Behind The Scenes: Jet Set Radio
Ten years can be a long time. Ten years was enough time for Sega launch the Dreamcast, only to see it die a premature death and retire from manufacturing hardware altogether, and ten years was long enough to enshrine a select group of those Dreamcast games as timeless classics. But ten years can also be a short time. For those who remember it, Jet Set Radio was so hip, so innovative, and has barely been copied or rivalled since, that it’s easy to look back a decade and think, ‘Wow, was that really ten years ago? It seems like it was only yesterday.’
It was over a decade ago that Masayoshi Kikuchi led a small team of less than 25 people, with an average age of under 25, in the creation of what would become one of the Dreamcast’s many classics. Kikuchi, along with JSR art director Ryuta Ueda, had just finished making Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Saturn before he got to work on JSR. After such a hardcore fantasy title, the team was eager to try its hand at something new. After all, dragons had been done before Panzer Dragoon, and they would be done after. “We wanted to work on something that was completely unlike Panzer Dragoon Saga. Something dealing with pop culture and something that was cool,” says Kikuchi.
“Games like Panzer are really for hardcore gaming types. At the time, there weren’t any games that had pop culture in them,” Ueda adds. Ryuta Ueda had been drawing characters that resembled the end-look of JSR since his days in art school, as Kikuchi explains. “Ueda came and showed me this picture saying, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do something like this.’” So the young team wasn’t brought into a creative atmosphere; they created it themselves and resolved to make a game like none that had come before.
“We were a young team, with little experience. There was no one to tell us what was good or bad. We went off and did what we wanted to do.” That’s not to say that the team operated without inspiration. It drew on other games that aspired to escape the confines of the fantasy/sci-fi offerings of the time, and thrived on competition from others who were trying to do the same. Ueda describes his experience at Tokyo Game Show 1996: “When I saw PaRappa The Rapper at TGS… I think that’s the first game with pop culture like that. They did it first. After that I decided to make a true game, not just a visual experience, that was actually for adults.”