It feels like most JRPGs these days don’t really tread much into hard science fiction. Sure, big franchises like Final Fantasy or Xenoblade aren’t afraid to mix in some tech alongside their magic, but it’s rare that you’ll see developers fully commit to a world that’s all robots and computers. In this regard, Jack Move is a breath of fresh air. What we have here is a brief, well-paced, and thoroughly traditional JRPG set in a cyberpunk universe. It's surprisingly innovative and a delight to play through.
Jack Move takes place in a near-future, cyberpunk society where governments are effectively impotent and enormous conglomerates reign supreme. You take on the role of Noa, a chipper hacker who routinely participates in attacks on corporations and sells sensitive information on the black market. Noa and her partner-in-crime, Ryder, are simply carrying on with business as usual when she receives a message from her estranged father, who warns her that a corporation called Monomind may be after her because of something he’s been working on. Shortly after this, Monomind kidnaps her dad, starting Noa and Ryder on a quest to free him and get to the bottom of his latest research project.
It's a well-paced plot all the way through and this is greatly aided by the strong worldbuilding along the way. Conversations with NPCs help to build out a sense of what daily life is like in a place like Bright Town, while cute slang like “Digits!” or “Gigafloppin’!” exclaimed by characters help imbue the world with some personality. Character development feels a little shallow given the relatively short length of the whole narrative, but it’s hard not to get attached to Jack Move's world given how much it charms the player. Clearly there was a lot of effort put into adding little details and vignettes to round out the experience, such as an NPC who Noa repeatedly gets into friendly insult matches with, and all these small details add up to make something with real texture and meaning.
Combat follows a traditional turn-based structure, though has the interesting wrinkle that you only have one party member for the entire duration of the game. Noa is a competent fighter, but she has to effectively be her own backup in all of her battles, which leads to the inclusion of a 'soft' job system that makes her quite versatile. Noa’s available skills and actions are dictated by the available RAM in her deck, with each action taking up a certain number of blocks. You can only fit a handful of actions in your available RAM at any given time, but you can ‘Patch’ on any turn to swap abilities in or out as needed. For example, we started out a tough boss fight with a few important debuff abilities ready to go to suppress their stats, later swapped in some buff abilities to raise our own, then went all in on attack actions to burst them down.
Most fights against common enemies don’t really last long enough to necessitate swapping things in and out of RAM much, but we appreciated how smartly this system manages to still give the feel of having a party while fighting with just one character. Noa always feels like she’s capable of meeting the challenges she faces, even when she’s comfortably outnumbered and only getting in one action for every two or three that the enemy can use. Plus, the Golden Sun-esque idea of having that give-and-take of changing up your character mid-battle makes every choice feel meaningful.
There’s more to fights than just swapping things around in your RAM, however, like the presence of a simple rock-paper-scissors system that can be leveraged to exploit enemy weaknesses. A purple ‘Wetware’ attack, for example, will be super effective against a green ‘Cyberware’ enemy. Most enemies are color-coded to make it easy to see what they’ll be weak to, and leveraging this system has the passive effect of greatly adding to your Jack Move meter. This acts like a Limit Break, and once full, it allows you to unleash a devastating attack against the entire enemy team that can very often end the fight right then and there. Even better, there’s a brief DDR-esque minigame you play before executing each Jack Move; nailing all the prompts at just the right time will massively boost the damage output and make the attack that much more devastating.
Another thing that can help you tip the scales in your balance is the turn window in the corner, which indicates which enemies will be attacking when and when Noa will next get to act. With this information, you can sometimes eliminate an enemy to get Noa another turn, or you can either slow down enemies or speed up Noa to give you more actions on a longer timeline. We appreciated that developer So Romantic gives you multiple tools to boost your chance of success, as it makes fights much more dynamic and keeps them from feeling too stale and samey.
When you’re not battling enemies, you guide Noa around intricate cityscapes, datascapes, and junkyards, opening hidden briefcases with helpful items in them and solving basic puzzles to manipulate the environment. All the while, if you’re in a dungeon area, there will be a threat meter in the top corner that indicates when the next battle will take place. Once full, you won’t necessarily get attacked right away, but it can happen at any moment. And, if you don’t like getting jumped while trying to solve a puzzle, there’s a helpful toggle to either decrease the speed at which it fills or to stop it completely, though this latter option runs the risk of Noa becoming too under-leveled to keep pace with the ascending difficulty.
As for character growth, Noa just levels up in a traditional sense, but each software action can also independently gain experience with use and be leveled up to make it more effective in battle. Additionally, there’s quite a variety of available software you can unlock either by completing sidequests or buying them from one of the shops in a town; it feels like you’re always five minutes away from unlocking yet another to expand your arsenal. With this in mind, it’s rather impressive how Jack Move manages to feel like a much longer game than it really is. Enemy levels and stats scale up quite quickly, but Noa’s capability rises at a commensurate rate; the difficulty doesn’t feel like it spikes too much at any point.
It bears mentioning that the story will probably only take you about ten hours to see through to its completion. There are side quests you can do to pad out the runtime a bit and getting hung up on a difficult boss fight here or there may sidetrack you, but even then, this is likely one of the shortest RPGs you’ll ever play. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—the power ramp ensures that you’re leveling up and getting better equipment at a much faster pace than in most—but those of you who like to really dig into a deep and intricate JRPG may be left a little disappointed and wanting more. We appreciated the brief length, however, as it ensures that there are no half-baked game mechanics or unnecessarily long-winded cutscenes.
As for its presentation, Jack Move utilizes a hi-bit art style that feels somewhat reminiscent of the work seen in titles such as Aegis Defenders and Katana Zero, characterized by nicely detailed HD pixel art, smooth character animation, and an overall flashy retro aesthetic. The world of Jack Move isn’t necessarily gritty, but we enjoyed how it incorporated other elements of the cyberpunk genre—spider-bots, street hackers, ad-filled neon screens over rainy cityscapes—into a colorful and surprisingly vibrant world.
All of this is matched by a soundtrack that mixes together synthwave, lo-fi, and industrial music that creates an intense and nostalgic atmosphere. We would’ve liked for there to be a few more tracks in the overall playlist to give it a bit more variety, but what’s here is absolutely top-notch work.
It may not last terribly long, but Jack Move manages to pack in all the important elements needed for an excellent cyberpunk JRPG adventure. The inventive battle system, enchanting world, and appealing graphics all come together to make for a perfectly paced, gripping, and memorable release that no RPG fan will want to miss out on, and that goes double for time-poor genre aficionados. It’s not often that you see a JRPG that leans so hard into science fiction tropes, and Jack Move makes the most of every minute of its runtime. Highly recommended.