Released in 2000, Jet Set Radio (or to some, Jet Grind Radio) was an energetic in-line rollerskating game on the SEGA Dreamcast. With iconic cel shaded graphics and simple yet engaging gameplay the game managed to win the hearts of the press and public alike. Similarly the music from the game remained in the memory of it's players for years to come. It's HD re-release in 2012 was celebrated and brought the game to new and old fans to enjoy, and despite it's strong ties to 90s style, it somehow stood strongly 12 years later. So let's take a look at the sounds of Jet Set Radio and find out how and why they were an integral part of such a beloved and iconic video game.
Jet Set Radio took very strong influence from modern culture from the time it was being developed. Hip-hop and punk were increasing cultures at the time of development and their influence is clear in the soundtrack. Sampling was an integral part of the birth of hip-hop and Jet Set Radio ran with this musical idea. Vocal samples make up pretty much all vocal content in the songs, with quick cuts and repeating passages present in most tunes. This use of quick and short vocal hooks gave the music an interesting twist. The music was no longer just background music. Players could sing along and memorise their favourite tunes and choose to play them in any mission, it also meant that the context of the music within the game was different from most games, but we'll talk more about that later. Being so ingrained in a cultural movement was a risky move. If approached incorrectly, Jet Set Radio could have become an insult to those it was trying to please. The rail it grinds is very fine, but I think the key to Jet Set Radio being so beloved is it's tone.
The attitude the music takes in JSR is what I perceive to be the key to it's acceptance. The music in the game isn't a parody of what it's trying to represent, it isn't even a representation. The music of Jet Set Radio IS Hip-Hop, it IS Punk, it IS 90s Electro Jazz, all custom made for the experience. The cultures and styles are an integral part of this game and the developers knew that, so instead of making a game about, or for these cultures, they made a game with them. Every piece of music within the game is a celebration of the cultures they come from, even with cultures merging to create new sounds. Artists who wrote these types of music in the real world wrote music for this game. The music, and the game overall is ultimately inclusive. Everyone's welcome to be a part of this movement, and welcome to take what they want from it, which is a refreshing break from particular parts of gaming culture. There's no best track in Jet Set Radio's soundtrack, only favourites. Just like there's no best character, or best graffiti tag, only your personal preference.
Speaking of personal preference, let's get back to that radio. The titular Jet Set Radio is in fact a pirate radio station run by DJ Professor K, constantly blasting the freshest beats of Tokyo-to. But this radio station gives an interesting twist on the concept of in-game music. By using the radio, the music of Jet Set Radio is able to be both Diegetic and Non-diegetic at once. The music you're hearing as you play is probably what's blasting through Beat's headphones, or Combo's boom box. This really ties the whole world together without having to explain it all to the player, additionally, it makes the player a part of the culture Jet Set Radio is presenting them with. By making the characters listen, and dance to the in game music, you as the player are welcome to do the same and become a part of the world of Jet Set Radio.
Jet Set Radio is a work of love and appreciation. It's music welcomes you to it's world and celebrates it's real world counterparts. It's a game that both represents a culture and is a part of that culture, deeply entrenched yet still easy for newcomers to jump into. It's a time capsule that is infinitely expanding and a true testament to the affect games can have on the real world and vice versa.
What do you think? Did Jet Set Radio's music bring you into the world? Would the game be the same if you played your own selection of music in the game? Are there any other games that draw real world parallels like Jet Set Radio? Do you ever listen to Jet Set Radio tunes outside of the game? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014
Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!
I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.
I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.
If you wanna talk to me or follow me on Twitter ,you can.(but tbh it's pretty boring)
Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!