Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Death Note — one would think that a game that brings all these franchises together would have the same quality and level of polish of these beloved Shonen Jump franchises. Alas, Jump Force falters at almost every opportunity to deliver the quality experience that its fans were surely hoping for.
The premise is about as off-the-wall as you’d expect — various universes from Shonen Jump have collided with our world, and humanity has thus become invaded by a number of entities known as venoms. Unfortunately, these are nowhere near as cool as Marvel’s Venom, but it’s up to the heroes of the various franchises to prevent all the worlds from merging into the one.
Kicking off the campaign, Goku and Frieza are in the midst of battle. At one point while Goku is trying to prevent Frieza from destroying New York City, a civilian is caught in the crossfire. Trunks takes it upon himself to save the civilian in the only way he knows how — by inserting a cube into them, which (somehow) transforms them into a hero.
This is the point where the character creation suite makes its appearance, allowing players to customize and create the central character for the story. Because they come from our world, your player character has to be human. For the most part, the options available include a bevy of facial features and hairstyles sourced from the manga ever-growing stable of characters. I’m not a super creative person myself, but after some tinkering, I was able to successfully recreate Brock from the Pokémon series. Once created, Goku and Trunks took him to the Jump headquarters to meet Director Glover, who assembled a ragtag group of heroes to stop the threat of both the venoms and the villains brought into our world.
Unfortunately, the story trudges along at a snail’s pace. Every step of the way, there’s a lengthy cutscene bookended with long loading screens, which makes it a chore to get from one fight to the next. If you don’t want to take part in the story mode, there are both offline and online modes, which allow you to fight with any of the characters on the roster. This sounds straightforward, but the process is anything but — there are no real menu options that allow you to just simply jump into a fight. You need to take your created avatar and head to a specific kiosk, just to tell a merchant there that you want to play a standard 3v3 fight.
These sorts of design flaws run rampant in Jump Force. Any time you want to take part in a specific activity, you’ll have to navigate from location to location, traveling through a handful of empty spaces without a map to help you along. It’s almost as if the developers are trying to discourage you from playing (or are pushing you to go play something else).
The problems don’t end there though. The absolute worst part of Jump Force is the way that these the in-game characters look. Obviously, there’s an inherent design challenge when trying to bring characters from different franchises — each with their own visual style — into one game, but every time a Jump Force character shows up for a cutscene or fight, it’s hard not to cringe and look away in disgust. Jump Force‘s roster has found their home in the uncanny valley, and it doesn’t look like they are planning to leave anytime soon. Take Goku for example — he looks decent enough when you see him from behind, but when he turns to fully reveal himself, he looks like a rather bizarre hybrid between a human and a cartoon, and the end result is not pleasing on the eyes. His face, in particular, is frightening — it almost looks like the cartoon version of Goku is wearing a mask made out of human skin.
To make matters worse, most characters get this horrific treatment. Heading back to headquarters for the first time and seeing Luffy is the thing nightmares are made of. To add insult to injury, characters rarely change expression during cutscenes, giving them the dramatic range of a mannequin. Luckily, a handful of fighters — mostly alien characters, such as Frieza — have survived their journey to Jump Force, maintaining their original color schemes, which have been toned down in favor of a more realistic look. The environments and fighting arenas don’t fare much better. For the most part, we’re used to seeing the likes of Yugi Moto, Ichigo Kurosaki, and Izuku Midoriya alongside stunning locations filled with vibrant colors. To see them in bland representations of real-world cities and landmarks feels like a let-down in comparison.
For the most part, the fights themselves are not too dissimilar from the Dragon Ball Xenoverse games. Signature moves are activated through specific button combinations, though there’s always the option to take a more loose approach and mash buttons to your heart’s content. There are three types of fighting styles (martial arts, ninja, and pirate) which correspond to Goku, Naruto, and Luffy, respectively. That being said, you can customize your player character over time, granting access to a wide variety of moves. The minute-to-minute gameplay is serviceable, but it doesn’t make any attempts to break new ground within the genre. With the success of Dragon Ball FighterZ, I’m starting to wonder if developer Spike Chunsoft modeled Jump Force off of the wrong Dragon Ball series.
If there’s one redeeming factor, it’s that Jump Force features a majority of the original Japanese voice actors to voice their respective characters, which lends some authenticity to the game’s roster. As you’d expect, the voiceover quality is top-notch — Goku’s passionate screaming is on par with some of his best scenes from Dragon Ball Z.
Jump Force, which, in terms of its quality, feels mostly like a launch title. Its lack of polish, the lackluster narrative, offputting visuals, and boring environments come together to form a disappointing game, one that doesn’t come close to living up to the standards of the franchises it tries to represent. Folks would be much better off playing one of the Dragon Ball Xenoverse titles, or better yet, Dragonball FighterZ.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided by Bandai Namco.
Jump Force doesn't even come close to the standard of quality that Shonen Jump fans would expect. Its many missteps, from the creepy visuals to basic design shortcomings tarnishes the experience at every turn. This one should be avoided at all costs.