Blast From the Past: Jet Set Radio (2000)

A game that featured renegade skaters skating all over the city and covering up each other’s graffiti, while a mega corporation tries to put a record together to summon a demon. It’s out there, alright. But it was the right kind of out there for the time and system, and that’s why JSR is still awesome.

Jet Set Radio came from Japan and was originally made for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. It was very popular in Japan, so much so that Sega felt compelled to bring it over, and make it a key part of the Dreamcast’s lineup. It was a combination of music, action, and just plain ATTITUDE that was perfect for its time, and was very much part of Sega’s attempts to gather older teenage players to its service.

DJ Professor K, who filled you in on the story, and introduced you to the various people that inhabited Tokyo-To.
DJ Professor K, who filled you in on the story, and introduced you to the various people that inhabited Tokyo-To.

It was recently released for free as part of the “Make War not Love” promo, so I played it again, for the first time in years, and yeah, it’s definitely a blast from the past. The game was fairly simple, you used one trigger button to dash, the other to either spray graffiti as you went by (for small graffiti spots), or enter graffiti mode (for larger spots), and one button to jump. That, combined with the game stick was all you needed to play. It was simple enough that you didn’t have to memorize giant button combinations to do tricks, which allowed you to focus on finding a pattern through the level and finding all the spots to tag in a level without getting caught by the cops.

Oh yes, the cops. It wouldn’t be the same without the police trying to take you down. It starts out with traditional Japanese police that chase you like the Keystone Cops, then they bring in Detective Onishima, a Dirty Harry-ish cop who wants nothing more than to take down skaters like you with a Magnum .45.. then it gets to complete overkill. Tear Gas? Motorcycle cops trying to run you over? Helicopters with Missiles? TANKS???? Subtlety was never a strong point of Jet Set Radio. Luckily, there was always a path to be found to get away from the coppers and get back to the sprayin part of things. But you had that feeling that in your head, you were going to have to go back there and brave it all, just to get that one spot you missed.

The cast of Jet Set Radio. All of them were playable characters, except Professor K.
The cast of Jet Set Radio. All of them were playable characters, except Professor K.

But the best part of it, is despite the fact that you had a time limit, and your score and ranking was based on how much time you had remaining when you finished the level, you never felt like the time limit was going to hurt you, because the game featured some of the most listenable music around. I’m talking stuff that wasn’t generally listened to, but was something you could groove to, playing the game and never got old. I mean, I’m playing the game, sixteen years later, and the music STILL has not gotten old. It was one of the first games that people bought for the soundtrack, both the original soundtrack and the songs that got added for the North American release.

And again, the game never got the chance to really slow down, other then “skate-offs” where you had to show prospective skater gang members that you could do the same moves they could do, and “Gang eliminator” ones (where you conquered a territory and wanted to chase them off for good), but even then they were great moments were you were DOING something , be it trying to master a tricky path that you could possibly do forever (or at least till the timer ran off), or chasing after an enemy gang, trying to spray your logo on them in the biggest possible way to say “We own you”.

But again, it was the attitude  of the game that was great, and it comes through in these cut scenes:


The sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, came out in 2002 for Xbox, but it was a different vibe then Jet Set Radio, more dark and a different musical vibe that never really hit the same levels of the original game. The music featured a more aggressive gameplay style that encouraged spamming button presses.

So, yeah, the game still stands up, sixteen years later.  And sixteen years later, you can still shout out JET SET RADDDIIOOOOOOO!!!