Project X Zone Review By Rob Rich
“Who would win in a fight?” and “It would be awesome if ____ and ____ teamed up, wouldn’t it?” are both very common questions among anyone who enjoys character-driven entertainment. Godzilla and Ultraman, John McClane and John Spartan, Ishmael and Watson, Star Trek and the X Men (this one was seriously a real crossover. I know, right??).
I don’t want to seem biased but I feel like this sort of thing goes double for video games, especially when so many of them already contain little in-jokes and references. By and large this is going to be Project X Zone‘s (pronounced “Cross Zone”) biggest draw: oodles and oodles of fan service.
This is my project x zone review …
Within the first twenty minutes I was already up to my neck in Street Fighter, Tekken, Darkstalkers, Fighting Vipers, and Virtual Fighter. Thirty minutes in. I mean my god. But a game can’t thrive on name-dropping and cameos alone. Thankfully Project X Zone also has a kickass battle system to back it all up.
I’d love to provide a synopsis of Project X Zone‘s story but I can only do so much with so little. Essentially some shadow organization is out to destroy the world by causing multiple dimensions and realities to overlap; eventually tearing the universe apart or something. It’s a paper-thin excuse to have dozens upon dozens of characters from Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai games meeting up.
The thing is I’m not entirely sure how it could have been done any differently. There’s a ridiculous amount of characters in this game, so all the awkward moments when they stand around introducing each other and otherwise having meaningless conversations make s certain level of sense. Even so, that awkwardness is far from endearing.
If anything I just wish I could fast-forward through those moments where every single character, from Akira Yuki to Ling Xiaoyu, just *has* to contribute something to the conversation.
It’s once the story is put on the backburner that Project X Zone really shines. There’s a fairly simple grid-based strategy method to positioning characters and using skills or items, but once they’re in range of an enemy the gameplay takes a dramatic turn. As I’ve mentioned, the combat system is awesome. It’s like a cross between a fighting and rhythm game.
Pressing the A button or a combination of the A button and a direction will unleash a string of absolutely bonkers attacks from the selected pair (yes, all the characters are paired up for some reason) that can be combined with the proper timing in order to unleash combos reaching into the 50-60 hit range.
If the duo also has a third backup (and interchangeable) character assigned they can be summoned with the L button to rack up even more hits and damage. Likewise, if they’re standing close enough to another team they can summon the other pair as well with the R button. If any of these support characters can land a hit around the same time the attacking pair do they’ll lock the enemy in place, which can be a real boon since catching them in the right spot will make juggling them a lot easier.
And while all of this is going on, the pair’s XP meter (“Cross Points,” not to be confused with experience) builds. Oh yeah, that’s right, the rabbit hole goes even deeper. XP serves three main functions: it can be spent to use special character skills (healing, buffing, etc), used to block or counter enemy attacks, or spent on a *massive* special attack that’s even more bombastic than a five character pile-up. Deciding when to use XP, and for what, plays a huge part in each mission’s success.
As much as I love all the ridiculous character pairings and combination attacks, the formulaic encounters can make Project X Zone feel like much more of a grind than it really should. With only a few exceptions, they go like this: The large group of characters appears in a random location and wonders what happened despite the same exact thing happening to them dozens of times already, then enemies appear and they talk some more, players fight for a few minutes, even more enemies appear with a boss in tow, another pair of characters pops up, players fight until they meet the encounter requirements, enemies leave ominously, new characters awkwardly discuss various goings on with current characters, they leave the area, and the whole cycle starts over again.
This happens almost every single time. It’s not a huge deal since the combat is so flipping fantastic but it makes playing for extended periods of time feel more like work than it should. I’d recommend playing one or two missions at a time. Possibly less later on as they can start to take a while thanks to 30 to 40 characters and enemies all taking turns moving around the map.
Project X Zone isn’t exactly the ultimate crossover video game that I’d hoped for. It’s still freaking awesome, though. The campy story is a little too awkward at times and the mission structure is almost insultingly formulaic but it’s hard to care when I can watch characters from Dead Rising, Resonance of Fate, .hack//, God Eater, and a flippin’ *ton* more lay the smackdown on baddies from just as many franchises using a combat system that’s as easy to learn as it is unexpectedly deep. Plus the whole thing just looks amazingly badass in motion.
(Project X Zone – Developer: Banpresto, Monolith Soft. Publisher: Namco Bandai Games. Available on Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo 3DS version reviewed.)