Project X Zone Review
Fan service is not enough.
If you buy Project X Zone based solely on its mish-mash of characters from across a wide selection of franchises then perhaps you ought to consider exactly what it is you want from videogames.
It’s not enough that Chris Redfield, Frank West and that one from Shining Force – or whoever your favourite characters of choice are – all feature in a single game, because if the underlying game is utter tosh then all you’ve bought is a slideshow of videogame references.
It’s like buying a George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine because you’re a huge fan of George Foreman and not because you really like sausages.
Chances are you’ve already made your mind up about Project X Zone: you’ve seen a particular character that you remember playing as – or with – way back when and that’s it. You’re sold.
More power to you. The rest of us, however, would like a bit of depth to our games. Especially our RPGs.
Project X Zone’s Weak Combat
Project X Zone crosses strategy RPGs with fighting games, which sounds like an innovative feature but, in fact, is completely lacking in execution.
The battles themselves are reminiscent of the former, with turn-based movement and attacks to pit your motley crew of characters in a battle of many-versus-one.
Once an attack initiates, however, you’re given an option of a string of fighting game-styled moves, specific to each pair of characters.
Though the moves differ and provide particular combat options depending on the direction of the D-Pad used, there’s no real logic necessary to make use of the system.
There’s an element of timing involved to make the most of your attack turn, such as waiting for an enemy to land after an assault before reinitiating your ‘combo’ or by ensuring you use all of your available attacks to unlock the option for even more attacks.
You can also call in assists from other characters, whether it’s in the form of a support attack from nearby pairs on the strategy grid or a ‘solo’ attack from a single character ‘equipped’ to another pair.
In theory you can have up to five allies wailing on a single enemy, but it’s just a mess. There’s no depth to any of this, just a string of repetitive combos and hundreds of numbers bouncing around almost arbitrarily.
What About Project X Zone’s Strategy?
The strategy layer isn’t quite so superficial, though it does fail to provide any sense of strategy – which is kind of a problem for Project X Zone.
Confusingly you’ll earn both XP and EXP, the latter being the points used to level your characters up. The former, however, acts as a charging meter, rebuilding with each successful strike in a battle.
This XP can then be spent on using abilities. At 100% (it is possible to overcharge the meter beyond that) you can activate a powerful super move, which is unique to each pair of characters and best saved for boss characters.
But outside of battle it can be spent to initiate counters or defence, or enact abilities unique to each individual character. This could be a range boost, a damage buff or a healing effect.
It’s the closest it gets to a typical strategy RPG, but again often feels irrelevant. More often than not you’ll opt simply for striking an opponent over making use of these admittedly helpful abilities.
Things aren’t helped much by the fact that using items does not end a turn, meaning you can quite happily restore a unit’s health simply by scoffing restoration pills – any fear an opponent may have had thus washed away.
Combining The Cast Of Characters
Though enemies become tougher, there’s always a long string of filler opponents too. These weaker types never provide a challenge, but they’re a nuisance all the same.
Optional, perhaps, in the face of an enemy ‘captain’ that must be defeated each time, but what would an RPG be if you didn’t make the most of every EXP grinding opportunity?
This is made worse in later levels where the sheer number of fist-fodder means you have to sit through an untold number of turn skips before you can actually do anything.
Disappointingly even the combination of characters cannot be customised to any great length. Main units come in pre-arranged pairs – Ken and Ryu, for example – while additional Solo characters can be added.
These Solo characters – such as Vashyron from Eternity Of Fate – will be available to summon in battle and provide additional boosts but, as with the rest the system in Project X Zone, has little in the way of logic.
Project X Zone Is All About Fan Service
Being unable to handpick your favourite cast of characters to put together in a single unit impacts on the one thing that Project X Zone does do well; fan service.
And even the way that is done can be painful. The first 10 hours of the game are spent reading tedious lines of text as characters introduce themselves – and then reintroduce themselves – to one another.
The excitement behind the revelation that – say – Frank West is in the game is diluted somewhat when he is then forced to introduce himself to whichever other time-travelling companions he meets along the way.
And it’s not just Frank West. Everyone has to explain who they are, where they’re from and why they’re on the good side on more than one occasion and it gets excessive.
Sure, there are times that it is genuinely funny and knowing, such as the irritation felt by Soma and Alisa as they explain they’re God Eaters, not Gods Eaters.
But those times are few and far between; in all likelihood you’ll end up missing these moments as you quickly realise it’s far better to skip all that nonsense than wade through such repetitive dialogue.
So, no, fan service is not enough.
Project X Zone provides a threadbare strategy RPG with a selection of your favourite characters. It’s concept as a crossover is fine, commendable even, but there needs to be a game worth playing before any of that fan service really shines.
Project X Zone, sadly, fails in this regard and it’s impossible to recommend when the 3DS has been receiving such a stellar line-up of RPGs recently, least of which being Fire Emblem: Awakening – a superlative example of the genre.