Ken, KOS-MOS, and Kurt Irving, oh my!
That’s right, in Project X Zone you’ll be able to team up with the likes of Street Fighter, Xenosaga, and Valkyria Chronicles characters respectively, as the mega-developers Capcom, Namco Bandai, and Sega have teamed up for a fan service offering of gigantic proportions.
But as many people know, not all fan service games are created equal.
If you’ve ever played Endless Frontier or Namco x Capcom you’ll know what to expect, but for newcomers, Project X Zone essentially a grid-based strategy RPG with an interactive combat system. Every character will take up one square on a grid as a pair — so think, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, and Mega Man X and Zero. Once you choose to engage an enemy, the fun begins — instead of automatically attacking like most grid-based strategy RPGs, you’ll enact a fun little micro fighting game.
Combat may seem daunting at first, but it’s extremely simple on the surface and very fun to play. Each team has a handful of combos they can unleash which varying arcs, attack patterns and outcomes, and it’s up to the player to choose the order. “Solo” characters can be matched up with certain pairs to add another attack at any time once per combat, and if you’re near another pair, you can also have them come in as support once per combat.
Each pair has a running percentage that the game calls your “Cross Gauge,” which you can save up to 100% to unleash a devastating super attack, or keep to engage in defensive maneuvers like countering, defense, and a full defend. To be blunt, the Cross system is essentially where you’re getting most of your “strategy” from, as you need to decide whether or not to blow all of your bar to kill an enemy, or save it to counter or defend.
You can combine both solo and support attacks, and if you attack the enemy at the same time as your solo or support, you’ll earn a “cross bonus” (referred to as “X”) that can skyrocket your Cross Gauge past 100%. Certain characters counter better than others of course, and you need to ensure that you’re matching up support characters as often as possible so you can get that “X” bonus. Each pair has a number of special abilities (essentially, spells) that can increase their range, or heal other units, adding an even further level to Cross Gauge management.
Now, you can just mash away during fights and win a lot of battles, but there is an element of strategy involved that can take you a step further. Basically, if you use one of every possible combo in a round, you’ll earn an extra attack, which encourages you to learn how to link your moves. If you juggle an enemy in the air, they can’t block, which means more damage — so it’s up to you to figure out each pair’s launchers, or solo/support combinations to make this possible. Once you start getting into the mechanics of the game, you’ll learn that while it isn’t nearly as deep as many other strategy RPGs, there is depth there, and there is a method to its madness. That’s when the game really comes together.
However, despite how fun combat may be, it should be noted that the game progresses in an entirely non-negotiable linear nature. There’s no world map screen, and grinding completed levels can get extremely painful (not that you really need to do it often), especially since they play out in the exact same way every time. You’ll battle on approximately 40 maps for at least 40 hours (if not more), and once you’re done — that’s it. The good news is that the game never really encroaches “cheap difficulty” territory, and provided you’re willing to learn the nuances of the combo and Cross Gauge system, it’s actually one of the most accessible strategy RPGs I’ve ever played. On the flipside, it never truly challenges veterans of the genre, and if you aren’t down with the fan service, you may find yourself a tad bored.
The plot is basically nonsensical, and draws upon your wildest “League of Evil” Saturday morning cartoon fantasy. Essentially, the big bads of each major franchise (such as Darkstalkers‘ Jedah and Lord Raptor) want to wreak havoc, and it’s up to the heroes (and some anti-heroes like Tron Bonne) to stop them. There are around sixty playable characters (counting pairs and solo units), and around 200 total cameos and appearances, ranging anywhere from Ghost and Goblins‘ Red Arremers to something as obscure as an “Ooze” from Resident Evil: Revelations. Project X Zone may look dated, but once you see the beautiful anime artwork during a super move, or the animation quality in the combat animations, you’ll excuse the relatively minimal style.
While the cast is generally pretty solid, outside of Capcom, it is heavily weighed in favor of games that weren’t really released overseas. So if you’re expecting major Sega and Namco Bandai characters from the Sonic, Katamari or even the NiGHTS franchise, you’re going to walk away disappointed unless you’re a fan of import gaming. As for myself, I’m mostly ok with the cast on a personal level, and found myself rediscovering a few of the more obscure games that are referenced throughout Project X Zone. If you’re a very particular gamer who only enjoys Capcom you may not see a lot of familiar faces, but for everyone else, the cast is extremely adequate.
As I mentioned before, with the nonsensical plot, the emphasis on repetition, and the linear nature of the game, Project X Zone is not going to be for everyone. But for the fans of all of the franchises represented here, it’s still extremely neat to see a character, say, pay tribute to Arthur’s monster hunting abilities, or Chun-Li’s detective work. Provided that your a strategy RPG fan, if you’ve always wanted to see Mega Man X team up with Frank West and Jill Valentine, you’ll want to pick this game up for novelty alone.
This review is based on a physical copy of the 3DS game Project X Zone.