truly enjoyed playing in, called Bantam Street. It was basically catered around your character's ability to grind around on rails and walls, and to jump from one place to another. That's such a strange thing to say, because the entire game should have been like this. The size of the location was quite big for something in JGR, and you could spend a long time messing around, performing stunts, and trying to stay off the ground for as long as possible. I bring this up because, JSRF, as a whole, is like an extension of this particular stage; the largeness and mobility of it, so to say.
When you step foot into JSRF's version of the bus station area, Shibuya Terminal, you'll come to the realization that you're dealing with a different beast. First of all, it actually lives up to its name of being a terminal, with up to eight bus stops planted all over the map. There are also more places to grind on, making it entirely possible to never touch the ground as you travel through the area. It actually looks like a busy place, as well, with people filling sidewalks, shouting angrily as you skate through them. The traffic is also more chaotic, racing through the streets and traffic lights that are always stuck on green. If you're not careful, you can easily get hit by an unapologetic, speeding bus. Compare this to the original bus station in JGR, which has three bus stops, a small bridge, minor spots to grind on, and traffic that you could easily avoid if it weren't for the awkward controls, and JSRF's rendition puts it to shame.
That's just one of the normal areas in the game, too. Most of the other locations in JSRF are so big to the point that they will intimidate first-time players. The Tokyo Underground Sewage Facility is one such place. You won't notice at first when you enter, until you check your map and witness a maze of corridors spanning several floors. You can't even rely on your map to help you get through this, since its 3D design makes it all look like a jumbled mess. But that's really a good thing, since you'll have the opportunity to explore the sewers without knowing the ins and outs by studying the map. Oohs and ahhs will be made when you enter interesting rooms, like one where you're forced to grind on its walls over and over just to reach the top, and another where, for once, you'll have to move along at a very cautious pace, because the small, maze-like bridges you're traveling on have no side support. Did I mention the alligators? There are alligators roaming the sewers.
This is why it was so important for the controls to be tighter this time around: the environments are giants, offering more flexibility to grind and move around on a grander scale. One moment, you can be five floors high, casually grinding on a rail, and then you feel like going back to the first floor. But you don't want to take the long route, so you hop off the rail, which, again, is five floors high, and attempt to connect with a rail on the third floor. You make a successful connection. The rest of the way down, you try to be fancy about it, grinding on walls, then performing a couple of one-button tricks, until you eventually land on the bottom floor, all without breaking a sweat, or losing any of your health in the process. See, the star of JSRF isn't the gameplay of spraying graffiti everywhere, nor a particular character, the cel-shaded graphics, or even the deliciously-made soundtrack of hip-hop and techno beats. No, the real star is the level design, and thanks to the improved controls, it shines like a kid waking up on Christmas morning.
Though, while JSRF is quite the improvement over JGR, its far from perfect. There have been some questionable changes made in this remake, one of which is how you spray. In JGR, you'd actually have to follow patterns on screen by using the analog stick successfully in order to complete the image. Here, you just hit the R trigger, and boom, it's plastered on the surface. While it's something I can live without, the in-depth spraying will be a missed element. However, the next change is very odd; remember how the police presence would grow bigger and stronger the more you spray in JGR? That's gone in JSRF. Instead, facing the police is in separate segments where you're sealed off in small, electrified cages. This is something I'm very disappointed was changed, because imagine how great it would've been being chased by the police in these large environments, and the stunts you would dare perform to get them off your back.
There are some other minor boners, like whenever Smilebit tries to offer you something other than spraying. They end up being boring distractions, like the Death Ball race, which you can easily win due to the course layout being embarrassingly easy. Then there's the followup distraction, when a gang, the Noise Tanks, starts "rioting" throughout the city, which you have to stop. This could have been cool, but all they do is stand in one spot, doing nothing but look like idiots, allowing you to run right through them with disturbing simplicity. Thankfully, these "events" don't last long, and the game throws you into a new location afterwards: a big roller coaster level with a crazy track layout. Even with those flaws, Jet Set Radio Future still manages to be an enjoyable experience; that's just how well-made the environments are. Though, it's a shame, because even with the game being fun, you can't help but think it could have been greater with a few tweaks here and there. We'll just have to live with it, however, since it seems like Smilebit and Sega are in no hurry to make another installment with even better improvements.
Community review by pickhut (July 13, 2009)
Alternative tagline: Hit the Road, Jack.
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