There are certain expectations that come with fighting games based on popular anime. Across the board, you can expect flashy ultimates, unique special moves, a massive character roster, and extremely unbalanced gameplay. This past weekend featured the first closed beta test for Jump Force, a fighting game featuring characters from multiple Shonen Jump series collaborating in a semi-realistic world as a celebration of Weekly Shonen Jump‘s 50th anniversary. The beta only included a limited roster consisting of Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, Luffy, Zoro, Blackbeard, Naruto, Sasuke, Ichigo, Rukia, Gon, Hisoka, Seiya, Yusuke, and Toguro, so we’ll have to wait for the official release in February to see the full list of characters and game modes, but this beta gave us a good feel for the game’s style and online battle mode.
Jump Force’s gameplay is very similar to other anime fighting games like the Ultimate Ninja series or One Piece: Burning Blood–each player picks three characters that share a health pool, and the first one to win two rounds wins the match. Each character has the usual combos you’d expect-mixtures of weak and strong attacks that vary based on how you tilt the left stick-as well as three special moves, an ultimate ability known as an Awakened Technique, and an Awakening. Special moves are gated behind a gauge that fills from fighting and holding a button to charge it, while Awakenings and Awakened Techniques are gated by a different gauge that, as far as I could tell, charges as you take damage. This allows you to use abilities freely instead of having to hold back and keep charging until you can use an Awakening or Awakened Technique.
It also disincentivizes spamming the same ability over and over at long range, which comes as a welcome edition since moves like Goku’s Kamehameha and Ichigo’s Getsuga Tensho would be laughably easy to abuse without that limitation. You can still annoy people to some degree, but using special moves too often means you’ll also have to recharge the ability gauge, which leaves you vulnerable to counterattacks and requires caution. This can be especially dangerous considering how fast Jump Force’s gameplay can be.
Every character has the ability to dash across the map to either get away or close in on your opponent, allowing for some interesting combos and initiators. The combos themselves are fast and flashy, although the system for using them sometimes feels a bit clunky. There aren’t a lot of clear indicators as to what moves combo into what, and combos tend to go on longer than they should. I had several occasions where my opponent knocked me down but was still able to continue their combo before I got up, partially because the controls for getting back up feel unresponsive and slow. Rather than using a specific move to damage enemies on the ground, they just kept using basic attacks after the combo ended to restart the combo from scratch, which went on until my character eventually went into invincibility frames
There were some matches where one person (sometimes me, sometimes my opponent) hammered the other with combos over and over so that they couldn’t even fight back. It also doesn’t help that some of the ability animations are so long that they’re almost not worth using since they leave you wide open and are difficult to combo into. Some of the other controls, like the button for switching or calling in a support attack, are somewhat unclear and clunky, which can be frustrating if you hit the button and accidently do the wrong move. As is, the combos and more complex mechanics are hard to get a feel for and sometimes feel awkward compared to more smoother fighting games like Burning Blood. Still, these kind of issues are the sort of things that would most likely be fixed by the time the game launches, so hopefully they’ll end up being non-issues.
The shared health bar between all three characters also means that battles can be a little too short. Unlike Burning Blood, which was Spike Chunsoft’s last entry in the genre, there are no separate health bars for each character, and the bars themselves deplete fast. Some of the practice battles I did against the AI were over so fast that I wasn’t even able to test all of a character’s moves, and some of the online battles were so short that they barely felt like battles. Most of this would be fixed if the game had separate health bars for each character, which would also incentivize swapping more often. As is, I went most battles without ever needing to swap characters, especially since some characters are downright better than all the others.
As we’ve come to expect from fighting games based on anime, Jump Force is far from balanced. Every character we’ve seen so far is at least usable, but some are straight-up better than others. For example, Ichigo’s attacks are noticeably faster than most other characters, and his specials are relatively easy to combo into. His Getsuga Tensho also has long-enough range that you can continue harassing opponents even after your combo’s over. On the other hand, Gon’s attacks are all much slower and harder to use, and two of his special moves are self-buffs that require such a long windup time that they’re almost not worth using. Certain special moves, like Rukia’s Hakuren and Hisoka’s counter, are slow enough that there isn’t much point in using them in the first place.
That said, the lack of balance isn’t as big of an issue as it would be in a game that emphasizes the competitive aspects of fighting games over cool abilities. Tweaking things so some characters are more viable would help, but anime fighting games don’t need to be perfectly balanced to be fun. The main appeal of these kind of games is the flashy ultimates and seeing your favorite characters fighting in ways you don’t see anywhere else. There’s just something cool about seeing Luffy fighting Naruto, or Goku fighting Hisoka that lets Jump Force get away with a bit of unbalanced gameplay. We’re likely to see more balancing by the time it launches, so we’ll have to wait and see to find out how much that aspect does improve.
On the technical side of things, Jump Force looks great. It has a grittier and more realistic look than you’d expect, but pulls it off well. The level of graphical detail is impressive across the board, especially with how well it incorporates characters who were obviously designed by different people with radically different styles. Everything, even the more outlandish designs from One Piece, more or less fits in without ever losing the basic design that makes these characters so iconic. There were a few graphical glitches, especially in the hub area where you select your mode, but nothing particularly severe and nothing unusual for a game in its first round of beta. Aside from that and some long load times, it ran quite well for a game in early beta, which bodes well for how it’ll run at launch.
Jump Force is the sort of game that’s squarely intended for fans of Jump franchises with how well it highlights the exciting battles and flashy abilities that make Jump so cool, and it does an excellent job of appealing to that group. It’s not the most balanced or elegant fighting game on the market and there were a fair number of elements that need refining, but it’s still set to be exactly what an anime fighting game should be: fast paced, cool, and straight up fun. What more could you want out of a Jump game?
Are you excited to play Jump Force? Which characters are you most hyped to see battling?
Skyler has been an anime fan since he first saw Naruto on Toonami in 2005. He loves action shows and strong character writing, and finds writing about himself in the third person awkward. Read more of his work at his blog apieceofanime.com and follow him on Twitter at Videogamep3.