So many characters, from so many games!
Project X Zone is a game all about fan service. You’ll get to see Frank West and Hsien-ko team up to fight the blob monsters from Resident Evil: Revelations. You’ll witness conversations between Ryu, Jin Kazama and Akira Yuki. You’ll watch in awe as John McClane beats his enemies to death with an exploding grandfather clock (no, I’m not making this up). All these things could be considered the greatest thing ever, and that’s when the game’s more cynical type of fan service rears its ugly head, beating you back down into reality with impossibly enormous breasts and choices of clothing that would make a nudist double-take.
Summarising Project X Zone is actually rather easy; it’s a mediocre turn-based strategy game disguised as a three-way crossover title, and as such it’s hard to recommend to those of you who don’t have a fondness for Capcom, Namco Bandai or Sega. Even with the appearance of so many beloved characters, developer Banpresto deemed it necessary to include original characters as the story’s focal point. This wouldn’t be so bad if the two leads weren’t painfully forgettable.
First, there is Kogoro, who looks a lot like a homeless Apollo Justice. Kogoro is a ninja detective, which sounds awesome on paper, but his bland personality and slightly perverse demeanour are an insult to his proposed profession. The second lead character is Mii, a high-school student/sultry maid whose boobs are so unwieldy they’ve literally started spilling out of her already skimpy outfit. As her personality is packed with the charm and perks of squatting a cactus, it seems the designers were banking on her caricatured features to win us over. It hasn’t worked.
The notion of Heihachi Mishima teaming up with Chris & Jill is completely nonsensical and could honestly be dreamt up by a five-year-old.
The story, while admittedly fun, occasionally falls victim to disappearing up its own arse. Too many times, Project X Zone’s story takes itself more seriously than the premise would allow, that premise being no deeper than “the various worlds of gaming are connecting to each other via circular portals. Team up with your favourite characters and stop the bad guys.” It literally doesn’t get much deeper than that, with each stage serving as the limelight for a particular group of heroes and villains. The notion of Heihachi Mishima teaming up with Chris & Jill is completely nonsensical and could honestly be dreamt up by a five-year-old, but that’s okay; the times when the story does revel in its insanity are some of the best moments in the game, and the writing (while nothing even close to groundbreaking) really shines when otherwise unrelated characters casually converse with one another. There are some genuinely great character reveals, too. I was surprised by the appearance of Space Channel 5’s Ulala, as well as Kite and BlackRose from the .hack series.
Let’s Get Cross
Project X Zone’s gameplay is essentially divided into two styles of play. On the surface, the game takes place on an isometric board populated by your heroes and a bunch of enemies for you to kill, not unlike the perspectives found in the Megaman Battle Network series. Units are made up of a pair of characters, as well as an additional solo unit if one is available. You move in a grid-based fashion, with a blue-square radius highlighting the extent of where you can move. Each character is also surrounded by a set of yellow squares, which indicates the area in which you can attack enemies, or provide support for your allies. In addition, breakable objects and pickups also scatter the field, though utilising these is not always in your best interest, as you gain a fair amount of items from defeating enemies as it is.
Thankfully, the real meat of Project X Zone lies in what is dubbed the Cross Active Battle System. Upon initiating an attack on an enemy unit, the action zooms in to your unit’s level, where you’ll be able to string together combos to lay some serious smackdown on whatever’s unlucky enough to meet you in battle. Each unit has three combos it can initiate, performed by pressing the A button on its own or in conjunction with moving the analog stick left or right. Performing all three combos in a fight will grant you one additional attack, and you can also call in flashy support moves from units close by, or from your selected solo unit. Activating every possibility during battle results in absolute mayhem, as sprites dash around the screen with almost no rhyme or reason, but it’s immensely satisfying to watch Frank West perform a double-lariat whilst Tron Bonne unleashes an army of servbots to stampede your enemy.
Each unit can also unleash a flashy special attack when their EXP gauge reaches 100%. These lengthy, extremely detailed animations are of a similar quality to animations found in Disgaea, and are immensely satisfying to behold and never grow stale. It’s just a shame that all of your units share the same EXP gauge, so you can’t throw specials whenever you feel like it. Though this does prevent the game from becoming too easy.
Saying that, Project X Zone is not that hard of a game. Healing items are abundant and some, like the Green Herb, can heal more than one unit per use. Most enemies can also be defeated in one turn if you time your moves and supports correctly. In addition, if a unit’s HP hits zero, they can easily be revived by spending a move healing them with another unit. The game is, overall, incredibly forgiving of your mistakes and shortcomings. Objectives also rarely stray from “defeat unit x” or “you lose if everybody dies,” so Project X Zone can become a rather repetitive affair. Another major blow to the game is that it lacks depth. While units have unique moves, they all act pretty much the same way, there is nothing to differentiate units beyond some stat-boosting skills that can be applied at the cost of EXP. Enemy attacks can also be blocked or countered at the cost of some EXP, units have their turns in order of how large their speed stat is, and you can dish out extra pain to an enemy by calling in support or solo units for bonus “Cross” damage. That’s about the extent of Project X Zone’s depth, which is a shame, as its mechanics could have allowed for a challenging, thoughtful experience.
As mentioned, Project X Zone’s visuals are at least somewhat impressive. The game’s sprite art is definitely something to write home about, with all characters being lovingly animated. Aside from issues with some characters having rather caricatured features, many of the female characters are in fact respectfully presented, such as Chun-Li, Pai Chan and Ling Xiaoyu. The stages themselves are rendered in 3D, and for as bland as they often are, the texture work is at least quite refined.
The game’s sound design is exceptionally charming. Banpresto have done a great job of remixing familiar tracks from their respective franchises. Some songs will even take you by surprise; I smirked rather widely, for example, when Frank West was introduced to the tune of House of the Dead’s first stage. Voice work is exclusively Japanese, but also very competent; the voice actors have done well to make such a daft story seem marginally acceptable.
If you love franchises from Sega, Namco Bandai and/or Capcom, you will find at least something to love about Project X Zone. Presentation-wise, the game really shines through with excellent sprite work and superb sound design, though you might be put off by the emphasis on obnoxious female characters with stupidly large breasts. The gameplay also leaves a lot to be desired and grows stale rather quickly, which is sad considering the amount of effort that’s clearly gone into this title. As it stands, though, Project X Zone is nothing more than a virtual box of action figures; you’ll enjoy all the zany scenarios with various characters get themselves into, but it’s easy to get bored of the thing and move on.
Not The Breast
Project X Zone is not for everyone. It’s far from a bad game and bursts of enjoyment will permeate from it, but anyone not completely enamoured with the franchises present will have a hard time extracting any fun from this pretty, but admittedly rather shallow experience.