Except for a few games, the majority of the cross-series games have been relegated solely to Japan. To that end, when Namco Bandai announced Project X Zone's Japanese release, most decided to forget about the title due to the myriad of legal complications that would arise due to Namco, SEGA and Capcom's various characters and music involved. It came as quite a surprise when the company announced their plans for localization; many were shocked to say the least. With over 60 different characters mixed with a strategy RPG, the nagging question is: how does it all work?
Par for the course for this type of mash-up, the story in Project X Zone is pretty forgettable and downright confusing at times. The core of the story is pretty easy to understand: an object called the Portalstone has been stolen which causes the various heroes and villains to randomly jump through different dimensions and time periods, with new characters being introduced every so often after each jump. Things start to approach absurd levels when characters begin to double-cross each other and the heroes blindly jump from dimension to dimension confusing themselves and the player at the same time.
Since this is a mash-up, Project X Zone includes a surprisingly thorough "Crosspedia", which is periodically updated with entries on the heroes and villains after each stage. So if you aren't familiar with characters from .hack or the Japan-only recent Shining entries, the game does a good job of keeping you updated. And for those familiar with the various characters backgrounds and quirks, the game does an amazing job of poking fun at each and every one of them.
To give a few examples, Dead Rising's Frank West never fails to take a snapshot of every female he comes across and Endless Frontier's well-endowed Kaguya always has at least one person making a mention of her clothing and mentionable assets. It all does a great job at highlighting just how absurd the character tropes attached to them are when they're placed in a more real-world setting.
As far as the gameplay goes, it's strategy RPG-lite. Stripping away the usual aspects such as an overworld map and shops, Project X Zone goes straight from map to map with dialogue spliced in between to break up the action. Somewhat similar to the recent Nintendo 3DS Fire Emblem: Awakening, characters are paired up together, usually by series, and move about the grid-based map to dispatch enemies.
Unlike Awakening, however, battles required inputting commands to deal damage. There's a combo system involved, so players who can successfully juggle enemies will get more EXP and XP (more on these later) than someone who merely mashes buttons. Even more EXP and XP can be gained by having another unit close enough to join in a combo attack or having a third solo character in the current team. Either option is required to boost the gauge above 100 percent, which becomes critical later on in the game when enemies begin to have absurd amounts of HP.EXP is pretty much what you expect, it increases your level and gains you new skills. However, there's also XP, which is what differentiates Project X Zone from other SRPGs. When attacked by an enemy, stocked XP can be used to counter or defend an attack, with each action requiring a specific amount of XP to be used up. Of course, players can decided to just eat the attack outright and save XP at the cost of taking a larger hit.
But once the team reaches 100 percent EXP is where the fun begins. By pressing the Y button, the team can execute a flashy super attack that usually draws on the titular special attack animation from each character's game alongside an animated cut-in, which for most of the more endowed female characters usually has some sort of jiggle or other fanservice-y animation.
Speaking of animation, the game's overall graphics range from serviceable to exceptionally well-done. The maps aren't much to speak about, but the character animations in battle are absolutely wonderful. Each character is done using hand-drawn sprite animation and they are exceptionally fluid in motion.
As far as music goes, it's forgettable for the most part outside of the game-specific themes, although sadly some of the themes were replaced in the localized version due to licensing issues. The voices were kept in their original Japanese voices to cut down on costs, but most players who are picking up this type of game would prefer this over English voices anyway.
Sadly, most of the chapters follow the exact same formula. The characters arrive at a new locale and wonder what happened (even though they just had the same thing happen a few chapters ago), enemies show up, new characters show up and a battle starts. Early on the battles take 15-30 minutes, but later on in the game the enemy HP gets padded quite significantly and battles usually take upwards to an hour to clear. Repeat this process about forty times with some alternating clear conditions and you begin to see a pattern.
As you play through Project X Zone, there's quite a bit of repetitions. The funny thing is, that it never seems to get that tiring. Perhaps it's because the animation, character banter and in-battle gameplay were of such high-quality. Considering most of these crossovers are a complete drag, making the experience fun is an achievement in and above itself. However, there are quite a few elements that could be better, such as the music and the lack of depth, and they stop Project X Zone from really standing out on its own as a contender on this genre.
|For fans of the games featured, it's a real treat.|
|The sprite animation is exceptionally well-detailed.|
|Not too much had to be removed due to licensing.|
|The story is a complete mess.|
|Gameplay gets repetitive if you play for long spurts.|
|Later battles have insane amounts of enemy HP padding.|