Jump Force should be a manga fan's dream. Developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by Bandai Namco, it combines forty different characters from across sixteen Shonen Jump franchises. Whether you're into ongoing series like Dragon Ball and One Piece or have a soft spot for the olden days of Yu Yu Hakusho, there will be a character in here for you. Unfortunately, those hoping for an entertaining story experience coupled with compelling gameplay might want to hold out for a time skip.
The campaign opens with Goku and Frieza fighting through a destroyed town. Goku masterfully dodges one of Frieza's death beams, and it pierces you instead. On the brink of death, Trunks uses the power of a mystic-looking cube to heal you. Since these Umbra Cubes can supercharge a person's spirit, you also gain super martial art powers out of the deal. With this sudden boost in fighting prowess, you're now on par with the Jump Force heroes.
After testing your newfound abilities, you learn of the Umbra Cube's ability to enhance evil. They turning good Jump World denizens against you. Humans infected with their malice become fighting zombies called Venoms. After playing ten hours of the story, I've just reached the midway point. Main characters have been repossessed and the plot has become repetitive. The story seems like an afterthought, something that would barely fit in a three-hour experience. Here, this thin plot is being asked to stretch itself to RPG lengths.
When you're not paying attention to the story, you get to participate in Free Battles and Multiplayer. Free Battles are themed challenges that reward you with experience, items, outfits, and more. This seems to be the real meat of the experience, and the team has come up with plenty of interesting battle combinations. Not just something like "Fight the cast of Naruto". There are teams who all have spiritual powers or a crew of young successors to older heroes. Completing battles and gaining experience gives you access to more battles, to earn more experience to fight in more battles... I think it's pretty clear what you're going to be doing.
Battles play out with teams of three. Fighters can call in their backup to cover with support attacks or trade out in combos. There are some unique quirks to the fighting system as well. For example, all your fighters share the same health and power bars. While this is helpful for those who don't want to keep track of separate health bars, it removes any incentive to swap between characters.
Your fighters can perform light attacks, heavy attacks, special moves, and grabs. Special attacks can range from close range combos like Luffy's Red Hawk to Yugi drawing a card with random effects. You can't attack the moon, but you can call upon the Swords of Revealing Light. When attacking, you're always moving towards your opponent. Holding up or down decides where send your opponent flying to at the end of a combo.
Combat itself has some significant issues. Power attacks don't always register when you hold a button down, grabs go straight through characters, and special attacks sometimes refuse to activate. Your normal hand to hand combat attacks are quite underpowered. Especially when compared to the Super Attacks you can mash out just as easily. The foil to those supers is Jump Force's insane blocking. It has no downside and it immediately comes up and goes away as fast as you can hit the button. As long as you're not in the middle of your own special attack, you can bring up your block and even Goku's Super Spirit Bomb will be a light tickle. Of course, you can break a block with a charge attack, but those don't always work as intended.
Knowing about the broken blocking, it's all the more tragic that the AI in Jump Force favors it heavily. It's not uncommon to see AI standing and waiting for you to attack while feverishly toggling block on and off. When AI battles make up so much of the game, having enemies that simply sit and hold a block is extremely disappointing. It takes the speed and chaos of what could be a fast-paced fight between Boruto and Luffy and brings it to a standstill. This increased emphasis on blocking instead of dodging allows strong but slow characters like Toguro to dominate. They can wait out opportunities to put in heavy hits with almost no resistance.
It's unclear who Jump Force is for at the moment. All aspects of the game so far stand out for how underwhelming they are. A story that takes incredible characters and stretches it out into repetitive plot points and uninspired boss fights. AI Combat that slows down the entire point of these epic battles. Multiplayer battles that reward the player with very little. With plenty of story missions left, it's a shame that battling with the mechanics is the toughest fight I've had so far.
TechRaptor previewed Jump Force on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. This title is also available on Xbox One and PC via Steam.