2016 is a big year for milestone SEGA anniversaries, and while the Jet Set Radio franchise didn’t make our mega list (which you can check out right here), I’d be remiss as a Jet Set Radio fan if I didn’t tip my hat to the sequel Jet Set Radio Future which turns 14 today in North America. As an all-encompassing SEGA fan, I don’t really pledge allegiance to one franchise. Everything from Space Channel 5 to Guardian Heroes to Valkyria Chronicles pull at my SEGA fan heartstrings. But one franchise that gets to me more than any other is Jet Set Radio. Playing the first game on the Dreamcast was more than your typical “yay, a new game” experience. Jet Set Radio introduced me to a crazy new world where bright colors, catchy music and offbeat street culture melded together into a game that I couldn’t stop playing. It wasn’t so much the gameplay the grabbed me, as it was the world of Tokyo-to. Popping the game into my Dreamcast was another free trip to explore my favorite video game world.
So you can imagine my excitement when Jet Set Radio Future was announced, featuring a much larger world and even better graphics. The only catch? It was on a console I had never intended to buy at the time, Microsoft’s Xbox.
I’m sure many SEGA fans had those “goddammit” moments when a must own game is revealed for a console that they either dislike or simply can’t afford. In the SEGA console era, owning the latest SEGA hardware meant you could experience just about any game the company released. But in 2001 when SEGA announced that they were going third party, that meant there were three consoles fans would have to buy to experience every title. Of course, many kids in the early 2000s didn’t have the funds to own the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube so you had to choose your side. I ended up going Playstation 2, and as hard as it was to buy a Sony console it meant I could play Rez, Headhunter and Virtua Fighter. But then came the reveal of Jet Set Radio Future, and boy was I upset. How could SEGA do this to me? I had to play this game, and yet it was on the Xbox.
Thankfully, it was 2002 and video stores still existed. I realized that rather than spending over $300, I could spend around twenty bucks and rent a console for the weekend along with Jet Set Radio Future. It took an extra week after the game’s release for the local Blockbuster Video to have both a game and console available, and the wait was difficult, but come March 8th I had an Xbox console, the terrible original “Duke” controller and Jet Set Radio Future hooked up and ready to play. My first impressions were that a lot had changed since Jet Set Radio, and as the game went on I realized it wasn’t so much a sequel as it was a reimagining. Characters who should know each other after the events of the first game did not, some characters were with totally different gangs – Cube being the leader of Poison Jam was a shock – and even the old villain was back as though he had never left. Of course I was floored by the graphics and the sheer scale of the world. Shibuya Terminal alone was bigger than most stages from the first game. The perpetually at dusk Kibogaoka Hill was my favorite area to explore, and Sky-Dinosaurian Square was one of my favorite moments of the game. Though the less said about Death Ball the better.
I ended up playing Jet Set Radio Future all of Saturday and Sunday, completing the game on Sunday. It was a great experience, but I wanted more. Call it divine intervention or just sheer luck, but that Monday when I was meant to go to school and return the console that night there ended up being a snowstorm that cancelled school for the day. I had another full day to play JSRF and even more good news came when Blockbuster Video told me I could return it the following day with no penalty due to the bad weather. In all, I must have played around 20-24 hours of Jet Set Radio Future for a fraction of the price of actually purchasing the game. Months later, I had my chance to own Jet Set Radio Future and experience it all over again thanks to what I consider to be one of the best non-SEGA console bundles – the SEGA GT 2002/JSRF Xbox console bundle which included the far superior “S” controller. I ended up playing Jet Set Radio Future all over again… and again and again.
Happy 14 years, Jet Set Radio Future! If you haven’t played the game yet, I urge you to pick up the original release or the SEGA GT 2002 combo disc which can be found for a few dollars and play it on the original Xbox console or on the Xbox 360 via backwards compatibility. The Xbox 360 emulation isn’t perfect, but its totally playable despite a few minor issues. I know fans have been urging SEGA to rerelease the game, and I’m all for that. But if you have never played the game, don’t wait for some rerelease that might never happen. Find a way to play the original as soon as possible, you won’t regret it.