Flashy, bright, high-velocity, and desperately trying to make rollerblading cool, Jet Set Radio exploded onto the scene in the year 2000 in a burst of spray paint disc-scratching. The original Jet Set Radio was developed by Smilebit Studios and published by Sega for the Dreamcast system.
Development was directed by Masayoshi Kikuchi, while the notable art was headed by Ryuta Ueda. The Jet Set Radio series stood out thanks to its art style, which was one of the first video games to use cel-shaded animation. It also made extensive use of graffiti art in its art style, as well as its gaming mechanics. Another memorable aspect of the game is its soundtrack, which combines techno, hip-hop, funk, and occasionally rock all mashed together in a series of mixes designed by Hideki Naganuma.
Jet Set Radio takes place in a futuristic Tokyo known as Tokyo-to, where free expression has been outlawed.
The player controls a member of a rollerblading youth gang known as the GGs that are vying to become the rulers of Tokyo-to. They receive news and updates from DJ Professor K, the DJ for a pirate radio station known as Jet Set Radio. The game follows the GGs as they force out encroaching gangs such as the all-female Love Shockers, the tech-obsessed Noise Tanks, and the Kaiju-costumed Poison Jam.
But in addition to rival gangs, they’re also pursued by the police, led by Captain Onishima. Onishima will pursue the GGs himself with a large revolver, and call in steadily more powerful armaments to help eliminate the gangs, including riot police, attack dogs, and tanks.
Gameplay is separated into three different modes, Street, Showdown, and Trial.
Street levels are further divided into two different categories.
The first has players skate around a level and tag different spots with graffiti before the time runs out or they lose health from being pursued by the police. The other is somewhat of a boss battle where the player chases members of the other gang and attempts to spray graffiti on them.
Trial levels are accessible after all other levels are cleared in an area, and are essentially time and score attack challenges.
Showdown levels challenge the player to emulate the moves of another character, and if they can that character will join their team.
With such a distinct art style fans of Jet Set Radio are drawn to the playable characters present in the game.
In an interview, Masayoshi Kikuchi says that Jet Set Radio began when Ryuta Ueda, another developer at SmileBit, approached him with some drawings he had made and asked if there was a way to put them in the game. These visually distinct character designs were eventually adapted into the many characters associated with Jet Set Radio.
In the first Jet Set Radio the player starts out playing as Beat, a character now widely regarded as the game’s mascot, as he appears on the cover of each Jet Set Radio game. Beat is known for his green glasses and headphones as well as his bright clothing. He formed the GGs in the beginning of the game, recruiting Gum and Tab in the tutorial level. In Jet Set Radio Future he has to be unlocked, and his outfit is updated to give his headphones long antennae and blue sunglasses.
Gum is another popular character in the Jet Set Radio series. She’s known for her blonde hair which peeks out from under a sort of pilot’s helmet, and a short dress with green-striped sleeves. In Jet Set Radio Future she’s described as a heartbreaker by DJ Professor K. Her outfit in that game has been updated to remove the sleeves on the dress and to give it a lower cut on her chest.
DJ Professor K is another mascot-like character for the series. He’s the narrator of each game, providing the player with backstory and information on the game’s events. He’s another character with a notable silhouette, with his tendril like hair, sunglasses, and boisterous personality. In Jet Set Radio Future he has more of an active role in the plot, often providing the GGs with tasks or missions. He even ends up kidnapped in Future, and the GGs have to get him back.
Other characters in Jet Set Radio include Tab, also known as Corn in the Japanese release, Garam, a shirtless skater with buglike glasses, the angelic Mew, Piranha, the hulking Combo and his fellow gang members Coin and the goth queen Cube.
Many characters end up making the transition from Jet Set Radio to Jet Set Radio Future, but with updated outfits and different names. Piranha has become Boogie, for example, and Mew seems to have become Rhyth. Each game has a variety of skaters to unlock, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, such as how many hits they can take from the authorities, how easy they are to control, and how many cans of spray paint they can carry.
Jet Set Radio is equally known for its soundtrack.
Hideki Naganuma handled the music on Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future, and has said that doing the music for both games has been the work he’s most enjoyed doing. Fans may also know him for his contributions to the Sonic Rush soundtrack and Persona 3 Rhythm.
Both Jet Set Radios use soundtracks that combine everything from acid jazz, to J-pop, hip-hop, funk, techno, and even including metal on the North American release. While Jet Set Radio Future featured the return of Naganuma along with previous collaborator Richard Jacques, the soundtrack also features songs by Guitar Vader, Scapegoat Wax, Cibo Matto (Who was on the original Jet Set Radio OST), as well as BS 2000 and The Latch Brothers, both of which were side projects by members of American rap group The Beastie Boys.
Nearly 20 years later fans will still tweet at Hideki Naganuma on Twitter to let him know that the music he helped provide for Jet Set Radio is some of their fondest memories. And sometimes Hideki Naganuma will take a break from posting memes of Family Guy to recognize this and thank them for their support.
Jet Set Radio was one of the most distinctive games to come out of the early 2000s, catching eyes for everything from its art style, its sound, and its high flying rollerblading and graffiti action.