TBT – Rhythmic Revolution in Jet Set Radio
The fundamental mechanics behind gameplay all involve a rhythmic structure. The beauty of Mario’s jump directly relies on the pacing of his run; a satisfying leap requires both the physics of the game’s engine as well as the player’s understanding and manipulation of those physics. Gameplay is therefore inherently musical.
Jet Set Radio, a landmark Japanese title released in 2000, examines the rhythmic nature of gameplay as a conduit for freeform expression, allowing its players to get lost in their own guided movements. Maneuvering around each of the game’s central districts requires an understanding of the basic controls and physics.
Perfecting one’s adaptability to these mechanics, however, eventually leads to one’s ability to express individuality, positing the title’s core thesis involving the power of self-expression against the oppressive powers that be.
The revolution will not be televised. It will be communicated through wavelengths, abstract artistry, “BASS!” The primary signs of rebellion come at the expense of structure, a rupture in law and order which dictate a corrupt sense of wholesomeness. A society that values commercialism and conformity above the demonstrative efforts of its people may only be breached by eccentric efforts.
Integrity shines throughout Jet Set Radio. This game is a constant celebration of its individualistic promotions, even with the fuzz and government constantly breathing down your back. There are no means of defense against these authority figures, only a means of escape through freeflowing movement. And with the soundtrack endlessly looping beneath every movement the player makes, the game becomes a sort of rhythm game a la Guitar Hero or Thumper, recontextualizing its musical elements to suit the rebellious nature of its philosophy.
None of this would work without the game’s genuinely incredible original soundtrack. Hideki Naganuma’s sounds defy traditional genre trappings, wonderfully weaving together jazz, funk, hip hop, J-pop, electronica, rock, and even metal into a stunningly cohesive collection of diverse arrangements. It accentuates the fervent sense of unity achieved through individuality which serves as the center of Jet Set Radio’s argumentative purpose.
But simplicity remains the most important aspect of JSR’s design. Functionally, the game is reminiscent of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series (an obvious influence); but instead strips away the complex button prompts and customization from those games, leaving players with a control stick, jump button, and dash move. The result is a far more streamlined process of experimentation, allowing the player to literally get lost in the rhythmic functions of the mechanics offered.
If the main authoritative antagonists are of any indication, the developers at Smilebit are primarily invested in offering a socilogically charged critique of modern Japan, ruminating on the overwhelming constructs dictating citizens’ lives and how they eventually lead to their uprising, while simultaneously revering the power of artistic expression as a means of combating oppression.
This is all communicated through an intense focus on environmental design. Protestors line the streets of the city calling for reform; neon-lit skylines and vacant sewer tunnels articulate set boundaries dictating play space; rails, steeply inclined roads, rooftops, and yes, posterboards suggest an open playground for artists to let loose upon. Every square inch of JSR’s slyly futuristic Tokyo cajoles the player into constant flux and motion, to have the quick wits necessary for expressive movement and to rack up as many skill points as possible.
Ultimately, Jet Set Radio determinedly asks players to rationally revolt against social limitations enforced on a daily basis. Graffiti acts as a visual weapon against the mass figureheads whom seek absolute domination over their peoples’ idiosyncrasy. Tagging speaks through abstraction by distorting the baseness of transparency — white walls, purified streets, parallel buildings — and utilizing vivid color as a call to arms.
Jet Set Radio wants you to take to the streets, to arm yourselves not with guns but peaceful artistic protest. To show jubilation for your artistry and remain blithe in the face of whitewashed soulsuckers. Fight the power with rhythm and colorful style, and let music compel you forward with every move you make. In JSR, individualism is a constant flowing energy used to dispel authority and pave the way for a more expressive future for all. The individual is the center of this game’s universe, and it so terribly wants that ideology to extend into reality.