Project X Zone is something of fan fiction. The thought of Capcom, Sega and Namco Bandai’s most beloved characters and franchises coming together in the one title is not something you’d ever expect to be developed, let alone unleashed out of Japan onto the English speaking market. It’s a peculiar blend of action, JRPG and strategy that strangely works despite the unusual premise it is built upon.
Developer: Banpresto, Monolith Soft
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (reviewed)
Genre: Tactical Role-Playing Game, Cross-Over Game
Release: (AUS) July 4th 2013, (EU) July 5th 2013, (JP) October 11th 2012, (NA) June 25th 2013
Despite appearing like an entirely new concept, Project X Zone is the successor to the 2005 release; Namco X Capcom for the Playstation 2 which never made it out of Japan. With Sega onboard, the roster has been further bolstered with familiar franchise favourites, as well as a couple of new characters.
If you’re wondering how on Earth a coherent plot featuring so many characters from vast universes can be written, the answer is not very well. The story is a bit of a mess, spinning a tale about time travel, alternate dimensions and baddies teaming up with other baddies to form a new organisation to do nasty things. It’s weird, hard to follow and bounces around on strange tangents that are guaranteed to leave you scratching your head.
Even the characters themselves poke fun at how absurd the story can be, providing plenty of chuckles with inside jokes on franchises, the nature of J-RPG plots, to even making fun of one another. I found it quite amusing to watch the interaction as characters teased others about their attire, or recognised other characters from across different franchises. The dialogue is clever and witty but above all else, Namco Bandai was smart enough to keep the Japanese dubbing intact to avoid unnecessary cringe-worthy moments.
But let’s be honest, you’re not here for the story or banter so thankfully the combat and faithfulness to source material is done quite well. Monolith Soft has paid special attention when deriving move sets and combos from each character, capturing much of the authenticity and their personalities in the process. It’s a delight to watch Ryu execute a Hadoken and then watch Ken follow it up with a supped-up Shoryuken to create a devastating combo. Some characters are more recognisable than others and I did find myself in a state of confusion on where certain characters came from throughout my playthrough, but if you’re well versed in J-RPG titles, I imagine you’ll get quite a lot out of the Project X Zone experience.
Gameplay is handled via missions, taking place on an isometric plain similar to the popular Fire Emblem series, but that is where the similarities end. Whereas Fire Emblem: Awakening is all about strategy and planning, Project X Zone takes favour in over-the-top combos executed with style. On face value, it can appear like a shallow button-mashing experience at first, but with some well-placed timing and careful move selection, a mish-mash team of franchise veterans are capable of stringing together some spectacular combo chains and air juggles that rarely gets tiring to execute.
Teams generally comprise of a pair, however a solo unit can be added to create a trio squad. Upon engaging an enemy, the pairs take up the initial attack; with the option to call upon a solo unit should one be available. Placing a squad adjacent to another squad allows the active team to call upon the stand-by units resulting is a splash of special effects as a blur of angry fists pound a poor enemy unit into oblivion. The tutorial style pop-up messages at the beginning of the campaign doesn’t particularly paint a clear picture of what can be accomplished in Project X Zone, but that is largely due to how diverse the deceptively simple title can be. This is one of a rare breed of titles where you’ll want to actively engage more enemies just to experiment with the huge assortment of character combinations.
Despite being a 3DS exclusive title, the touch screen is fairly under-utilised. During battles, it provides a heads-up reference for move sets but given characters don’t tend to have too many combo strings to select from; and the effectiveness of each combo is quite similar in damage, it isn’t an essential inclusion.
For all Project X Zone’s shortcomings, it excels in the combat department above many others. The clear vision and homage to each of the character’s original titles will please many fans and may even help most forget about the convoluted storyline at its foundation. Although to Monolith Soft’s credit, I’m not sure how you would write an engaging story with so much back-story and source material to sift through. If you’ve played Project X Zone and think you could write better, I’d love to hear about it.
Project X Zone is an admirable effort and definitely won’t be for everyone. It lacks depth in the story department and can feel a bit dragged out towards the end, however there’s some solid groundwork in the combat design to keep players coming back for another slog. Those with little appreciation for J-RPGs may want to give it a miss, particularly if you’re not too well versed in Namco Bandai, Capcom and SEGA franchises.
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.