Jack Move
by Polly

For the longest time, diving into a new RPG meant you were about to take an extended vacation into a new game's world that would dominate your gaming free time for the better part of at least a couple weeks. Even generously shorter classic titles like Chrono Trigger, or the amazingly brisk Phantasy Star IV (which clocks in at about 13-15 hours), still demanded a decent little chunk of your time to finally see credits.

It wasn't until recent years that I started running into shorter, more focused and concise RPG experiences. Helen's Mysterious Castle (which can usually be had for $2...TWO WHOLE DOLLARS) has long been the RPG I recommended to friends looking for something that's not quite the lifetime commitment. Smaller indie projects like most of Zeboyd's entire catalog, and even smaller bite-size adventures like splendidland's delightfully hilarious Franken and ghosthunter's somber and touching Grimm's Hollow really hit home on Jordan Mallory's banger of a tweet...

And if you keep looking, there's even more of these wonderful little one-off experiences out there. Nice and breezy 1-7 hour adventures that take you out on a cute little lunch date for a burger (in your CUTEST little sun dress, of course) and some ice cream and let you go about the rest of your day, because your time is valuable!

And you won't even have to look all that far because the game we're talking about in this very review is one of those cute little lunch dates!

Jack Move takes place in a distant cyberpunk future where inescapable neon signage contrasts the dingy, rainy atmosphere of a world where corporations and technology have overrun any semblance nature. The story focuses on Noa Solares, a vigilante hacker whose father has gotten himself mixed up in some bad business that's completely wrecked and estranged his family. Though her complicated feelings on her father initially make her hesitant, knowing that mega corporation MonoMind is behind his disppearance is enough to spur her and her hacker friend Ryder into action to find out what's really going on.

The story itself is paced well and focuses squarely on Noa and Ryder's mission to uncover what MonoMind is up to. The scope is nice and comfy and when the story reached its conclusion I came away generally satisfied. Though there's definitely room for more adventures in this world when the credits roll, we reach a suitable conclusion that puts all the characters where they need to be.

There's also just a lot of good writing behind Noa and the characters she interacts with. Her interactions with her Uncle Guin end up being some of the best and most heartfelt moments of the game, but there's just a lot of good writing all over. NPCs are all worth talking to at nearly every point in the story, as Noa's interactions with them are often delightful and humorous or lead you smack dab into a sidequest that'll net you some nice rewards. And since the world's size is sensibly comfy, it's very easy to want to seek out these interactions since it doesn't really involve a lot of running around.

If it isn't obvious from the screenshots or any video you may have chosen to look up about this game, Jack Move's presentation is honestly breath taking. The combination of highly-animated 2D sprites, dynamic lighting effects, and incredibly detailed background work make for one of the easiest-on-the-eyes games I've played recently. There's so much detail in character animations that the screen is constantly buzzing with life. This carries over into the battles as well with enemies chock full of character and the mayhem Noa can unleash on them with her arsenal, specifically the titular Jack Moves.

The cyberpunk, fuzzed-out, bass-heavy soundtrack by Charlie Fieber is a perfect companion to the game's visual palette. The synths literally drip and ooze out of your speakers they're so syrupy and thick, and when the tunes hit hyperdrive for the more intense moments, you absolutely feel it. I had to stop and enjoy the tunes more than a few times playing this game. It's literally banger after banger after banger.

Gameplay is standard JRPG-type fare. You run around, talk to people, level up, buy stuff, the usual. The game's not trying to re-invent the wheel much here, and it doesn't have to.

I was pretty impressed by the game's dungeon design, however. Nearly every area Noa ends up needing to trek through feels like a real place in her world. Nothing ever felt like "a videogame dungeon." They're tiny areas compared what JRPGs usually throw at you, but they're incredibly dense and packed with detail and contribute to the overall feel of Jack Move's world feeling believable and real.

Jack Move's combat is a one-character turn-based battle system where you control only Noa and unleash various attack software on your foes. Noa is limited by what skills she can carry into combat by how much RAM her deck has (a max of 16 slots), but she can use a turn to swap out programs mid-fight should battle conditions change. She also has access to powerful Jack Moves, which operate as limit breaks that feature wildly fun animated sequences and dish out a LOT of hurt.

The RAM limitations and enemy weakness aspects do add a bit of strategy, but through most of the game, just having the latest software upgrades and investing early in the Linkman Hardware upgrade will make getting through most of the random encounters fairly trivial. Some bosses DO offer a stiffer challenge (the final boss in particular), but the game is mostly fairly free if you just play and fight the battles it throws at you.

That said, the final area of the game's balancing feels completely haywire and out of step with everything that came before it. Enemy HP values skyrocket, their damage rolls feel double and triple what you were seeing before, and fights become an incredible slog as even using all your best gear and exploiting weaknesses doesn't feel like you're doing much. The final boss fight being as difficult as it was felt appropriate given the circumstances, but the random encounters getting there gnawed on my patience.

So, it's a good thing that Jack Move is chock-full of quality of life and accessiblity options. A little ways into the game you're allowed to adjust the frequency of random encounters in any hostile area. Combat-wise you can make it so that the QTEs for Jack Moves are handled for you (though they're in no way difficult to pull off), and there's even a setting in the options menu that literally adds an "I Win" button to your list of attacks that immediately kills every enemy on screen, including bosses. I can see this one being a pretty free little speedrun with all these options active.

Jack Move ended up being a nice little surprise. Though the endgame combat experience tried my patience and I struggled to figure out why Noa is such a jerk to Ryder about his dead lover, I came away from this one feeling my 7 hours of game time was worth it. The world and writing carry this one really hard, and even though the combat can be a bit of a breeze, it was still fun to engage with. You really can't go wrong with Jack Move if you're looking for that nice and breezy little bite-sized RPG experience.

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