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Tokusou Kidoutai J-Swat (Saturn) artwork

J.S.W.A.T. is a "unique" product for several reasons, with one of those blatantly being the title. The cover spells it in a very specific way: Japanese Special Weapon And TacticsTeam. Let's disregard the fact that, by this logic, the title should then be J.S.W.A.T.T., because there's more urgent matters to discuss. The game was released in 1996, created by a Japanese team, and... it's a first-person shooter. Japan hasn't been particularly known for cranking out a ton of titles in this genre at this point in time, so why would a dev team and a publisher have any interest in taking the plunge? To put it simply, Doom happened; can't really blame them for taking advantage of a situation that could net them huge profits.

As the game's name implies, J.S.W.A.T.T. is centered around a special police unit that combats criminal organizations involved with arms trafficking. You control one of the unit's members as they infiltrate buildings and storage facilities protected by heavily-armed gangs. From here, the core gameplay follows the FPS basics, such as attacking with an assortment of weapons and even using strafing tactics. But as a console game from the mid-1990s, there's the hassle of dealing with a controller with no dual analog stick support. Fortunately, the default set-up here doesn't make the game unplayable. You navigate with the D-pad and the shoulder triggers provide strafe support, however actually moving the aim cursor requires hitting the Z button first... and then again if you want it placed back in the center; it's super awkward, but thankfully you don't have to move it regularly.

Also, instead of following id Software's template of a marine's fast-paced descent into madness, the dev team of Japan Media Programming tried being "sophisticated" with their foray into the genre. Since you're part of a unit, the devs made attempts to incorporate this into gameplay. Before each stage, you're given a briefing along with a map layout, showing the placement of all enemies and hostages on multiple floors of a building. You are then granted the choice to situate members of your team in different spots on the map. Adding complexity to this is the fact that you also have to specify a countdown as to when they should spring into action, such as a sniper shooting through a window. If this sounds too overwhelming, the devs have graciously added an option to let the game choose for you.

As mentioned, hostages are part of this equation, with stages having a number of them needing rescue between all the shooting. There's another interesting dynamic thrown in: you can spare killing enemies and arrest them instead. Basically, if you shoot a criminal enough times, they will then get on their knees and surrender. However, if you linger on this decision, these thugs will get back up and continue attacking. It should be noted that the game aggressively wants you to apprehend criminals, because this occurs with every encounter. If you try killing anyone in J.S.W.A.T.T., you literally have to go through the surrender process twice; you're just wasting bullets at this point.

A lot of surprising effort and thought was put into the game's concept to make it stand out. Regrettably, the same can't be said about the actual gameplay.

A game like Doom makes "mindless action" look easy to pull off. But then you experience something like J.S.W.A.T.T. and realize that Doom is an absolute masterpiece in comparison. When the opening stage begins and you take a few steps into a guarded building, you're greeted by the first criminal. What transpires in this moment is absolutely shocking: the armed enemy looks like a cardboard cutout of a human. Just to be clear, this stage isn't some kind of training exercise for your squad; your opponent just looks like a cardboard cutout with two, possibly three frames of animation. Helping to perpetuate this visualization is the fact that enemies are just shifting left and right in specific spots. That's right, enemies are acting as if they're literally targets at a shooting range.

This is how the entire game plays out.

Despite that, the devs hilariously try to "mix it up" with each stage. In the second stage, you raid a warehouse where the main gimmick is that you have to attack enemies on higher surfaces. That means you have to awkwardly move the cursor to shoot at thugs standing on crates and containers. Meanwhile, you'll be shot at a bunch by three other thugs in the vicinity, but since J.S.W.A.T.T. is incredibly lenient about how much damage your protagonist sustains, this really means nothing. The subsequent third stage is the most ambitious in terms of scope and "variety;" you're constantly battling enemies through several tight corridors, encounter a mid-boss and his soldiers, and eventually face the main boss hiding behind a literal wall of turrets. The gameplay is as dreadful as ever, but the stage flow looks like it might take an interesting turn from here on out.

Then the end credits start rolling.

J.S.W.A.T.T. only has three stages... and they can all be completed simply by walking past most enemies; the first two stages can be finished within three minutes each. What makes this worse is that better-executed Japanese FPS games were also released on the Saturn in the same year. These include GunGriffon which, while itself having a small stage count, is actually fun to play and control, and then there's the Gundam Side Story titles that feature surprisingly fast-paced action. In comparison, the incompetency on display here just makes you wonder why the publisher thought it was okay to release this in its "completed" form. It's even more bizarre that Japan Media Programming, mainly known for making visual novels, would be the prime candidate for crafting a first-person shooter.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't change the fact that J.S.W.A.T.T. succeeds at giving players an astonishingly appalling experience.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (May 09, 2023)

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