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Project X Zone

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Monolith Soft
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

On some level, it is amazing that Project X Zone even found its way to the US. A SRPG featuring characters from several Namco Bandai, Sega, and Capcom franchises, the game is wildly different from what is usually released in the states. Then thereís the management of copyrights for all of the involved parties, which Iím sure was a fun time for all involved.

As cool as it is to see a stateside release, it doesnít take long to realize why this sort of release is more common. This is a game developed with fans in mind. The gameplay systems are okay, though if you arenít a fan of any of the represented games, they arenít good enough to sustain the experience for very long.

Aside from seeing which character will pop up next, one of the most exciting aspects Ė at least for me Ė of Project X Zone are the insane combat animations. The game is not shy about making sure every attack is packed with pyrotechnics. Even basic attacks aim for shock and awe. Fireballs, lasers, giant Anime-styled sword swipesÖ. theyíre all here and explode on the screen with each button press. Itís insane! A few attacks run for a little longer than they probably should, but at the same time, theyíre so crazy it is hard not let out an excited laugh, or at least a smile. Iím not ashamed to admit, watching special attacks unfold were what initially sold me on the game, even more than the character team-ups.

Character sprites are really nice and offer new views of familiar characters. Even characters with sprite-based iterations have been redesigned and look really cool. Itís also abundantly clear a lot of work went into making combat animation as smooth as possible. Thereís noticeable re-use of assets, particularly in levels, but that is to be expected and doesnít mar the experience.

Audio is decent. I canít remember anything really standing out, though I never found it offensive either. Just expect your normal synth music and some really over-the-top audio flourishes.


Gameplay:

Project X Zone will not go down as a great example of storytelling in games. Thereís a "story," but it is purely inconsequential and, as they usually do when youíre dealing with a combination of time travel and dimension-hopping, outright confusing. All you really need to know is an evil group has found a way to breach the borders between worlds with the intent of flooding them with evil things. Thereís more to the story, but plot points come in super slow drips and explanations come with even less frequency.

The story is overly complicated, but serves the purpose of getting all of the characters together for one big showdown. At any time, your party could include Ken, Ryu, Dante, or even (Mega Man) X. It is pure fan service, though if youíre playing with certain characters in mind, youíll either be delighted or disappointed depending on the character. For instance, Street Fighter characters show up within the first 2 Ė 3 missions, while Mega Man X characters donít appear until you are a little over the mid-way point. Thereís also likely to be complaints about characters who didnít make the cut, but with close to 50 packed into the game, it is hard to complain too much.

Gameplay takes place from the standard overhead tactical viewpoint seen in other SPRGs. Each turn, you have a limited move radius to get your units into the best possible attack position. Where Project X Zone differs from other SPRGs is combat. Once initiated, the game switches to a side view and places you in an action-focused system. Rather than choosing attacks from a menu, attacks are selected by pressing (A) and directions on the D-pad. Each attack has its pros and cons and drains from a pool of attack points. Once depleted, your attack is over.

The core gameplay is a bit light, but again the real joy and draw are the character interactions. There are a number of in-jokes around for fans of the represented series, including some famous bits of dialogue or quips about the functionally of Arthurís armor. Thankfully, the game isnít purely built on referential humor.

There is some variety of mission types. Story progression is plodding, though you at least get the chance to work within different mission parameters. Some even alter play rules, which is a nice twist. This does't happen too often -- a bulk of the missions follow the exact same script -- but it happens enough to offer a breather.


Difficulty:

Though the pages of dialogue boxes suggest some sort of tactical depth to combat, the system usually breaks down to the SRPG equivalent of button-mashing. There are intricacies to be sure, though I rarely found myself approaching battles with the sort of well thought-out tactics used in other SRPGs. I would get close to the enemy and unleash a flurry of hyper-kinetic attacks. But, watching the chaos unfold in a cacophony of fireballs, laser blasts, and other colorful splashes is part of the fun.

Some bosses do require a bit of strategy, though this usually comes down to making sure to move injured units out of harm's way or smart use of the XP gauge, which is used for either powerful attacks or to revived downed allies. Most, if not all, of the difficulty comes from the gameís need to slam you with enemies. Battles are never short, and just when you think youíve managed to clear out a horde, another is quickly introduced. On the plus side, most enemies fall to one attack, making the absurd attack animations even more rewarding, though the fun of plowing through multiple waves of enemies for 30+ minutes only lasts so long.


Game Mechanics:

Up front, Iím sure there are several, deeper systems at play in Project X Zone that I flat out didnít notice (or likely) understand. Heck, that was apparent from the multiple text boxes tossed out during the first dozen or so missions. At the same time, I was able to blast through most of the game without issue sticking to a handful of basic tactics, so while I would love to offer painstaking analysis, I can only go with what I used.

At its base level, all you really need to understand is how to move and pull off attacks. These are incredibly easy tasks to perform and shouldnít trip anyone up. The tutorials do an okay job of explaining different aspects of combat, but are a bit verbose and unwieldy. If you are intent on ferreting out the gameís more intricate mechanics, youíll either need to replay the tutorials, seek out online guides, or just figure them out yourself.

Combat basically comes down to figuring out how to best manage your various meters. You can button-mash through battles, though eventually youíll want to play around with different attack combinations. A series of all-powerful attacks sounds like a good idea, but economically you can probably accrue more damage with a series of light and medium attacks. Figuring out how to juggle enemies and knock them off their feet is also a key strategy, especially when facing bosses. Multiple waves of enemies drags down pacing, but at least they offer multiple chances to figure out combat strategies.

Most characters fight in pairs. On the map, the duos move as one unit and, truthfully, act as one unit during combat. Things get interesting when you add single units to the established pairs. The additional character adds an additional attack type, usually opening up the door for the aforementioned juggle combos. The added help also allows you to fill up your unitís "Cross Point" gauge, leading to even bigger (and flashier) attacks.

Attacks are further enhanced by a unitís proximity to other units. Much of the strategic element involves positioning as many units around a single enemy unit as possible. If all are adjacent, theyíll combine attacks, dishing out more damage than usual. Keeping units nearby also allows you to quickly revive downed units, but at the cost of some of your power meter.

Project X Zone is fan service, pure and simple. Strategy fans will likely be turned away by the somewhat basic strategic gameplay and focus on more action-based combat, but fans of the represented franchises will absolutely love the character interactions and over-the-top battle animations.

*Note: Project X Zone is available as a boxed copy as well as a download on Nintendo eShop. Download version reviewed.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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