Best crossover ever? Let’s take a look.
When Namco-Bandai’s Jump Force — a crossover 3D fighter starring Weekly Shonen Jump manga characters — premiered at Microsoft’s E3 conference, it was reportedly advertised as “the most ambitious crossover ever made,” meant to celebrate 50 years of Japan’s most famous manga anthology. Considering that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate debuted not even two days later with every single fighter in series history — nearly 70 characters in all, most of them from Nintendo alongside seven famous third-party guests including the likes of Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog — Jump Force already has egg on its face, but that’s probably the least of its concerns; aside from looking incredibly ugly, it’s not very fun to play at all, owing to baffling design decisions in everything from team coordination to booth set-up.
Not that any of this is a surprise: let it be known that Jump Force is something of a sequel to 2015’s J-Stars Victory Vs.+, another crossover clunker developed by Spike-Chunsoft and also a heap of wasted potential. While I applaud Namco and Spike for trying something different in setting — the game features Goku, Naruto, Luffy and other Shonen Jump heroes and villains duking it out in real-life settings such as New York City — the visual clash is immediately apparent: the realistic direction is no better than the Unreal Engine 4 fan demos populating YouTube, our beloved heroes looking like cheap, rubbery plastic (Goku being the biggest offender as seen below, although Luffy and Roronoa Zoro have it pretty bad, too). Put simply, the unspoken rule of utilizing cel-shading for manga games exists for a reason.
If you’ve played Spike-Chunsoft’s earlier Dragon Ball efforts (Budokai Tenkaichi, Raging Blast), you’ve played Jump Force — this sort of three-on-three 3D arena fighter isn’t meant to have a deep fighting system, but instead virtual toy boxes highlighting our favorite characters in dream match-ups. This isn’t terrible in itself, yet Jump Force‘s bizarre insistence on having your team share one life bar cripples what would otherwise be an entertaining turn-your-brain-off brawler. Yes, we can switch to other characters mid-combo, but what’s the point of switching to Goku when I’m already kicking butt as Luffy? Yes, switching mid-combo can extend combos, but that hardly presents the same thrill and pressure in managing every member’s health and knowing when to use who during which situation. It’s enough to obscure any other interesting gimmicks Jump Force has up its sleeve, such as knocking opponents into other arenas.
Furthermore, the absence of two-player matches meant we were stuck experimenting with the CPU. Again, not a fatal decision, but as noted in IGN’s impressions, the CPU was…not good. It wasn’t very often they put up a decent fight, preferring to just sit around and wait for your attack rather than initiate any action on their own. While it certainly gave me more opportunity to familiarize myself with the controls, it wasn’t enough to glean how the game actually plays (as in, how do you respond to opponent counterattacks?). We imagine there will difficulty options and the like in the final game, but for the game’s initial debut, it’s not a good look.
Which brings me to another concern: it’s not exactly a secret Namco’s anime games don’t feature the best-localized scripts, and already one error has seeped into Jump Force‘s public debut — Luffy’s Red Hawk attack is appropriately labelled in the in-game menu, but when actually performed, the subtitles read “Fire Fist Pistol!”. While it’s worth noting VIZ’s manga localization for US audiences does name it “Fire-Fist Pistol Red Hawk” — an accurate translation, since “火拳銃” translates to “Fire Fist Pistol,” conveying Luffy’s tribute to his brother, Ace — it’s not only inconsistent here with the aforementioned menu name, but with Luffy literally screaming “Red Hawk”. (For context, while the Japanese source has the name written out in kanji, the accompanying furigana — a Japanese reading aid printing kana next to kanji — is written out in katakana, a Japanese alphabet typically used to pronounce foreign words; in other words, you’re meant to yell out “red hawk” in English, as proven by the anime adaption and the line in question).
Now that we’ve finished our Japanese lesson, while I made sure to inform the Namco rep about the error, sloppy translations like this only recall the worst of J-Stars: you had Skypiea from One Piece dubbed as “Sky Pier,” characters speaking in tones or words they’d never use (Luffy lacks the sufficient vocabulary to use “specimen,” nor would Ichigo of Bleach be proud enough to boast “I am victorious!”), indecipherable dialogue (compare the official and unofficial conversation between Goku and Gintama‘s Gintoki), and, you know, leaving the credits entirely in Japanese. Yes, I am aware both that game and potentially this one involve properties that were never before published in America (how many westerners know KochiKame is a thing that exists?), but such sloppy localization was unacceptable in a niche release such as J-Stars, and it’s unacceptable now not merely in a sequel appealing to Western audiences, but when the same problem affects certified big hits such as Dragon Ball Z: Xenoverse 2. Needless to say, if the game ends up being dubbed, it’ll be all the more awkward (although given the number of licenses involved, it’s probable it’ll remain Japanese-only).
Am I making too much ado over one line? Perhaps, but if the game’s creators can’t be arsed to give it proper care, why should I care about it in turn? If this 2019 release ends up mediocre, can’t I at least enjoy the referential fan-service in dialogue and what’s guaranteed to be a batshit insane story? If not, it looks like I’ll be sticking with the Japan-only JUMP! Ultimate Stars for my manga crossover fix.