Nintendo 3DS game 'Project X Zone' from Namco Bandai.
Nintendo 3DS game 'Project X Zone' from Namco Bandai.
Some video games are created to tell a story. Others to make a statement. Others, still, simply for the heck of it. Project X Zone, a crossover title featuring iconic characters from Namco-Bandai, SEGA, and Capcom, is definitely the latter of those - and it's just as fun as it is ridiculous.
So, what do you get when you combine SEGA with Capcom and Namco-Bandai? A turn-based strategy RPG, of course! Not the result you were expecting? Same here, though it winds up being a rather good product.
As a SRPG, Project X Zone probably won't get confused with better-known titles in the genre such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the Disgaea series, but it goes well along side those titles. Characters move about upon a grid, as do enemies, with (light) strategy being employed in terms of character positioning and use of "XP" - a rechargeable resource that allows for the use of out-of-combat skills and in-combat super moves. Other that this little bit of top-down gameplay, the rest exists within its very simple to operate combat sequences.
Each on-screen character is actually a team of two once combat ensues. This team executes a preset assortment of attacks based upon the user's input in a control scheme that makes the original Tecmo Bowl seem complex. While there was a worry early on that it would be unappealingly oversimplified, it actually just keeps the controls from getting in the way of the on-screen action. Besides, timing still matters when executing commands.
Outside of controlling the active two-person team in combat, there are also support characters who can be called into the fray. Each team (eventually) gets a "solo" character who comes in and temporarily becomes a third fighter on the offensive. If you've positioned your characters appropriately on the map, you will also get to call in one of the other two-person teams. In short, you can have as many as five butt-kicking characters on the screen at any one time dealing major damage to the enemy - something that's actually quite critical when facing any of the game's major antagonists.
None of the game's chapters are all that complex, however, and if it weren't for the sheer amount of fan service and cool character team-ups, things would get dull after the first couple of hours worth of play. That stated, should one of a chapter's losing conditions be meet (ie: your characters die), you'll have to play over again from your last save. While this doesn't sound so bad (assuming you save often enough), you won't be able to skip any of that already-seen pre-battle dialogue. This can get dull after a little while - especially for the longer story sequences.
Presentation is one way in which Project X Zone excels. Using a good mix of sprites, 3D objects, and hand-drawn 2D artwork, the game has an overall graphical package that not only gives it something fairly unique, it's also something that looks great when played in 3D on the 3DS. And, yes, it's good enough that it justifies that run-on sentence you just read.
Animations, whether in battle or out, are fluid and flashy. The hand-drawn animations follow suit and look to be of extremely high quality even on the 3DS' non-HD screen. As for the bottom screen, relevant information is presented clearly and simply enough that a simple glance should tell the player all he needs to know at that given time.
As for the game's audio, its soundtrack features oft-remixed versions of existing relevant video game music and works well for the title even if it won't be winning any awards any time soon. The Japanese-language voice acting also suits this game well. Probably the only complaint that could be had is that the soundtrack switches tracks a little too often during each of the game's chapters depending on who the active characters are at the time. This can sometimes be jarring - especially if the tone of those characters don't mesh too well when transitioning from one to another.
Story is easily the weakest component of Project X Zone. Sure, you could argue that the premise is actually to find an excuse to get as many Namco-Bandai and Capcom characters into the same video game as possible, but that's not what they're going for.
With a character roster that would give 'A Game of Thrones' a run for its money, the game is basically about group called Ouros Prox which had stolen a magical stone and is using it to bend time and space. The side affect that Ouros Prox wasn't counting on was the game's band of unaffiliated heroes (and anti-heroes) coming together to stop it all - even if it's just so they can go back to their respective times and places. As plot lines go, it barely holds water. But you shouldn't be playing this game for the story anyhow - just for how ridiculously fun it all winds up being. Kudos to the writers at Monolith, by the way, for doing what they could to at least keep things coherent and moving along.
Project X Zone is one of those games that newer gamers will probably enjoy, but older gamers should be able to appreciate. The various cameos of video game characters ranging from Street Fighter to .Hack, and Space Channel 5 to Mega Man Legacy all working together in this title works well to bring a smile to the player's face. Sure there are a number of omissions (the fan-favorite feline Felicia from Darkstalkers, for example), but the roster's pretty robust with characters and franchise both well-known and obscure.
What's best about this game, though, is that it's one that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's fan service that's fun to play, and that is exactly what Project X Zone was designed to be.
Version tested: 3DS
(Namco-Bandai supplied a copy of this game for review.)
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