Project X Zone - Staff Review  

X-Y-Z Affair
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
60-80 Hours
+ Amusing character interaction
+ Killing things is fun
+ Breaking stuff
- Needs editing
- Slow-moving plot
- Reuse of enemies
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   Project X Zone represents an instance when Las Vegas bookies could have made a killing by offering odds on its crossing the Pacific. Plenty of other 3DS RPGs, many of them more marketable to the world outside Japan, have stayed in their home country — not to mention Namco X Capcom, the spiritual forbear of this title. Somehow Namco Bandai went against the odds to bring this gigantic strategic character mashup overseas, and those of us who thought the 3DS's region lock would prevent us from playing the thing are now able to see what Monolith Soft concocted. Project X Zone is many things, but not all of them are ideal.

   A plot involving characters from four companies is not readily accessible to those who do not recognize at least some of the images on the cover, and the justification for putting them together is no masterwork of fiction. A tutor and student pair, Kogoro and Mii, is assaulted one day by a horde of goons belonging to the organization Oros Phlox. The pair is quickly introduced to other characters also experiencing the machinations of Oros Phlox, which has succeeded in breaching the boundaries between various worlds so that some of their denizens can intrude elsewhere. Gradually the disparate teams come together into one massive force which has the job of killing the reincarnated hordes of evildoers from multiple worlds, and preventing the central goal of these nasties from being realized.

   Project X Zone's narrative strength lies in the goofy things characters can say to each other, some of which occur in mandatory text but mostly in battle exchanges. A few examples are: Heihachi's adversarial status results in numerous amusing moments, Ulala's personality meshes oddly with most others, the tendency of Arthur's armor to go missing is nonplusing to most, and Dante is apt to spout unexpected lines in the face of danger. Namco Bandai's localization is full of in-jokes that will only be comprehended by those who are familiar with the original games of these characters, and aside from a few typos is well-written. The overall story takes its sweet time getting anything accomplished, with a great deal of dialogue being devoted to simply reconnoitering the area whenever a new location is reached. It has plenty of amusing tangents along the way, but the overall tale takes a very long time to go anywhere and has to devote much of its length to conversations with characters whose canons cannot be altered.

   Combat in Project X Zone adheres roughly to the standard of overhead tactical RPGs, but with a few twists. The biggest is that characters join in pairs as indivisible units for battle, though they can have a solo personality attached to lend extra benefits. When a pair of characters is in range of an enemy, they can attack it. This leads to a fight screen in which the player decides when to actually unleash the offensive. Early in the game each pair has only three basic attacks, but through leveling they will have access to a fourth and fifth move. The player has the option of using any combination of these individual moves in a fight, but using all the available ones will let an extra strike be delivered. The moves themselves are simple uses of the A button and one or none of the directions on the D-pad, while an attached solo character and a neighboring pair can be called in to supplement these attacks once per encounter. In a nod to the Endless Frontier games, striking the opposition charges a gauge that when full allows for very powerful moves that can either be delivered to a single opponent or to multiple foes in an area. It is also necessary to juggle some enemies in the air to prevent them from reestablishing a guard on the ground. The hyperkinetic sight of multiple protagonists bounding into the frame to sandwich an enemy with attacks stays compelling throughout. Particularly pleasant is the ability of characters to break objects that block their paths or open treasure chests without sacrificing a turn, which allows quite a bit of extra movement.

As everyone knows, being hot blooded is enough to make the human body capable of smashing any opposition, including robots and supernatural beings. As everyone knows, being hot blooded is enough to make the human body capable of smashing any opposition, including robots and supernatural beings.

