I want Noa Solares’ jacket.
Wait, who is Noa Solares, and why do I want her jacket? Well, Noa is the smart, sassy, and spunky protagonist of So Romantic’s Jack Move, and I love her jacket’s cut, color, and design. Sure, an NPC named Lala says it’s “soo last decade,” but I think it’s timelessly cool in a modern-retro way. Influenced by classic JRPGs and 1980s cyberpunk, Jack Move has been on my radar since 2020, and every aspect of the game oozes as much style and personality as Noa herself.
In Noa’s world, corporations have replaced governments in running peoples’ lives, the biggest being Monomind. Rebellious Noa is all about “sticking it to ‘the man’” and paying the bills as a vigilante hacker-for-hire. We first meet Noa as she’s about to infiltrate a corporate office to steal information for a sweet payout. While she does the leg work like an anti-hero Kim Possible, her friend Ryder helps out behind the scenes via his computer lab (much like Kim Possible‘s Wade). Noa does not exactly keep a low profile, and her illicit activities finally catch up with her in a big way. Monomind has kidnapped her estranged father, and he refuses to divulge anything regarding his secret research, prompting Monomind’s corporate goons to ransack Noa’s apartment. Our scrappy heroine fights off said goons and now needs to rescue her dear ol’ dad.
Every character, major to NPC, has plenty of personality thanks to the game’s snappy dialogue. Jack Move is only 9-12 hours long, so everyone utilizes their limited screen time to make memorable impressions. NPCs say and do different things as the game progresses, and I spent loads of time talking to all of them. The denizens’ consistent use of in-game vernacular made Noa’s world feel more immersive, and I enjoyed being a part of it from start to finish. The ending wrapped things up nicely while still hinting that further adventures await Noa in the future.
Not only is the dialogue colorful, but the graphics are as well. Even generic NPCs have cool-looking sprites. Noa and company exist in lushly detailed environments, and I sometimes stood still simply to admire the sundry details on each screen. So Romantic excels at using dynamic lighting. I’ve played dynamically lit games where caves were too dark for me to navigate properly without eyestrain. Yet, Jack Move’s darker environments look appropriately grimy while still being easy on the eyes, so I could take in the painstaking details.
The best sprite animations occur during battles. Whether attacking or dying, every foe—from the most generic grunts to the final boss—does what they do with style. The most striking are the epic screen-filling special attacks that Noa and several bosses use. My absolute favorite animation is Noa’s victory animation, where she turns around to face us, throwing the peace sign with a wink and a hair flip. I never got tired of seeing that.
I mentioned earlier that sometimes I liked to linger so I could take in Jack Move’s vibe. The music, written and produced by Charlie Fieber, further encouraged that. The lengthy tracks strike a good balance between catchy and deep, making them engaging to listen to for long stretches. With solid instrumentation and quality composition, every piece of music was lovely to listen to, and all fit their intended scenes and actions. My favorite pieces were those that played during late-game emotional scenes and the final dungeon, because they punctuated how complicated and hairy Noa’s life is getting.
My only disappointment regarding the graphics and sound is that the animated sequence from the release trailer is not in the game itself. I couldn’t stop watching that trailer online because the animation and music were so enthralling. I hoped it would be a pre-title screen intro sequence akin to Wild ARMs’ anime intro.
In some ways, Jack Move is a relatively traditional Japanese-style RPG with an ’80s cyberpunk twist, similar to how Wild ARMs was a traditional JRPG with a wild west twist. Jack Move’s interface features a bright green color scheme atop black backgrounds reminiscent of 1980s computers running DOS. It was a bit overwhelming on my eyes at first until I got used to it. There is some flickering and flashing in the menus, title screen, end credit roll, and some battle effects, so a seizure warning would not be remiss.
The menus’ flashy style makes them appear cluttered at first glance, but once I looked past that, I realized that they’re far more intuitive than they appear and work like many other JRPG menus. Icons are large and make it easy to figure out that cutely named stats like Grok and Sass are the equivalents of “magic” offense and defense, respectively. Basic battle commands also have cute names. For example, “hack” is a physical attack, “execute” represents special skills, and “cache” means to defend. Yes, getting used to new terms for essential JRPG functions takes a little mental effort, but it works to immerse players in Jack Move’s world.
Jack Move features many active and passive skills called modules that you can equip into limited slots (referred to as blocks of RAM). This system reminded me a bit of Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia system, and I spent a lot of time in the menus (both during and outside of battles) assigning the right skills to available slots for various in-game situations. Special attacks are categorized as Wetware, Cyberware, and Electroware and work in a rock-paper-scissor fashion. Using these skills often is worthwhile, as they level up with use. The JM meter fills up as Noa dishes out and takes damage in battle. Once full, Noa can unleash Limit Break-style attacks called Jack Moves. Successfully executing a Jack Move requires a brief sequence of timed button presses, but a menu option to bypass those timed button presses exists for those who lack dexterity. Don’t be shy about using Jack Moves, either, since they also level up with use.
Did I mention that battles are turn-based and occur randomly? If I didn’t before, I am now. You will fight these battles solo, as Noa is the only playable character. It also takes some time before she can acquire an area attack module that targets multiple enemies. You would think this would make even mundane battles drag, but their pacing is better than you may expect. Yes, a battle or few did run a bit long for me, but that’s only because I didn’t strategize well. And lest I forget to mention it, the default encounter rate was manageable. Outside of battle, the environments Noa explores are perfectly sized. They’re not overly long, cumbersome labyrinths, but they’re also not insultingly short dungeons that could fit inside the living room of my house. Environmental layout design in games is an art, and So Romantic nails it.
Some quality-of-life modifications are available, such as encounter rate adjusters and an optional command to instantly win any battle. I didn’t use any of these because the game’s difficulty balance suited me just fine. It starts out easy and steadily ramps up, concluding with a challenging yet super fun final boss battle. Still, the inclusion of these encounter optimization mechanics helps grinders who want to quickly max out levels for Noa and her skills while also making the game more accessible. One thing I wish the game had was an escape/flee command for battles. Why such a command—a staple in JRPGs since the early days—was excluded is beyond my comprehension. A final note is that the default mappings for keyboard and gamepad usage are good but can be remapped if you prefer. I used a gamepad, and its default control scheme felt perfectly natural.
Despite being only 9-12 hours long, Jack Move gave me a more fulfilling RPG experience than many 40-50 hour games I’ve played. This game drips with personality in every fiber of its being, and was one of my most enjoyable RPG experiences this year. If you’re on the fence about Jack Move, check out the Jack Move: I.C.E. Breaker prologue demo for yourself. Your save data will carry over if you decide to invest in the game. It’s clear that a lot of love was put into Jack Move, and I look forward to what developer So Romantic dreams up next.