Jet Set Radio – PC (2000)
It’s time to get new Netrium batteries for your magnetically driven In-line skates and your funky headphones because we are making a trip to Tokyo-To.
Developer: Smilebit (Dreamcast), Vicarious Visions (GBA) and Blit Software in the HD version.
Publisher: Sega, THQ (GBA)
Release Date: June 29th, 2000
TURNING BACK TIME
In the early start of the new millennium the gaming industry moved into the realm of 3D, which vastly changed gaming with its better use of technology and graphics. At the time, SEGA felt that taking a risk on a new game would be worth while, so it went ahead with a new cel-shaded game. This style was something that hadn’t been done before in the industry, but they liked the pitch of the game and decided to take the risk. The team behind Panzer Dragon were given the green light and what turned up was something decidedly more pop culture than fantasy, and they called it Jet Set Radio.
Delayed Reaction is all about looking at games with and without those wonderful nostalgia goggles everyone loves to wear. Everyone loves to say how Final Fantasy VII defined modern RPGs but did it really? Was its effect on the world of gaming still present today and was it worthy of the ratings it got at the time? Jet Set Radio is the latest in a long line of Delayed Reactions yet to come. That said, let’s jump in and get to it.
This is one of the most important aspects of Jet Set Radio. In an industry of ever advancing technology, leaving behind the 2D format and making the switch to 3D platformers and other genres, Jet Set Radio entered the scene in 2000 with something different. Less realistic and more of a cartoon style, it came as a surprise to many as it was the first in line to incorporate cel-shaded graphics.
If you are into fighting games, chances are you’ve seen the Dragonball Z Budokai series, which also uses the graphical technique. Cel-shading is a manner of rendering 3D computer graphics in such a way as to make them appear as if they had been hand-drawn like you would see in an animation, such as the aforementioned DBZ. This gives the 2D cartoonish feel when you see games like Okami, No More Heroes, Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and what are now well over 250+ games.
Cel-Shading, together with the huge color palette that Jet Set Radio had in its disposal, allowed for a hugely multi-colored world with vibrant visuals. This is one of the aspects that make Jet Set Radio so easy to differentiate from many others. Of course, people assumed that style of game-making would become obsolete, but the technique has proven time and time again to be strong and allow for various kinds of games, from fighters to shooters. It has clearly survived the test of time.
Oh man, let me tell you that if Jet Set Radio had something special, it was music. With 599 seconds for every level on story mode, and 999 seconds for free-play that meant you had between 10 and 16 and a half minutes in order to complete each level. With the sound of skates hitting rails and graffiti cans spraying walls, a game with long levels needed something to avoid the boredom. How do you fill that space? With music of course!
With a wide selection of J-Pop, Hip Hop, Electronic music, and many others, Jet Set Radio had 30 songs with various rhythms that allowed the game to be quite fun at times while you went around tagging graffiti around the levels. Music took an important role in the game, and the soundtrack for the game didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
This is the part when things show that it was barely the start of the 2000’s and some games still employed simplicity in their controls. Jet Set Radio controls were as simple as they get. A jump button, a button for graffiti, pause, faster skating, directional pad, and camera controls. In a game in which you need to be fast and make some tight tricks, you also better get used to failing at them a lot.
You see, Jet Set Radio scenarios are full of jumps, downhills, upward grinding movement and some heavy trick zones. This just meant that you needed to master the movement system. Knowing where you could grind or when you could get a better jump. So needless to say, the controls are not as tight or polished as you wish they would be. Sometimes you will set up for an awesome trick and end up falling down, ultimately losing momentum and totally messing up your point streak. The need to master landings would become even more apparent in later levels. But once you got the movement covered, you are pretty much an endless machine of forward momentum and graffiti tagging mastery.
Nowadays, movement is much more precise and typically the first thing players focus on. If the controls aren’t nailed down and feel unresponsive, they won’t be so forgiving. You still need to keep yourself on the border of how to reach more control without going off track — yes, I’m looking at you, Mario Kart.
Jet Set Radio doesn’t have a traditional difficulty system. It’s just turn on the game and go, and if you aren’t good enough then tough luck. You need to get graffiti cans in order to put your mark on the walls, obscuring the ones other bands have put around town, in order to obtain control of the turf. The levels follow a certain order around the city, with you slowly increasing your band’s reach and getting your name out there.
The game’s introduction comes from the game’s fictional pirate radio through DJ Professor K. You are shown the objective, which can come in the form of marking up the whole place while avoiding enemies trying to stop you (said enemies run up to, and include, tanks out to halt your progress). Other objectives have you tagging the other bands: a kind of showdown of your character versus the other three members of one of the bands, Poison Jam, the Noise Tanks, or the Love Shockers. Once you mark their backs with graffiti you have won that match, thus ending the level.
Depending on the difficulty of the level, meaning the amount of marks you must make in the area, you are given between 599-999 seconds to meet that goal. The time allotted measures the rank. The ranking system in Jet Set Radio works like this: Jet, the best rank of all, Nitro, Turbo, Engine, Motor and Pedal, which is the worst of them. Your rank is based on the amount of points collected when the counter reaches zero, which are obtained by how you tag up the place. If you get them in single movements your score won’t be so great but hit up combos of grinding, tricks, and tagging together and you’ll rack up the points. For speed running, you will always see them doing the most basic. On a score run-through, if you want all the characters, you will need to obtain a Jet rank in all the levels to obtain every gang member.
