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The Video Game City: Jet Set Radio Future’s Skyscraper District offers a bright urban night

Welcome back to The Video Game City Week. Where else would we go for our city’s rooftops? It has to be Jet Set Radio Future.

The Skyscraper District

The level I return to most often in Jet Set Radio Future – by now I’ve been returning for almost twenty years – is also the level that has never really made sense to me. As the name suggests, The Skyscraper District and Pharaoh Park is a level that covers two areas – a downtown hub of honey-coloured stone filled with pedestrians, and then…? Well, I’ll get to that.

Pharaoh Park is the bit that’s never clicked. It’s bright and somewhat tacky, a bunch of little pyramids and obelisks leading to a funny spinny building. Beneath it all is a sort of net, where you can skate down and discover that the whole area is suspended high over an endless drop, nearby superscrapers screaming downwards to the depths.

Shopping centre? Weird folly? Theme restaurant? Why are we all here? Very soon, I tire of Pharaoh Park and head to the other part of the map.

I could spend an eternity here.

Over to the side. Up the obelisk, a grind and then a jump. Ahead of me are a series of huge satellite dishes pointed straight skywards, their bowls forming platforms that I can jump from to get to the level’s highest points. This moment, incidentally, a lone skater jumping between satellite dishes, might be the high water point of my career in games. It’s such a wonderful thing to do.

And then you’re there: the Skyscraper District. And there’s nobody there. Darkness, and a sense of being far above all other life. This – this right here – is the best rooftops area in all of video games, I am sure of it. I wander around in the darkness, moving from skyscraper to cable to huge construction crane. It’s night – must be two or three in the morning – and the only lights are from the buildings I dance across and Pharaoh Park far below me.

Video game magic, suggestibility: whenever I am up here alone I actually feel cold – that gusty chill of urban night.

Of course, typing it all out now I finally understand the level. I understand everything. Pharaoh Park exists to give you somewhere to get away from, crowds to distance yourself from, a place to push through and out of. Pharaoh Park is the place that makes the urban non-place of the Skyscraper District so magical – so magical that I still come here after all these years, as if searching for one last elusive secret.

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