By Josh Speer / July 12th, 2013
|Title: Project X Zone
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Banpresto, Monolith Soft
Release Date: June 25th, 2013
Genre: Tactical RPG, Crossover
Age Rating: Teen
There are few games I anticipated playing this Summer as much as Project X Zone. A crossover action RPG with tons of action and mayhem, and characters from the Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai franchises, this is literally a game I thought we would never see outside of Japan. It just looked too insane to actually be anything but another Japanese exclusive. But, wonder of wonders, it made its way West! The question is – was it worth the wait?
First, a little background: the biggest reason that I anticipated Project X Zone so highly, besides playing in a universe that includes Mega Man X and Zero, was because of a game called Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier. Quite a mouthful, huh? Endless Frontier was released for the DS, also by Banpresto and Monolith Soft, back in 2009. It was another crazy mash-up action RPG where you played as lots of different characters. It also introduced me to a unique battle system, wherein you have access to various attacks that you can chain together to juggle enemies with accurately-timed button presses.
Though this wasn’t the very first time I had seen this sort of system in an RPG, it was a very dynamic and entertaining one. The game also introduced me to hilarious localization and banter between the various characters, a feature that makes me still love the game to this day. To make a long story short, Endless Frontier got a sequel, but only in Japan. For the next four years, I fought video game withdrawal, hoping against hope that somehow the sequel would find its way West. My prayers for a direct sequel were never answered, but they did get answered by the localization of Project X Zone, something of a spiritual successor to Endless Frontier.
Much like Endless Frontier, Project X Zone is a crossover tactical role playing game that utilizes a similar battle system, wherein the goal is to juggle the hapless monsters in midair with combinations of attacks as long as you can so that they can’t block them. The biggest difference between the two games is a matter of scope. Whereas Endless Frontier is set in one world with characters from multiple worlds, Project X Zone takes place across many different locations with a huge cast of playable characters. Even better, it has some truly classic franchises represented in it, such as the Mega Man X series, the original Devil May Cry, Super Ghouls and Ghosts, and more. The list goes on and on, but you might notice that all the games I mentioned are published by Capcom. Going into the game, those were pretty much the only franchises I was familiar with, with the exception of some recurring characters from Endless Frontier. What quickly became a draw for me was how well this game promoted and showed off the 60-odd characters in it. Though you don’t get every last detail of their lives and worlds, you’re given enough of a taste to intrigue. I quickly grew to love many characters from games I had never even heard of, which was really a cool experience!
Plot-wise, Project X Zone is a really mixed bag. It reminds me of a lot of anime and manga stories in that it conveys a lot of interesting ideas, but never fully explains them to my satisfaction. The basic premise is that something is ripping open portals between various game worlds in an attempt to do… something nefarious. This is essentially a convenient plot device, but it mostly worked for me. These portals allow for the many varied characters to meet face-to-face, and team up to combat the ultimate evil behind it. This premise also allowed for some very cool villain team ups that I rather enjoyed, such as Lord Raptor from Darkstalkers fighting with Astaroth from Ghouls and Ghosts. One of the stronger points of the plot was the character interactions. There’s a lot of talking going on, and for the most part, it was interesting, and helped define the specific characters. The text-based dialogue made sure that no one sounded like anyone else, as did the enthusiastic Japanese voice acting both during and outside battle, which is just as it should be in a game with a cast of 60 different personalities.
The first few chapters in the game, referred to as Prologues, introduce you to the battle mechanics of the game, as well as setting up the basic heroes and villains of the story. Though they do a respectable job of teaching the basics, I wish they had explained a couple of features better. Namely, the fact that there is a tutorial mode, and something amazing called a Crossapedia. Neither is exactly hidden, but the game makes use of a lot of tables with tabs for different sections, and I completely missed them the first time. All this can be accessed with a couple clicks of the X button, which is your best friend when you get confused about anything in the game. These are accessed in the Intermissions between chapters, which also serve as a set up screen to equip characters with various weapons and items, as well as to switch around who Solo units are paired up with. The Crossapedia, which I think is unique to our version of the game, details facts about all the characters and games from which they come. This feature really made me hunger to go and find out more about some of the games I had never heard of or played. Most notably, it made me want to learn more about the great characters from Valkyria Chronicles 3, Yumeria, Sakura Wars, .hack and Shining Force EXA.
Tutorial mode basically allows you to choose various teams, Solo and Support characters, and practice fighting against any enemy you have previously battled. This is very important since every team fights differently, though most attacks can be grouped into one of the following groups : Attacks that keep an enemy juggled in mid air, attacks that hit enemies that are airborne, and attacks that launch the enemy away. It is most definitely in your best interest to get down the timing of all their attacks so that you can juggle enemies efficiently. This becomes even more important later in the game, when the majority of the foes block every attack until you break their shield. Furthermore, it seemed as though the amount of damage characters inflict increased in proportion to the length of time that you juggled an enemy. Doing massive combos also rewards you with small boosts to your XP, which I’ll discuss below.
Each character eventually learns five different basic attacks, though you usually start with only three, and all are initiated with various combinations of the A button and a directional button. If you forget, they are listed on the bottom screen, and on the top screen you can see which attacks you have already initiated. By using all the attacks in your arsenal in one battle, you’re rewarded with a free attack to deal even more damage. Each time you connect, you rack up XP ( not to be confused with EXP ) that gradually builds to a maximum of 100%. This is also the amount of XP necessary to trigger a Super Attack with a press of the Y button, or a Multi Attack by pressing Start to switch from regular attacks. Multi Attacks allow you to hit up to four characters at a time instead of just one. Besides this, you can also use this XP energy to activate Skills. Skills are activated with varying amounts of XP before you initiate an attack, and can heal your characters, boost their stats temporarily or even guarantee that your attacks break enemy guards or cannot be countered.
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