Submitted by: Retro Gamer
Jet Set Radio was one of the Dreamcast’s most exciting and innovative games. With stunning cel-shaded visuals and a killer soundtrack, it depicted graffiti as an art form and proved that, when it came to innovation, Sega remained a force to be reckoned with. Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio, as it was known in the States) proved an instant hit with those who played it, mainly because there was nothing else quite like it on either the Dreamcast or any other console at the time. It’s worth remembering that upon Jet Set Radio’s original release, cel-shading was a relatively new rendering technique.
Jet Set Radio also courted controversy, with the game falling foul of San Francisco’s mayor, who was attempting to abolish graffiti in the city while Sega held a ‘Graffiti is Art’ contest just a few short blocks away. The winner went on to win $5,000.
Sadly, despite attracting a cult following, Jet Set Radio wasn’t a hit, and it appeared that the Dreamcast would be its final resting place. Sega had other ideas, though, and during the 2001 Tokyo Game Show it announced that Jet Set Radio Future would be released exclusively on Microsoft’s Xbox. Jet Set Radio Future was announced alongside new iterations of Sega GT, Panzer Dragoon and the former Dreamcast title GunValkyrie, further fuelling rumours that Microsoft had been trying to secure Sega as an exclusive first-party developer.
When Jet Set Radio Future was released in February 2002, it polarised fans of the original, mainly because Sega had made a number of significant changes to the core gameplay mechanics of the original Dreamcast game. The biggest difference was in the ease of tagging. In the Dreamcast original, you created your graffiti tags – used to show your dominance over rival skating gangs – by twisting the analogue stick in increasingly complex patterns to simulate the shaking of a spray can. This in itself created a risk/reward system, because you had to stand still to spray, allowing the chasing police to potentially capture you. Graffiti spots came in three different sizes as well, meaning you’d have to constantly return to the same location to complete your work while you shook off dogged pursuers. Jet Set Radio Future, on the other hand, was more interested in keeping the player on the move, so a simple press of a trigger was more than enough for your oddball crew of characters to do their thing, regardless of the size of the area you had to respray.
There’s a far greater emphasis on grinding too, and more of a need to use tricks. Though present, the trick system was pretty throwaway in the original game, but multiple uses of stunts in Jet Set Radio Future enable you to move faster and jump higher when using half-pipes. It’s a nice touch, particularly when grinding, as it allows you to move through the huge areas far more efficiently. Indeed, one of the other nice touches of Future is the sheer depth of it. The areas of this futuristic Tokyo are far larger than those in the Dreamcast game, and the Xbox’s raw power enabled Sega to fill those streets with far more people and vehicles. While purists don’t like this new ‘bloated’ approach, we actually prefer it, as it puts a far greater emphasis on exploring the vibrant world.
We also prefer the general structure of Future to the original. The core gameplay is effectively the same – rival gangs are taking over Tokyo and your gang, the GGs, are trying to reclaim territory – but it’s a lot easier. This is mainly because the tight time limit that featured in Jet Set Radio has been abolished, allowing you to explore the city at your leisure. Another difference is the swarms of enemies that would attack you while you were desperately trying to complete your tags in the first game. Enemies now attack en masse only in certain marked off areas, and you’ll have to defeat all of them, typically by knocking them down and tagging their prone bodies, to continue. This is perhaps the weakest addition to Future, as it’s too easy to dispatch enemies and lacks the manic urgency that was present in the Dreamcast original.
Ultimately, Jet Set Radio Future is more of the same great game, only slightly easier, more accessible and more refined – something we’re perfectly happy with.
Why It’s A Future Classic
Jet Set Radio Future remains an excellent game, with a structure that’s every bit as elegant as its stunning cel-shaded visuals. Yes, Sega made concessions in certain gameplay elements, but they were never at the expense of fun, and fun is one thing that Jet Set Radio Future has in abundance. Fuelled by the same style of music – a diverse mixture that included Japanese techno, funk, acid jazz and rock – that powered the original, and featuring plenty of fast-paced action, it’s a truly enjoyable title that will cause you to play with a big smile across your face. It could be argued that, by making the sequel more accessible to newcomers, Sega lost some of the original magic that made Jet Set Radio feel so special, but we really don’t accept that this is the case.
For many, Sega was at its most innovative during the Dreamcast years, while Xbox releases like Panzer Dragoon Orta, ToeJam & Earl III: Mission To Earth and GunValkyrie proved that it was still happy to take risks. Jet Set Radio Future may be a decade old now, but age has done nothing to diminish its beauty, style or gameplay.