Project X Zone (3DS) Review
Almost any cross over game / movie / whatever is bound to have some kind of flimsy story tying together all of these worlds and Project X Zone is no different. The year is 20XX AD (I don’t really know what that means either) and the world is in the middle of a “quiet chaos”. Mysterious dimensional portals are appearing randomly, connecting different worlds through different times. This all started happening, apparently, when the Portalstone, a treasure of the Kouryuji Family, is stolen. Mii, a member of the family, enlists private detective Kogoro to help locate the stone.
And seriously, that’s probably all you really need to know about the Project X Zone story to get a kick out of it. The game’s story is nonsensical, overly verbose, and does it’s best to explain reasons for why the characters from Dead Rising might be philandering with those from Tales of Vesperia. It’s a very, very obtuse narrative that doesn’t do much for pushing the game along. This is in a very stark contrast to the dialogue, however, which is incredibly well written. Characters make fun of the tropes and conventions of the games they appear in, and exude a kind of self-aware quality. It’s all very bizarre and yet somehow seems to work well given the context of the game. There’s some questionable dialogue that is clearly “only for Japan” but otherwise the game has a poorly written narrative with some cleverly written dialogue. A strange dichotomy, at best.
Project X Zone is basically an RPG game without the emphasis on micro-management of statistics and no in-between filler. That’s right, the entire game is battles and there’s very little to do here besides battle. There’s a good reason for this, you could argue – Project X Zone is pretty much Fanservice: The Game. The idea of the game is to play through it, appreciate the jokes, environments and interactions between favourite characters from your favourite series. That’s pretty much it! So to remove all of the in-between elements of an RPG kind of allows the developer to skip over time developing an inconsequential plot and get right down to the nitty gritty of the game – actually playing it.
The game is a typical strategy RPG – the battle field is divided into a grid, and players move across them and attack enemy units. During this phase of the battle, players can use skills as well as launch attacks on the enemy. Skills are a nice inclusion but the game is so easy that players will barely have to use them throughout the games forty or so chapters. When being attacked, players can also choose to sacrifice some of their Cross Gauge (confusingly named XP in the game) to either defend an attack, completely nullify it’s damage, or counter with one “round” of attacks once the enemy is done with its turn. Doing nothing is also an option, and allows players to build up their Cross Gauge to use in battle.
Battles themselves are set up just like a traditional fighting game, with both sides of the battle on either end of the screen. Up to three attacks can be input from three options – and using each one once within the same battle moment allows a fourth one to be input for maximum damage. To add to the frenetic nature of the game, a third character can be attached to each fighting pair to provide “support” for the player and even a neighbouring character pair can be called upon to join in too. This means you can have anywhere up to five characters on screen at once, dealing out damage and creating a frenzy. It’s an incredibly simple and yet rewarding battle system that doesn’t require a lot of skill to properly utilise.
Most of the little depth that Project X Zone has is found in this segment of the battle. It’s easy to mash ahead and just let the animation play out – but enemies are thrown into the air and bounced off walls after being attacked. Timing out your three (or four) attacks allows players to not only deal critical damage, but also maximise the hits that your combo actually connects with. To make things easier – calling in a third character or neighbouring pair and landing an attack at the same time paralyses the enemy and prevents them from moving, allowing maximum hits to be landed. Top this off with an incredibly cinematic super move (if you’ve saved up your Cross Bar) and you’ve got a few (light) decisions to make in strategizing your battles in Project X Zone.
Despite the options on offer, the biggest problem with Project X Zone is that it just doesn’t offer a challenge to the player. It’s incredibly hard to die, there’s little strategy involved in battles outside of attempting to jam as many attacks into one turn as possible and more importantly, the game doesn’t really change throughout its forty hour campaign. Sure, its main strength is its presentation and fanservice approach to storytelling and character interaction.
But at the same time it’s almost structured in a way that actively discourages huge play sessions – as getting through it quickly will no doubt bore most players to tears. It’s almost as if the developers knew the limitations and problems with the structure of Project X Zone and felt they had to over compensate by throwing what is quite literally the same mission design into the game forty two times, changing out the characters who feature in each level and then repeating ad nauseum. To be more clear – your enjoyment really depends on how vested you are in the game worlds and characters that feature in Project X Zone. Too anyone else, the game would appear to be overlong, overdone and way too tedious/repetitious.
As I previously alluded to, Project X Zone’s biggest drawcard is it’s fantastic (if not already well trodden) presentation style. Every character has been reduced to a cute and, dare I say it, charming animated sprite and they all look great too. The animation on attacks are fantastic, and the beautiful yet brief animated cutscenes that play during more powerful attacks move smoothly and beautifully. A lot of effort went into this games presentation and it’s very obvious with the final product. 3D doesn’t dramatically decrease performance either, and gives a great pop-up book effect with the two dimensional sprites.
The soundtrack is great too, though that’s largely because it’s comprised of key pieces from other games. Taking a leaf out of the Super Smash Bros. Brawl book, Project X Zone takes all of the tracks from the games that are referenced, tweaks them ever so slightly, and turns the nostalgia meter up to ten – playing them during the appropriate moment to give a heavy concentrated shot of nostalgia directly into the pleasure centre of your brain. A graphic metaphor, I know, but the music is used to great effect in Project X Zone and this is probably the easiest way to describe it. The voice work, on the other hand, is entirely untouched. That means an entirely Japanese voiced game with only English subtitles to get players through. It works well, but having grown up with these characters and being accustomed with their English voices for so long (especially the Tales of Vesperia characters), it was particularly jarring at first.
Project X Zone, overall, is a package packed to the brim with characters, locations and well written references to the games you mostly know and love. It plays relatively well, is easy to get through, and features quite a lot of content at a reasonable price too. But on the other hand, I can’t help but feel this game is a little bit lazy in its design. There’s only so far you can woo a player like me with fanservice, and after spending such a long time with Project X Zone I felt like the cracks were beginning to show just how repetitive the game is. Tread carefully, but you’re more likely than not to have a good time if you know the characters and games featured. Just don’t go in expecting something on the same level of depth / technicality as other tactical, strategy RPGs.