Happy Tuesday, readers! Last week, I covered the video game sequel to Hard Boiled.
Today, we'll lighten things up a bit with a great Dreamcast classic no fan of art or fun should be without.
(Before I start, yes, I know I used the US title, Jet Grind Radio, even though the game is known more commonly these days as Jet Set Radio. Couldn't find a good picture. Anyway, I'm gonna refer to it by it's original title from now on.)
Jet Set Radio came out in 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast. It was developed by Smilebit, who used to make some awesome stuff like this and this before being relegated to making Mario and Sonic Olympic games as Sega Sports Japan. (Which are good games too, but still.)
In JSR, you play as various members of a rollerblading, music-and-graffiti-loving gang called the GG's. As one of several cool characters, you're tasked with taking back the city of Tokyo-To from both rival gangs and an oppressive police force. This is accomplished primarily through rollerblading and graffiti tagging.
(Screenshots from the HD re-release of JSR)
Mostly, you'll find yourself skating through a city area, collecting spraypaint cans, which you then use to tag various areas of the city. Other objectives involve racing rival gang members (to get them to join you, turning them into playable characters) and dodging cops, but primarily, you'll be tagging. Usually, you skate up to a rival gang's tag, and spray your own over it, but sometimes there's a large tag, which means you have to perform a series of joystick movements to spray over it.
You can also do a bunch of tricks, like grinding and skitching, and this helps you look and feel awesome while taking back the city. The game is a joy to actually play; it's really a pick-up-and-play kind of deal.
It's not really about the gameplay for me, though. It's about the art, the soundtrack, and the overall theme of the game.
JSR is one of (but not the) first cel-shaded games ever made. And while cel-shading sometimes gets a bad rap (primarily from elitist PC gamers and Call of Duty fans) the point remains that cel-shading just looks amazing. This isn't Brown Military Shooter #47. The game is bursting with color. But more importantly, it's bursting with personality.
Though largely every character is a kind of punkish inline skater, they all look wildly different from each other, in addition to playing somewhat differently. Everyone can find a character they like playing as; I like sticking with Beat myself.
This fun character design extends to the rest of the game's characters as well. Take Professor K, the DJ and overall "narrator" of the game, with his wild hair and penchant for shouting "Jet Set Radiooooooooo!" at every opportunity. There's the enemy designs, like Captain Onishima, the incredibly angry police detective who sends whole squads of police officers after you and has no qualms with blasting you with his comically oversized revolver. Speaking of which, this is a police force who does not hesitate to send SWAT teams and tanks after you. Apparently, graffiti is a serious problem.
All this heartfelt chaos is accompanied by a terrific soundtrack. There's something for everyone in the soundtrack, as varied as it is. There's rock, J-pop, electronic, hip-hop...it goes on and on. JSR's renowned for it's excellent soundtrack, and for good reason. Check some tracks out here:
Like I said, varied. And awesome.
Lastly, it comes down to what JSR is about. It's not about a bunch of rollerblading "rudies" who spraypaint walls and cars for the hell of it.
It's about freedom, and self-expression, and creativity.
The GG's don't just vandalize city property. That's dumbing it down. They live in an almost totalitarian city, and they fight back using the only thing they know: art. It's about overcoming oppressiveness with self-expression. JSR practically defines the "games as art" movement. It in fact crushes that whole debate; anyone who takes a solid look at the game couldn't possibly argue against artistic merit in video games.
14 years later, this game is still important.
Questions, comments, future article suggestions? You know where to go!
Also, I've become semi-active on Twitter again, so you can follow me @WingZero351
Next week, we pick up our war drum and rhythmically march our adorable little troops into battle.