Review: Project X Zone
GAME NAME: Project X Zone
DEVELOPER(S): Monolith, Banpresto
PUBLISHER(S): Namco Bandai
RELEASE DATE(S): 4 July 2013
Project X Zone had so much potential.
It's filled to the brim with iconic characters from three of Japan's most prolific publishers: Namco Bandai, Sega and Capcom. It features a clean, crisp anime art style that suits every character and franchise in the game. Its characterisations are brilliant, with each and every character you come across imbued with a distinct voice and personality. There's fan service galore -- including the sexual kind -- and yet, the game is surprisingly shallow. Hollow, even.
I'm not sure what went wrong. I understand that trying to create a cohesive and coherent narrative around 200+ characters is no easy task, but the story in PXZ is completely ridiculous. If you can follow it past Chapter 10 you're doing better than me. Worse than being ridiculous though, it's incredibly flimsy. Which would be fine if there was a meaty gameplay experience to support it.
But there isn't.
The premise of PXZ is that an ancient artifact -- the Portal Stone -- has been stolen from original character Mii. Mii and her "tutor" Kogoro set out to discover who stole the stone, but are sidetracked when they're attacked by monsters from another realm. Soon Japan is being overrun with monsters, heroes and villains from all manner of worlds, dimensions and universes who decide to work together to prevent the end of the world.
Seeing all the characters from so many different franchises is PXZ's greatest asset. The way characters interact and call out one-another's tropes is where the most fun is had. Unfortunately, characters are introduced at such a break neck pace -- and some are given more of the spotlight than others -- that you'll be left wanting more of some and much less of others.
A great -- and very handy -- feature included in PXZ is its Crosspedia. It gives a brief rundown of every character you come across, including what series they're from and they're history. It makes keeping up with the story a little easier, especially if you're unfamiliar with some (or many) of the characters.
The gameplay takes the form of a Tactical RPG, but it takes it almost in name only. Nearly every mission requires you to either defeat every enemy or one specific enemy. But, getting to that one specific enemy usually requires killing everything else on the map anyway, so it's essentially the same thing ad nauseum. I say it takes Tactical RPG in name only because not once did I need to use tactics. The game is laughably easy and I blew through mission after mission while barely taking a scratch.
Each chapter is presented in the typical TRPG grid formation. Each of the playable characters fall into one of two categories. Pair Units and Solo Units. Pair Units are groups of two characters such as Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, Chun-Li and Morrigan or Frank West and Hsien-Ko. Solo Units like Tron Bonne, Heihachi and Arthur (Ghosts 'n Goblins) can be attached to Pair Units and provide support during battle. When attacking, if another unit is in range they can act as an additional support.
The battle screen is presented like a 2D fighting game. Three attacks are able to be used by the Pair Unit (A, Left + A and Right + A) and if all three are successfully used a fourth attack is allowed. If a Solo Unit is attached hitting the L button will trigger a Solo attack. If another Pair Unit is in range hitting the R button will launch a support attack. In both cases, attacking simultaneously will initiate a Cross Hit. Cross Hits freeze the enemy in place and more quickly fill up the Cross Points gauge (annoyingly and confusingly labelled as XP).
Cross Points (XP) are a shared pool between all of the units. XP is spent on Special Attacks -- activated by pressing Y during battle -- which decimate the enemy, Skills and Area Attacks. Skills are activated on the map and offer a range of bonuses. Some heal allies; others increase the area a unit can move while others allow a second Solo Attack during the next battle phase.
I kept forgetting about Skills because I rarely needed them. If I needed to heal I had an over-abundance of items I'd won from battling. While the Skills are a nice idea they aren't implemented in any meaningful way. Area attacks allow applicable units to attack multiple enemies at once and cost 100% XP. There are no inputs for Area Attacks and function much like a Special Attack.
XP is also spent when enemies attack. The XP bar can be filled up to 100% when attacking -- up to 150% by utilising Cross Hits -- and spent on countering or defending incoming attacks. To counter an attack costs 20% XP and provides the chance to hit the enemy back with one attack (plus a Solo Attack if a Solo Unit is present). Defending costs 20% and reduces the damage taken while Full Defence costs 60% XP and nullifies any incoming attack. While the sharing of XP could result in some tactics being required, it doesn't. The lack of difficulty once again means that using XP willy nilly won't hinder your progress one iota.
There is fun to be had with PXZ, but the lack of difficulty or growth in gameplay over many, many hours turns it into a long, hard slog. The characters and their personalities do much to improve the experience, but can only carry the battling so far. Fans will no doubt get a kick out of it, but even they will struggle to keep up with the story and wade through the tedium of battle for too long.
Project X Zone had a lot of potential. It seems like in the midst of fitting all of the characters and fan service in though; somebody forgot to build the game.