Cross-overs can be an extremely exciting thing by default. There's no reason why you wouldn't want to twirl your shotgun around as Dante while fighting alongside Ling Xiaoyu or Frank West. Project X Zone is the latest huge cross-over developed by Banpresto and Monolith Soft, and published by Namco Bandai with characters spanning Capcom, Sega, and of course Namco Bandai. The idea is no doubt appealing, but what could have been a blast on Nintendo's 3DS ends up being a dream only half-fulfilled.
Project X Zone is somewhat of a follow up to Namco x Capcom, a 2005 PS2 game released only in Japan. Both games are spiritually the same with a large wedding of characters from Namco and Capcom, only this time with Sega. It is a strategy RPG involving our rather large roster of characters being brought together via the "portal stone" which has ripped holes into other dimensions. The plot is as paper thin and hard to follow as it sounds, but the game seems to be self-aware and thus can be forgiven. Unfortunately the things that matter the most aren't so impressive either...
As you would expect from a strategy RPG, things are intended to be a lot more tactical than your usual turn based battle games. Units of two characters each are moved across a battle grid consisting of squares; so many of which can be traversed in one turn. There are objects to break and chests to open in the environments but all in all, the gameplay is solely to make your way to your opponents who appear in larger numbers as the story progresses. The game gives you an objective at the beginning of every battle, but it never ceases to be "defeat all enemies," which makes things pretty redundant. On the same screen, it notifies you that failure will result from your entire arsenal of characters being defeated. These obvious things are odd to be pointed out to us at the begining of every battle. You win if you beat them and you lose if you don't beat them. No real need to remind us of that.
If things sound a little frustrating so far, luckily the battles themselves are frantic and full of enjoyment. Once you reach an enemy on the grid, you have the option to attack them. If you do, the camera switches from overhead to a close up of our characters on a horizontal plane. From here, players can unleash a barrage of attacks executed from different button combinations and send your enemies flying into the air. Now, it's easy to mash each attack over and over again until your turn ends, but the game urges you to execute each attack in a timely and smart matter. The result is a satisfying flurry of blows that juggle your opponent into the air and against the wall. To make things even crazier, Each unit of two has the option to add a "solo unit" made up of only one character who drops in to initiate one attack per battle. Want to make things even more insane? Initiate a battle in the vicinity of another unit on the grid and you can call them in during the fight to initiate yet another attack on your opponent. The result of all this madness on screen along with expertly animated moves result in a rambunctious and dazzling sight to see.
What makes the battles in Project X Zone so satisfying is the fact that you need to time your attacks to get the advantage on the enemy. For example, if you happen to have a solo unit for assistance, calling that character in during your attack will initiate a cross hit which keeps your target in place as all your characters unleash their moves on it. The more you attack, the more your XP guage fills up. On the grid, the XP guage is used to do things like defend from enemy strikes and do a single counter attack, but fill it up enough and you can execute a special attack during battle. This attack is presented in an attractive cinematic sequence though keeping in the game's 2D style, remains to be a pretty sight.
It is extremely unfortunate that the battles are the only time the gameplay really shines. Back out on the grid, units have the option to use items and skills any time they want without wasting a turn. In other words, you can heal your entire party, open a chest, and attack an opponent with all the fire power you've got...in a single turn. This makes the game far too easier than it should be, especially being a more strategical RPG. Even when the game decides to ramp up the difficulty near the end, you're still left with quite an unsatisfying challenge. The simple nature of the game could work with more variety and challenge, but the strategy element actually ends up hurting the game. Battles themselves are visually dazzling, but gameplay overall feels incredibly repetitive especially considering the playing fields are generally nothing but empty space which characters can only progress over a little each turn. What ends up happening is all your characters will be in one place at one time near the end of the battle, resulting in a cluster of characters in one area with no reason to divide them out.
Outside the gameplay, the heavy anime style is welcome but not well executed. Dialogue sequences are lengthy and is enough to put a player to sleep before the gameplay starts. It's not the static images of 2D characters muttering dialogue that makes it so unappealing, it's the fact that what they're saying just isn't interesting. With a game having such a uninspired and weightless story, it shouldn't be expected of us to sit through long talky scenes of dialogue we won't care about. On top of that, the dialogue is done with Japanese voices and english subtitles. The problem here is there are only voice overs sometimes...not all the time. Other times, it's nothing but subtitles. It's unclear when voice overs are used and not used but they cut in and out seemingly randomly, and end up being just unnecessary.
Finally, one of the biggest problems in Project X Zone actually only lasts during the beginning of the game...the tutorial. Page after page after page of words without letting the player participate in between is the very opposite of intuitive. Even when the game finally lets you play after taking in a novel of information, it bombards you with more of it. This sequence far, far overstays its welcome and immediately puts a sour taste in the player's mouth right as they begin the game. By the time the gameplay starts, you're left mystified until you grasp the fairly simple gameplay that should have been presented with a fairly simple tutorial section.
An incredibly vast and impressive roster of characters and a fun, visually stunning battle system isn't quite enough to recommend Project X Zone. Overall repetitive gameplay and lengthy dialogue sequences take up most of your time with what could have been an extremely enjoyable cross-over game. The satisfaction of well timed attacks is buried underneath the game's dull grid system, and the anime style is washed out with a story you can't get behind.
+ Battles are stunning and fun
+ Roster of characters is grand and expansive
- Dialogue sequences are long and uninteresting
- Grid gameplay is repetitive
- Tutorial is incredibly unintuitive
Release date : 2013-06-25
Publisher : Namco Bandai
Developer : Monolith Soft
Gameplay : Strategy
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