It is unusual for a game like Project X Zone to see a release in the West. Developed by Monolith Soft and featuring characters from Namco Bandi, Sega and Capcom, this strategy role-playing game contains faces that are largely unknown outside of Japan. It is even more remarkable considering Namco X Capcom, the titles spiritual predecessor, was not released in the West either. With the region lock in full force on the 3DS, many thought we would never be able to even play this game. Some may have even prayed that it would never arrive after the calamity that was Cross Edge. Somehow though, Project X Zone made its way overseas, but was it worth it?
The plot begins by introducing two original characters, a tutor and student pair named Kogoro and Mii, who find themselves under assault from thugs of an organisation known as Oros Phlox. Given that half the cast will be unfamiliar to a Western audience, it can take a while before it becomes obvious that the story revolves around these two. It is unhelpful that a third of the battles in the game serve to explain how various characters from a variety of alternate pasts and futures have managed to run into one another. Portals connecting the worlds together pull the host of characters between locations as the group attempt to prevent Oros Phlox from achieving their goals.
The story takes a long time to progress as each new addition to the team is introduced and then must be protected in the upcoming battle. Highlights come from the interactions between the characters. For example, Frank West of Dead Rising fame will take photos of the scantily clad female characters in the same way he could in his own game. This highlights how individual personalities shine through if a player is familiar with the game the characters are from, though this is let down by fact that Westerners will be unfamiliar with some of the games that feature characters in Project X Zone.
Combat in Project X Zone uses a familiar overhead map found in many tactical RPGs. The unique twist to this games begins when a player engages an opponent in a fight. Each unit on the map is actually a pair of fighters, often from the same series, who will land combos on the enemy as directed to by the player. Simply holding a direction and/or just pressing the ‘A’ button will perform a basic attack. Solo units can be grouped up with a pair so that they may be summoned during battle. A nearby pair can also execute a support attack to further damage an enemy. Players are limited to the number of basic attacks that can be performed during a fight, but as a unit levels up, they gain different combos and the ability to perform more attacks each fight.
As a unit lands hits on an enemy, or when they are attacked themselves, they build up an XP meter. This should not be confused with EXP which represents a characters progress towards its next level. XP is spent on using skills, and a full meter can be drained to either attack all enemies around the unit or to execute a special attack during a fight. Special attacks represent the signature moves of each pair, such and Ken using a spinning vertical flaming Shoryuken before passing an enemy off to Ryu who hits them with a Shinkuu Hadouken. Fights usually boil down to juggling an opponent in the air to prevent them from guarding against attacks while building up the XP meter.
A single map can take up to an hour to clear, as many require each enemy to be defeated. No easy task when a player is outnumbered three or four to one. Some reprieve is gained when the goal is to kill a named enemy unit, but as there is no way to grind levels, clearing all additional enemies is the only way to earn extra experience. This is not required however, as the game is fairly easy. Enough healing items and skills are at the players disposal to prevent the game from getting anywhere near challenging.
During dialogue scenes characters are represented by still images, though battles have fully animated 2D pixel art. It can get a little hectic when five characters are bouncing around the screen, but the is a certain enjoyment that can only be attained by watching Mega Man, Kite and Ulala attack an enemy at the same time. When executing a special attack the game uses some gorgeous visuals to show each character preparing their move, though for the ‘well endowed’ women this is little more than fan service. Enemy sprites are constantly reused throughout the game and given that thousands of enemies will the killed during a playthrough, the lack of variety will get old fast.
Each friendly unit on the map is represented by only one of the pair in the group, and their theme music will accompany them during their turn. For Chun Li and Morrigan, this will be the BGM of the China stage from Street Fighter II. This is carried over throughout the game with each world using a piece of music from its own game. Project X Zone Has a fair bit of voice acting – all in Japanese. Not surprising considering some of the characters never had any English voice actors.
Project X Zone is a fun mashup of many different games that will interest fans of the tactical RPG genre, providing they recognise a few of the playable characters. Battles are a slog at times and will clock the game in at over sixty hours, but compared to other recent crossover titles, this is far more enjoyable.