Since the dawn of fiction, there has been fan fiction. That ever expanding collection of stories written by the fanliest of fans who seek to insert themselves within the worlds imagined by others. Be they quirky romps through unexplored realms, tales of woe relived through another’s eyes or discernibly more sordid tales, there is something for all within this bounty of narrative. However, there exists yet a another form of story, a culmination of the official and the not, an unholy fusion of canon and desire; the crossover. Licenced out the wazoo and born from dreams of cross promotional paychecks, these melting pots of fandom answer as many questions as they raise, as characters team up, beat down and chill out all across the collective dreamscape. Though sometimes, as it would coincidentally turn out, the universes at large may just need a team of inter-dimensional champions to best a series of equally inter-dimensional foes.
Project X Zone; yet another foray into the series hopping exploits of Capcom, a company that just L-O-V-E loves mixing and matching properties. You’ve got your Marvel vs Capcom, you’ve got Street Fighter x Tekken, you’ve got…the once strong promise of Tekken x Street Fighter, the list is…decidedly combative now that I think about it (Note: Though not the actual developers of this title, the point still stands in regards to their apparent viewpoint on character licencing). However, though not shy when it comes to showcasing violence in the old good v evil department, Project X Zone presents a more united front. As the game in discussion today is in fact the second in the X Zone series, I’m going to go ahead and assume the general premise is understood. That being said, I never actually played the first Project X Zone, so my knowledge was decidedly sparse at the beginning of this review. So bear with me if I explain details prevalent from the series’ inception, or don’t, but enjoy the ride either way.
Set three years after the trans-dimensional journey of X Zone the first, this sequel drops us smack bang into the middle of yet another grand occurrence of the Capcom worlds. After traversing back to their respective locales and resuming their non-crossover battles, our heroes and villains are suddenly disturbed by the appearance of titanic golden chains which, as you may have guessed, pierce through time and space. Thus, with Project X Zone originals Reiji and Xiaomu heading the charge, we begin the traditional RPG trope; collecting allies. Chasing after the big bad boss M. Bison, our heroes slowly but surely accrue quite a substantial roster of pals. From the clear context clues presented, a number of these faces are familiar to players of the first game, allowing for a rather quick boost to the playable ranks without an unbearable influx of story elements. As a newcomer, and general fan of anime and gaming in general, I appreciated this fact immensely. Though it is undoubtedly cool to see how characters from various series mix and match, the sheer scope of this game is prime material for origin story fatigue. Thus, after a number of spread out, yet relatively short, introductory moments, the team spends the interim of battle just bantering with each other. Okay, so they actually are trying to form a cohesive plan, but for the most part dialogue is simply an onslaught of references, jokes, quips and questionably worded threats. The long and short of it all is that this game is unabashedly one for the fans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact I rather like it, just know going into this that a grain of salt will do you wonders because if you pick up this game expecting a perilously serious tale, then you’ll probably be disappointed…and also probably didn’t play the first one.
Moving away from characterisation and the humour found within, let’s chat a little about game mechanics. Simply, and correctly, put, Project X Zone 2 is a tactical RPG. Thus, on the board of battle, your units duke it out with enemy units, basic stuff. The complexity comes from the method in which battle is performed. Cutting to a side on view whenever combat is initiated, your unit, comprised of two fighters, are able to unleash three attacks. Chosen via the directional pad, these attacks vary in their effect and thus it is up to you to find the combo that best suits your situation. For example, whilst one attack may possess a higher rank, and therefore base power, a weaker attack may in fact be better at breaking an enemy guard. The process is complicated further when you throw in additional solo units, who bolster you unit ranks to three. These solo units essentially grant a fourth attack and, when utilised in tandem with regular attacks, freeze an enemy in place and increase the damage output of your unit. That’s not even getting around to the fifth attack that become available when the EX Gauge is fully charged. If this onslaught of info is hitting you a little hard, I assure you it is intended…and incomplete, information-wise. Though you can absolutely get a handle on the mechanics of this game, the presentation of said mechanics could use a little work. Sure they spread out the reveal of battle elements over a few turns, and then later battles, but it all still feels a little dense for the start of a game. A wall of text isn’t exactly the way you want to start an adventure and having to actively seek out corollary information only compounds this. The greatest example of the flaws of this approach cam from the depiction of the multi-attack function. Though presented on a new turn, you cannot activate said mechanic until a gauge is charged beginning from said depiction. I’ll admit, I may have missed a portion of the details, but the inability to perform this particular attack method upon reading about it was confusing and went against the previous reveal/initiation of skills. This all being said, you are actually able to proceed through much of the game without the use of every possible ability, I myself did not use character skills throughout the entirety of my playthrough, without a noticeable difficulty spike. This actually leans into the strengths of this game a little, as it shows just how spoilt for choice you are, not only in characters, but ancillary abilities.
Combat mechanics aside, what stood out the most to me about this particular tactical RPG was the length of each stage. Still divided into chapters as many Japanese games are, each segment of this game contains a single board. As such, a great deal of plot progress during each battle, as new enemies enter the fray and force you to alter your approach. That being said, battles are rather predictable, generally following the same progression; dialogue – small force appears – dialogue – warp signature detected – four additional factions join the fray – real battle commences – hopefully victory. So you pretty much learn to never distribute your troops until the true fight begins. Despite this however, none of the battles ever come across as impossible to win. Though the enemy troop counter can reach ludicrous numbers, the strength of your own units, and the ability to bring an amazing amount of healing items along, you one true enemy is how long it takes to finish a stage…that and protection missions. Yeah, the one truly difficult portion of this game lands solely on the stages that add the condition that no enemy may reach a pre-determined section of the map. Should you have made poor placement decisions, get ready to start over. Luckily, that never happened to me, almost did, as I’m certain the length of the stages would have immediately lost all charm and ventured into the territory of very annoying.
As far as visuals go, Project X Zone 2 persists with a pixel based style. In addition to suiting the older characters portrayed in this adventure and the charm of their retro appeal, the overall detail presented is definitely a solid tick in the pro column. Should the chibified sprites not completely do it for you, the fully realised images of the combat phases certainly might. It’s pretty neat seeing reinterpretations of classic attacks and combinations, plus the overall insanity of each maneuver is just kinda cathartic. This is undoubtedly aided by the deluge of numbers that fly of enemies during every attack, gotta love visualised damage.
Project X Zone 2 is fun, simple as that. The premise is inherently goofy, the story is intense enough to be interesting in addition to self aware and the mechanics themselves are fun, albeit fairly well trodden. The layout of each chapter, as previously mentioned, also lends rather well to a slower burn playstyle. Positively enough however, the game never feels as if it is trying to purposefully slow you down, as the in-battle dialogue keeps you from the feeling that you have to burn through maps to actually progress, a la certain other tactical RPGs. However, as previously stated, the protection style fights were most certainly the most stressful portion of the game, as having all level progress undone by an inability to move far enough fast enough is a very real threat. So be careful, and place your troops wisely. Also, enjoy the ride. Who cares if Jin and Kazuya would never team up? Or if an upstanding lawyer would ally himself with demons? Or even if a 15th century ninja could even cope with being thrown into the future without having some kind of mental breakdown? That’s the fun of a crossover people, it doesn’t have to make total sense. All you have to do is believe hard enough, feelings-wise.
To learn about this multi-dimensional mash-up, warp on over to Bandai Namco…