I love big ideas. I love the idea of smashing characters from different worlds into the same game or space and seeing how they would interact with each other, or even battle and see who would win. As long as its executed carefully.
Project X Zone is an effort to bring the multiple JRPG, fighting game and adventure title protagonists into one massive mash-up tactical action RPG. Here we have characters from multiple studio’s appearing for the first time together all in one. Namco bring Tales of Vesperia, .Hack and Tekken as well as a few other franchises, while Capcom brings Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry and even Mega Man. Lastly from SEGA we get Resonance of Fate, Virtua Fighter and Valkyria Chronicles to the mix.
From these game franchises we get the main protagonists and antagonists as well. This means a huge number of characters are involved here and therein lies the games first problem, but I will get to that shortly.
The game starts off introducing the player to the main characters Mii Kouryuuji and Kogoro Tenzai, both of whom are original for this title. Mii is the sole heir to the Kouryuuji clan and Kogoro is a ninja detective that she hired to find out who stole the mysterious portalstone that her family have been guarding for generations.
Enter Oros Phlox, a mysterious organisation, headed initially by another original character called Due Flabellum and her cronies Eins and Drei Belanos, this group runs around with the obsessive need to understand the portalstone’s mysterious powers that remain a mystery for the vast majority of the game.
For me this is the major problem with the story itself. Apart from later onin the game where Street Fighters S.I.N group from Street Fighter 4, run by Seth himself, get involved as an alternative antagonist, the game doesn’t so much to further its story, but just withholds it for a whopping 40 chapters before you see much of it appear again. The main cast themselves literally go around saying to each other “what the heck is even happening here, this is all so complicated, what are we supposed to do?”.
Now that everyone’s interests are piqued, the game decides purely to mention this story in hindsight while it goes through 5 prologues introducing the members of various other games. Future members of the group are thrown in one by one citing that their worlds are being meshed together with the current “real world”. We see Frank west from Dead Rising and Morrigan from the Darkstalkers games make an appearance as well. From this point onward the game throws characters at you in various ways until you have a roster of 40 main double teams and 20 ‘Solo units’.
Project X Zone runs its battle system much like a game called Namco x Capcom which never released outside of Japan. The main characters from that game also make an appearance in Project X Zone. Firstly you move your character along a grid, much like the Final Fantasy Tactics series. Each team has a certain distance it can hit the enemy from, for example the Resonance of Fate team can hit much further than say, Akira Yuki and Pai Chan from Virtua Fighter can. The system works with any 2 characters from a “Pair Unit” as one group. From there you can also attach a “Solo Unit”, a unit that is inter-changeable to and from any group and you can mix and match them within any Pair unit in the game for different chances at combo’s. Solo units only perform one combo ever, so mixing and matching them with different teams to see which way they work best, and not always with the ones from the same game, can be at your best advantage in the combat phase.
During battle you get pre-set combo options. Press A by itself and one combo is performed for you, press A+UP on the D pad and you get another combo. This means that the entire battle system comes down to timing and nothing else, which is to be expected to a point from a strategy game, but this gives off the illusion of a much more in-depth feel, however superficial it is. You unlock more combo’s as you progress through the game and level up. These combos are added to your roster automatically giving you an extended amount of options. The game lets you use each combo once, if you do each one in one turn you get a +1 bonus to use one extra move. Each move ends and begins differently, which means timing is crucial and so is the combo before; if one combo ends with an uppercut or a shot upward starting the next combo at just the right moment can give you a chance at a critical hit. Stringing together critical hits just means increased damage however, there are no extra bonuses for a “perfect” except seeing that you got one.
The battle’s start as they mean to go on and very little is added to the formula of fighting at all, once you’ve past the first 10 chapters you’ve basically gotten to grips with the games entire mechanics. Some enemies do have status effects that can be inflicted upon party members such as Stun, Poison or Arm block, making it so that when enemies attack you, you cannot counter, block or make moves of any kind until the next phase.
The leveling system in this game seems tacked on and unnecessary with each pair having its own stats that grow with levels and change with items that are equipped. Some items increase health, boost speed, attack & defence etc. but most of these changes are arbitrary to the fight system other than to show whose moves are fastest. While that may seem like a tactical advantage, it really just comes down to “Can I hit them before they hit me?” which is fine but overall lacklustre in its execution.
The character roster is where the true charm of this game shines through, having Frank West taking sexy “Erotica” shots of the enemy females of the game with his camera while his female allies ridicule him for being perverse, or encourage him for getting a good shot at a raunchy angle makes for some of the funnier bits of dialogue in the game.
The comedy level does remain consistently high as well with serious and jokey undertones blasting in through the incoherency of the story all the way through to the final chapter. The problem with the game as a whole though is that it feels, chunky.
Normally that could be considered a compliment to a game that takes a while to get through and has plenty of content, however this is the doughnut overloaded with cheesy chips with mountain dew kind of chunky. Each mission doesn’t just involve the turns of your allies, but your enemies, complete with occasional attack animations and movements, as well as grunting noises made even if they don’t move. This means that when there are a lot of enemies on screen taking turns, sometimes more than 30, plus your own team which can number also be up to 20 teams, that means 50 individual movements and turns to make. Battle sequences and the occasional mid battle cutscene to throw in the odd story jab and a few jokes from Frank West extend it even further. Each battle in this game can take well over 1 hour and that is not the compliment it should be, it just feels overweight and padded to the point of discomfort. Throwing in multiple elements of games for the fans who would purchase this title does not a good game make, that is where it fails most brutally.
Project X zone is not a terrible game, but its not a particularly good on either and despite a New Game+ mode at the end there is nothing there that will scream at you to play through it again with even harder enemies and longer cutscenes to boot. It was a slog to get through the game and despite its charming cast, the overall effort to get to the parts you want to enjoy was not a pay-off worth struggling through.