Developer: Monolith Soft / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games / Played On: 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Teen [Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes]
It’s easy to write off Project X Zone as nothing but fan service. After all, it is a crossover game featuring characters from several Capcom, Sega, and Namco Bandai franchises. But beyond the flashy moves and familiar setting there’s a strategy RPG that will appeal to fans of the genre as well.
For starters, many popular characters from each company’s most known series’ make appearances in the game. Capcom is represented by the likes of Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter, Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and Dante from the Devil May Cry series, just to name a few. Tekken’s Jin and Xenosaga’s KOS-MOS are among the representatives from Namco Bandai’s flock, and Ulala from Space Channel 5 and Zephyr and Leanne from Resonance of Fate make appearances for Sega.
Even if you don’t know every character that pops up (as will be the case with most players, myself included) it won’t be long before a familiar face is introduced. An encyclopedia is available to give background information about every character in the game so you can easily find out which game a particular character hails from. Though the encyclopedia is helpful, admittedly the game is at its best when you know each character; knowledge of the source material is directly proportional to how much you enjoy the game.
Perhaps because of the vast amount of storylines the game tries to weave together, the overarching story isn’t that remarkable. A strange force is opening up vortexes drawing both good and bad characters from one universe into another. The plot thickens as you progress through the first forty chapters but never amounts to anything more than a very basic means to have all the characters in one world. Though the story is bland, the dialog between characters is fantastic. For instance, Jill and Chris from Resident Evil speak of Umbrella, while Frank West of Dead Rising fame snaps pictures in hopes of getting the next big scoop. Characters are genuinely funny and have witty dialog.
Unfortunately, gameplay in Project X Zone is limited, especially when compared to other strategy RPGs available on the 3DS. Each chapter follows the same formula: you encounter a group of bad guys (which also hail from other game series’) and you have to take them out before they defeat all of your units. On occasion the chapter objectives slightly vary, having you defeat a specific enemy or preventing a certain unit from falling in battle, but ultimately the gameplay goes unchanged.
The game utilizes a traditional strategy RPG format not unlike that of the 3DS’ own Fire Emblem: Awakening: units move a predetermined amount of spaces on each map, attack enemies, and/or use items. Where the game differs from others in the genre is in the way you control each unit. Most units are comprised of two characters called a Pair Unit. Ryu and Ken, for example, form a Pair Unit, which moves as one collective force on the battlefield.
When engaging in combat, both allies in the Pair Unit attack the enemy at the same time. Outside of Pair Units are Solo Units which, if you couldn’t tell by the name, are made up of just one character. Rather than walk around by themselves, Solo Units join a Pair Unit before battle, effectively forming a group of three combatants. Some strategy is in involved in this process, like pairing a stronger Solo Unit to a weaker Pair Unit, but it’s not anything super in depth.
Also, by positioning your units on the battlefield next to one another you can call on support from the adjacent unit. This boost in attack power gives relevance to unit placement on the map, adding another layer of strategy to the mold. Overall, the combat should feel familiar to strategy RPG fans, with a small tweak that attempts to keep the action fresh.
With all of these awesome characters fighting at once, you’d expect the combat to be extraordinary. Actually it’s quite simple… almost too simple! In combat you have a small selection of attacks to perform by hitting the A button in combination with a direction on the Circle Pad. Once you input the command, the attack combos happen automatically. While it’s definitely cool to see Ken throw Hadoukens, Tron Bonne summon her Servbots, and Jin throw down some kicks, having it all happen without any real input from you isn’t satisfying.
The one factor that keeps the combat from being mindless button mashing is timing. If you execute your attacks so that each hit lands right before the enemy hits the ground you do bonus damage. These critical hits are always worthwhile because, not only do they do extra damage, they award bonus experience at the end of combat. It’s a nice way to keep you more involved, but it’s not enough to make you feel like you’re actually playing a game.
As you duke it out with your enemy, your Pair Units will earn Cross Points. Cross Points are necessary to perform a variety of actions, including defending and countering attacks, unleashing devastating super moves, and even using some items. Knowing when to bank and when to use your XP is crucial to success, but despite the complexities of Cross Points, the gameplay still feels shallow. You won’t find an engaging battle system or in depth customization as you might find in other games in the genre.
The soundtrack is comprised of remixes from the games the characters come from. One stage has Chun-Li’s theme playing in the background, and the next stage features music from the Valkyria Chronicles series. Music fans will surely appreciate hearing some of their favorite tunes again. Visually the game stands out; pixilated versions of each Pair Unit populate the battlefield only to be replaced by more detailed sprites when in battle. Big and colorful portraits accompany each character during the story sections, making for a good amount of visual variance.
Project X Zone isn’t a game for everyone. A great deal of fan service in the game leaves newcomers underwhelmed, but gamers with prior experience with the referenced franchises will appreciate Project X Zone all the better. Though actual gameplay is on the lower end, witty writing and impressive visual variety ensure your time spent with the crossover strategy RPG is memorable.
+ Huge cast of characters from several popular franchises
+ Clever banter between characters
- Combat is uninvolved
7 / 10