Ripe with fanservice and a hefty dose of badassery, almost everyone loves a great crossover. When Project X Zone was first unveiled, we at Twinfinite could not wait to get our North American hands on something so surreal. Banpresto and Monolith Soft had decided to join forces and create a game filled with some of the most iconic characters from Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega. Yes, that would mean the scenarios of your wildest imaginations can come true as at any given time, you can witness Space Channel 5‘s Ulala teaming up with Resident Evil‘s Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine and Tekken‘s Jin Kazama and Ling Xiaoyu. It’s a wild idea that would make many salivate at the thought, but it’s imperative to realize that no matter how great of an idea anything might seem, proper and thorough execution is vital to making anything great. Unfortunately, this is where Project X Zone falls flat.
At its core elements, Project X Zone is simply a tactical strategy game. When I first saw the footage of the crazy action going on, I thought it was actually some sort of action-fighting-type game, but it’s far from it. If you’ve played 2005’s Japan-only Namco X Capcom, you’ll see that they’re pretty alike. Character units take turns moving around on the map approaching enemies and engaging in battle. Don’t let footage of the battle gameplay fool you though; all those flashy moves and effects are mostly for show as the game’s combat consists of pressing A and one direction to execute a given move, letting you watch the combat spectacle subsequently unfold. It looks cool as hell, but it won’t require much thought to pull off.
In spite of that all, the game does a very good job of adding bits of complexity to its otherwise bare combat system by encouraging the use of combos, by choosing which attacks should go in which order and when in order to keep your enemy in the air as long as possible. There are also Cross Attacks that occur when multiple characters attack and enemy simultaneously and the enemy is stunned. These aren’t exactly difficult to pull off though, as you can easily bring out both assist parties at any time and have five characters go and unleash an attack at once. It looks messy and you won’t know what is going on at all, but at least you’re dealing damage.
The character stats are also something to look at and micromanage for added complexity, but it never seems to make a huge difference for the majority of the game. It’s not until about three-quarters into the game that there is some bit of challenge and good use for restoration items. Because there is no in-game store, items have to be used wisely since they can only be obtained from enemies or by breaking items in the field. Even then, with all these factors, there is no feeling of risk that makes victory that much more rewarding.
When compared to other tactical turn-based strategy games on the 3DS like Fire Emblem: Awakening, you can tell that there is a severe lack of tension on the battlefield in Project X Zone. The position of your characters means little to nothing for the first half of the game, which leaves you wondering where all the strategy is. It’s a grind to get through, but even as the game progresses, challenge only arises in the sheer number of enemies. The game just doesn’t have the elements to make a tense and rewarding experience when most missions feel exactly the same with the only consequence being having to start all over when you forget to save 40 minutes into the battle.
It might seem like a disappointment to see the potential of so many great characters being squandered on a game with lackluster gameplay, but I imagine that is a feat that is tremendously difficult to pull off. Likewise, the story in Project X Zone is even more of a tragedy. I imagine the writers were struggling to somehow bring so many different characters from different universes together, so the result is a plot rife with holes. Everything seems to happen for no apparent reason, whether the characters appear in some location, meet a certain person, fight some creature, or anything else; every chapter of the story is just another excuse to boast nostalgia and fanservice. Chris Redfield even uses the “Jill Sandwich” joke incorrectly. Some of the dialogue is pretty clever, but a lot of it is just forgettable or sometimes infuriating, in the case of Neneko from Yumeria, who uses the words “it is” and “really” at the end of her sentences for no reason whatsoever. It makes absolutely no sense, and rather than being cute, it’s just downright stupid. I’m not trying to be picky, but if half of a game is going to consist of dialogue and plot, it should be good. At least the translations are excellent.
If you play Project X Zone to see these characters interact and battle together, there is plenty to love though. Plot aside, certain teams have character-specific dialogue that pays nice homage to their respective series. If there are any characters you’re not familiar with, there’s a huge “Crosspedia,” which is an in-game encyclopedia containing details about every character, villain, enemy, and organization anyone makes reference to.
Project X Zone may not be a very satisfying game to play, but the fanservice may be enough to do a few fans in. I know I was absolutely giddy having Jin, Xiaoyu, and Alisa Bosconovitch fighting alongside Chun Li and Morrigan Aensland. The developers definitely made sure to keep the characters just as badass as they ought to be, so naturally, the animations are stellar. Many special attacks are just chockful of vibrant effects, making each of them a treat to watch. You may be watching them very often, so they might get a bit old, but they’re still a sight to behold.
Similarly, the music and locales stay faithful to their respective games and is sure to please the fans of each series. The characters look as good as ever and everything sounds great. My biggest gripe though is how horrendous the character designs are for the Project X Zone original characters. Even as the protagonists of the game, their outfits are just downright tragic. Some of the other characters might point out how strange their outfits are at times, but it doesn’t forgive how much of an eyesore they are, complete with high contrast reds and yellows. Nothing makes sense about them, from their unconventional outfits to their weapons. Maybe someone out there will like them though, even terribly written and designed.
If you’re willing to shut off your brain for a while and just watch your favorite characters interacting and attacking things over and over, then Project X Zone is probably for you. However, 3DS owners looking for a deep and rewarding strategy game should look elsewhere. This is a game that boasts a lot more style than substance and never really changes, even as the game progresses through it’s 40+ hour adventure. For what little gameplay variety it has, I was really hoping it wouldn’t be so long. There is just a ton of padding for the sake of showing the player every stage, song, and character from every licensed series. It boasts a confusing and derivative story that is just stretched out to excuse its price tag of $39.99. Project X Zone has superb animation, bouts of nostalgia, fanservice, and a pretty enjoyable combat system, but there is little else of value beyond that. This one is probably strictly for those who are already fans of the showcased series.
[+Superb animations][+Brimming with fanservice and nostalgia][+Good soundtrack][+Unique and enjoyable combat system][+Plenty of great characters][+Commendable efforts to add complexity][+Deep in-game encyclopedia][-Battles can turn into an on-screen mess][-Repetitive][-Confusing and generic plot][-Too much padding][-No real tension or challenge to make gameplay rewarding][-Not enough variety to warrant the pricetag][-Neneko]