Project X Zone (pronounced Project “Cross” Zone) is a game that really shouldn’t work. How do you combine characters, worlds, and storylines from dozens of games and multiple developers and throw them all together into a cohesive game? Turns out, you don’t. Don’t get me wrong–Project X Zone is surprisingly fun and satisfying considering its drawbacks. I think the best thing to do here is to explain everything that bothered me about this game, and then explain why I enjoyed it so much anyway. But first, a quick summary.
Project X Zone is a massive crossover project developed by Namco Bandai with the cooperation of Sega and Capcom, developed for the 3DS. It masquerades as a tactical game (but I’ll get to that later). There is no overworld to concern yourself with, just a series of battles, interspersed with cutscenes and story development. The plot is what you might imagine from this type of crossover: Rifts start opening up in timespace, alternate histories and parallel worlds start colliding, and a bunch of displaced adventurers and busty women try to put it all right again and get back to their respective worlds.
It plays like a standard tactics game (think Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem) with a twist. When one of your units attacks an enemy, the screen changes to something you might see in Street Fighter (remember who made this game). Your pair of units on the right, the enemy on the left, and you have the chance to input some commands. You have a few attacks in your arsenal, and timing them is important to chaining combos, keeping your enemy off guard, and doing more damage.
Okay, I know I compared the game to Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. Forget I said that. It’s completely different. There is no fulfilling sense of advancement and customization. No upgrade paths, no jobs or classes. When a character levels up…he gets stronger. The only thing is, it feels pretty arbitrary. You do more damage, but the enemies have more health. It’s basically a wash.
There also isn’t really a whole lot of tactics going on. All your characters are basically identical, which is kind of a shame, considering their incredible diversity. Their differences are mainly aesthetic. Yeah, they have “skills” like “heal everyone” or “move a couple extra spaces,” but I rarely found myself using those since they expend the same resource (XP, or Cross Points) used for crazy finishing moves that are best saved for the bosses.
Terrain doesn’t add anything to combat, there are no roles or types of units, there is no “facing” or backstabbing bonuses. Really, the only tactical element is the fact that you get to call in an adjacent unit during your battle, so you want your units to be standing next to each other. And in a game where you have 25 units on the field, that’s not so difficult to do.
Ultimately, these could be a lot more forgivable offenses if not for the insane repetition of the game. Let me paint you a picture. A giant portal opens in, say, a water fountain. Everybody is confused. Characters discuss the situation. The characters then get pulled through the portal and it closes behind them. Oh no! And look, now there are monsters! So you start fighting them, but then OH NO! A sexy boss! Up to some mischief! So you fight the boss and–yay!–kill her. Then, while reveling in your victory and collective awesomeness…another portal opens. Do that 40 times and you pretty much have a general idea of the game. So while the combat is actually insanely fun (and seriously, it’s wonderful) it gets a tad repetitive. Okay, more than a tad.
Now that I have that out of the way, I can talk about what I love about this game. The combat truly is fun and satisfying. It’s chaotic, and not in a bad way. Your units come in pairs, so they execute their attacks at the same time, and in addition, you can often call in extra Solo or other Paired units–sometimes both. So you’ll have up to five characters flying across the screen as you perform multiple attacks in fast succession. Critical hits aren’t random–they are earned based off of your timing in planning your combos.
The best part of this game is the presentation. With the multitude of franchise-spanning characters, it might be easy for them all to get lost in the fray. However, to Project X Zone’s credit, every character stands out. They have personality, and they’re written well. The dialogue is at times actually very funny (although heads up, it’s pretty heavy on the sexual innuendos). It’s incredibly entertaining, actually, to watch all of these characters from all over time and from different worlds collide and interact with each other.
The game becomes especially rewarding the more games you’re familiar with. The game does include a “Crosspedia,” which is a nice reference to fill you in on the characters you don’t know. But the story and dialogue are full of references, nods, and homages to other games.
The plot is ridiculous, but what can you expect? There’s really no way to craft a plot incorporating all of these games and their respective characters. In fact, the writers seem to be fully aware of the ridiculousness of the game and its story. Characters often make reference to how chaotic things are and how confusing everything is–a clever nod to the player, who is firmly in the same boat. It’s not a story-driven game. Project X Zone is a love letter to the games it draws inspiration and characters from.
In Other Words
Simply put, Project X Zone is a fun, rewarding game. It isn’t a deep tactical game, and it isn’t a deep RPG. It is, however, quite an entertaining romp with a great combat system and well-written characters that carry a lot of charm and humor. It’s not a game for everybody, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who is familiar with Namco Bandai, Capcom, or Sega (and I’d imagine that’s a lot of people). Even if it’s just so you can see Dead Rising’s Frank West creepily snap photos of all the well-endowed women from your favorite games.