   Project X Zone uses a tabulator called XP for increasing the protagonists' gauge, which is completely separate from the experience points that accrue to individual units, and is the source of all magical skills for the cast. The XP gauge also determines whether the protagonists can counterattack or defend, as when it is nearly empty characters simply have to take the hits with no recourse. Enemies have a similar gauge that increases as they deal and take damage, which dictates whether they can use their more powerful abilities. Getting hurt is rarely a disaster because most items can be freely applied to any character around the field, and even if a pair is downed it can still be revived by sacrificing the XP gauge. Several chapters in which certain characters must not fall can be more challenging when that means an instant Game Over, but enemies give up so many items that running out of healing supplies is a tiny risk.

   Outside of battle, and inside on the numerous occasions when the party has been scattered, the player can freely assign solo characters to whichever pair seems most fitting. Solo characters sport unique abilities that can be very helpful, plus putting natural enemies together will often produce amusing battle conversations. The only other means of altering character performance is by giving equipment, which has a variety of useful effects. Managing these things is quick and easy, though the lack of anything deeper is unfortunate.

   Where Project X Zone falters in a big way is its unashamed recycling of assets to pad the length. Many RPGs use Looney Tunes logic for their villains, with the antagonists shrugging off all the explosives and blunt objects landing directly on their bodies in a moment, but this game is flagrantly egregious in its use of opponents who aren't even annoyed at the pummeling they've just received. Regular enemies have the decency to die but are so plentiful, outnumbering the protagonist pairs by three or four to one, that the frequency of missions in which everything must be slain becomes mind-numbing. Whenever a new type of opponent appears, rest assured that Project X Zone will employ it often enough to bore. Not too many battles outright reuse maps from earlier in the game, but those that do are doubly offensive for forcing the player to spend so much extra time in the familiar locations.

   So much time is necessary in later chapters to plow through the enemy gauntlets that Project X Zone easily passes sixty hours for completion, which is too much time when it could easily have been condensed for the better. Either reducing the overall chapter count or trimming the enemy hordes would have done the trick, while the plot spins its wheels enough that shortening it is a simple task. Monolith Soft's unnecessary padding makes playing it uninterrupted an unwise decision.

Chun-Li is a notoriously tough negotiator, and known for her propensity to get merchandising rights before appearing in another company Chun-Li is a notoriously tough negotiator, and known for her propensity to get merchandising rights before appearing in another company's game.

   Borrowing a page from the Super Robot Taisen playbook, Project X Zone reserves its good-looking visuals for combat scenes. Regular attacks are so quick that the game's use of intertitles from the solo and support participants is a welcome means of picking out the details in the sprite work, while the powerful super attacks are pretty in their own right. The recreation in tactical RPG terms of various areas from the source games of the participants is also impressive. Doubtless to keep battles moving faster, enemy attacks lack animation except in the case of super moves by bosses, though watching them be slammed around by the party's offensive is entertaining enough.

   Not a huge proportion of the mandatory dialogue passages come with voice acting, but the characters are constantly talking to each other during battle sequences. Namco Bandai opted to subtitle the performances, and the Japanese cast generally does a fine job with the enormous variety of roles, even in cases where one actor portrays multiple characters. As for the music, Monolith Soft decided to have one of the themes for a character in a group play every time control shifts to the next pair. This ensures that the player will not get bored, but on occasions when multiple pairs simply move without taking part in a fight, the effect is akin to someone rapidly changing radio stations. The quality of the compositions is not at fault though, and the broad gamut of styles accumulated over nearly thirty years of games at multiple companies ensures that getting bored is unlikely.

   When Project X Zone arrived, I was eager and immediately threw it into my 3DS expecting a glorious time. When at last I finished it over seventy hours later, my stance had become a mixed bag. It's hard to simply overlook it when a game throws the same bosses into my face six or seven times, let alone when it resurrects just about all of them for the final stage to truly test my endurance. On the other hand, having a game in which Dante can support the Sakura Taisen crew with assistance from Mega Man X and Zero when battling a woman named Selvaria from Valkyria Chronicles III is pretty darn nifty, and Namco Bandai deserves encouragement to bring further outlandish stuff like this across the ocean.

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