The innocuous title of the recently released strategy RPG, Project X Zone, for the 3DS belies the massive multi-company crossover that it is. Bringing together characters from Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega, this game is a successor to two different games: Namco X Capcom and Super Robot Wars OG Saga: Endless Frontier. The former title was never released or localized in the US, to the consternation of the small cult-following the game acquired on the internet. Project X Zone (the ‘X’ is pronounced ‘cross’) performs the duties of a crossover game admirably while also providing a generally enjoyable experience. The gameplay never reaches the sublime, but to the patient gamer, the gameplay never really becomes offensive either.
The gameplay of Project X Zone is a curious mixture of a grid-based strategy RPG map and real-time combo-based attacks. Rather than simply show attacks play-out in close-up cut-scenes such as in Fire Emblem, players have to string together attacks using simple inputs. Each unit has up to five attacks and an ultimate attack and can have a paired unit and nearby unit each attack as well. Every unit has a totally unique set of attacks, so the potential for combo variation and experimentation is quite strong. The attack inputs are never more complicated than a button press and a single directional input, so the challenge of creating a good combo comes from timing attacks properly and using support attacks to hold enemies in place to maximize damage and meter-building. The combo-meter fuels abilities, ultimate attacks, and multi-target attacks.
While the gameplay mechanics themselves offer a lot of depth and manipulation, the setup of the maps and the overall difficulty do not require a high degree of mastery at all. A halfway decent player can make it through the first third of the game without actually understanding the combo mechanics or making an effort to use abilities and items wisely. The challenge will definitely ramp up on such players later, but strategy RPG veterans that keep themselves abreast of all the intricacies of the gameplay will find the game somewhat easy. New game plus ramps up the difficulty, but players that find the game too easy might not have the patience to get through all 40 something levels to unlock it. Levels are quite long, easily taking an hour at least near the end of the game. This provides a lot of playtime, but some of the longer levels can feel like a grind.
The story of Project X Zone is about as good as one could expect from a story with dozens of characters from universes with widely varying tones, styles, and rules. The spotlight gets split fairly evenly between all of the characters in the party and besides the few “split the party” levels, the player can use every character they currently have on every level. Characters are generally written consistently with established characterization and the interactions between characters from widely different series can be quite funny and clever at times. The plot itself is entirely a generic excuse to gather these characters and have them interact with each other. Such a plot is obviously not ideal, but it suits the game’s purposes well enough.
The textures and models are colorful and vibrant, and the attacks themselves are spectacular and flashy. Because of the spectacle of the individual attacks, players might have difficulty keeping track of the action if two attacks are going on at the same time. The resolution of textures is nothing astounding, and the models themselves are sprites, which give the game an nice classic gaming aesthetic, but will not astound anyone.
Sadly for the US audience, not only does Project X Zone lack an English language option, most of the licensed music has been cut. Even the opening vocal theme song has been cut and replaced with a rather generic instrumental sound-alike. What tracks did make it in, such as Namco X Capcom’s catchy theme song “Brave New World,” are good, but the soundtrack remains the weakest aspect of the game in the US release.
Project X Zone is unabashedly a crossover game, and that is exactly what it tries to be. The various forms of fan-service are all present and accounted for. Players will get plenty of chance to see their favorite characters in action and might even come away from the game interested in checking out the games of some of the other characters they were unfamiliar with. Players that get giddy at the thought of a Namco Bandai/Capcom/Sega crossover should definitely add this game to their “must play” list. Fans of strategy RPGs with an interest in some of the franchises represented will probably enjoy the game, but might want to wait for a price drop. Everyone else should try a demo or watch some gameplay first to get a feel for the game before making a decision.