Fun Fact: The tutorial for the game teaches you how to make 100 tricks in succession, which is the necessary amount in the first level for you to reach the Jet Rank.
Dying in the game is possible, but not heavily punished as you only need to restart the level. The true challenge is in ending the level with a Jet rank. Jet Set Radio doesn’t allow repeating levels, so if you didn’t reach a Jet rank in a given level, there is no way to go back unless you load in from a previous save. If you don’t have an old save, well, then you better be willing to complete another fresh run for those extra characters.
Honestly, the only problem you could have during the game-play is falling. You have no control once you start falling. Get ready to cringe as your timer ticks down faster than you hit the ground. Jumping is different as you have the ability to control your direction as long as you keep yourself steady. It’s a steep learning curve, and you will fall a lot the first few times you play.
A small extra comes in the form of graffiti souls: the spirit of freedom in the streets! Collectables, other graffiti symbols, and just essentially for music later in the game. These aren’t necessarily important to progress in the game, but it feels good to obtain them as they can be quite the challenge at times.
The physics of the game are simple, which is expected these days looking back. You work in limited areas, and even the open spaces do not really interact with the other sections, so there is no need for travelling. The game focuses on the area you are in and your point of view as a character. That does usher in a small problem though; The camera.
You see, the camera follows the eyes of the character. What he sees is what you see and sometimes this can really mess up those long jumps when you are in a trick chain, so you can imagine how that feels. On the other hand, it also gave you a better feeling when you were successful; more immersion in the game as you saw what you would see if you actually there. Of course, a better camera system would help, but that messy camera at times allowed me to see some fun posters on the streets of Tokyo-To I otherwise probably wouldn’t have.
The movement mechanics worked really well though, allowing you to make jumps, complete tricks and get more speed as you went. In fact, getting speed is one of the main points of the game. The faster you are, the better. The game really allows for some fast paced movements at times if you work it right. Once you understand how to make use of tricks and grinding, you can increase your momentum thus obtaining more speed. This is the kind of stuff that allows for some levels to be finished in a blink of an eye once you nail down the mechanics of movement.
Jet Set Radio starts with the comic shaded introduction with music of the DJ Professor K, the game’s narrator:
The two hottest things on the streets of Tokyo-To are the punks wearing magnetically driven in-line skates powered by newly developed “Netrium” batteries and “Jet Set Radio”, a pirate radio station manned by the DJ “Professor K” that plays nothing but non-stop, hard-core music.
Those street punks have been named “Rudies” by the people of Tokyo-To.
They roam the streets and cover the city with their personal graffiti, claiming that it is their way of expressing themselves to the world.
However, ever since the Metropolitan Government and the financial conglomerate, the Rokkaku Group, combined their efforts to co-found the “21st Century Project” the streets of Tokyo-To have never been the same again. Police crackdowns on the Rudies have become more severe, and Captain Onishima is more anxious than ever to put them behind bars.
The streets of Tokyo-To are ready to explode . . .
Once the comic intro is finished, we look at the cel-shaded cabin of DJ Professor K, informing us how the turfs separate the groups and that the turf of the GGs has been attacked. It’s time to find out who’s responsible. And with that, we get into the game through Tokyo-To. The first stop of the trip is Shibuya-Cho.
The whole story of the game is mainly narrated by the DJ Professor K. As we advance through the story we are introduced to more characters, becoming enlightened about the whole situation that is going on around Tokyo-To. The story mostly moves around the GGs, which are the main characters of the game. Beat, Gum, and Tab. With those three, the whole trip starts around doing tricks and marking their turf as they go with the fast pace of the magnetic skates.
Needless to say, you’re unlikely to get lost. There’s no complicated plot and the story is straight forward. This allowed for Jet Set Radio to be easy to follow while being a simple and fun experience.
In Jet Set Radio the user interface is quite simple. You can see the allotted time in the corner, your life in the upper zone, and the spray cans you have remaining. When you pause the game you are given a map that shows you the location of the remaining marks, which is simple yet useful. Plus, you can adjust the in game volume of the game’s sound if you are so inclined. A simple screen with not much to see that offers an easy going experience.
Glitches: There’s not really much to complain about here, the game is quite solid, and without many bugs. If I ever had a problem, it was usually related to my PC and not the game. I ended up testing any issues I had using my friends computers, only to find out it was my PC and not the game itself.
The game is quite good, and for its time it was a big risk to take in terms of the new style of cel-shading. However, that and the music make Jet Set Radio something unique and very fun to play. I have since played lots of cel-shaded games, but I must admit those games are quite different from Jet Set Radio. Sure, nowadays there are lots of games that can be more challenging, prettier, or better refined, but that’s not what Jet Set Radio is about alone. It’s more about the trip you take while playing the game.
You can get it for less than ten bucks these days on Steam, and even cheaper if you wait for a sale the platform loves to have. Jet Set Radio was a risk in its time, something new when everyone was jumping on the 3D train. I must admit, the game itself isn’t very long, but if you take your time it shouldn’t take more than a few of hours to complete. If you are the type for speed running, well I think the current record is less than 37 minutes, so best of luck.
Sure, it might not look like much against the titans of the industry today, but I invite everyone to give it a try. So put on those magnetic skates, get your funky headphones, and enjoy the experience that is Jet Set Radio. I know that I did.