Before I go into detail about Project X Zone, let me first clarify something. I love crossovers. Video game crossovers, movie crossovers, book crossovers, cartoon crossovers, crossovers that bring together two completely different mediums. I love ‘em all. When Dissidia: Final Fantasy came out for the PSP 5 years ago, it was like a dream come true. Finally, after 20 years, there was a game that brought together characters from different Final Fantasy games. The fun fighting aside, it was even more fun watching the different characters interact even if the game’s plot and writing left something to be desired.
And that’s what I love about crossovers. Seeing characters from different “universes” interacting. Crossovers tend to highlight the similar themes across different stories as well as the differences between them. I find it all incredibly fascinating.
So when Project X Zone was originally announced, I was pretty excited. But considering the fact that its PS2 prequel, Namco x Capcom, was never released outside of Japan, I wasn’t very hopeful. I figured the game would have to be dubbed (ultimately, it wasn’t), and finding a voice cast for such an insane amount of characters would probably be crazy expensive. Plus, was there even demand for this kind of game outside of Japan? (Or in Japan, for that matter. Apparently the game didn’t sell all that well in Japan.)
Somehow, however, the impossible happened. I heard that the creator of the game expressed a strong desire for the game to be released outside of Japan. I’m not sure of the truth of this, but if so, I’m quite thankful. I’d complained quite a bit about the game not getting a release here, so when it did, I decided that I just had to get it. I preordered it without playing the demo. The initial impressions that I heard from sites and some friends weren’t very favorable. But as a fan of JRPGs for years, I’ve long since learned to ignore game reviews. It’s for the best, in the end.
Project X Zone takes over 40 characters from Namco, Capcom, and Sega franchises and puts them all into a strategy RPG setting. Individual units consist of two characters. Each unit can also be paired with a “solo unit” – a lone character who acts like an assist in a fighting game (think Marvel vs. Capcom 3). The game itself consists of over 30 chapters, each one comprised of a battle (think Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem). Characters move around the stage on a grid and attack enemy units when moved within range of them.
Once an enemy’s targeted, the real part of the battle system begins. The actual combat takes place on a separate screen where the player’s job is to use the various attacks (a total of 5 per unit) at a given unit’s disposal to juggle the enemy in the air in order to do as much damage as efficiently as possible. Considering the crazy kinds of attacks that characters in the game are capable of, this leads to some amusing and impressive displays. Characters make use of weapons ranging from machine guns to swords to… grandfather clocks.
This is where a lot of people take issue with the game. Every unit has at most 5 attacks unique to them (plus 2 different kinds of special attacks that do a lot of damage). Solo units always jump in with the same assist. So over the game’s 30+ chapters, you will be watching characters do the same attacks over and over again. On paper, this sounds incredibly boring. But the game goes deeper than that, thankfully. Since the best way to do consistent damage on enemies is to juggle them in the air, attacks have to be started and linked into each other at the right time. This means that different combos created by using different attacks lead to better or worse ways to accomplish this feat. When you factor in solo units, each with their own attack that fits into combos differently, and adjacent units who can also be called in as assists, things can get rather complicated.
I’m always annoyed when people are so quick to dismiss a given game as being a button master or repetitive. When I first played Project X Zone, I thought it really was nothing but a button masher. But I also noticed that I wasn’t taking out of enemies very efficiently. After the prologue chapters, I went into Training Mode in the between battle menu and spent a few minutes trying to figure out the game. After realizing how important timing was, I started playing with that in mind and found that the game became a lot more fun. While the game is somewhat repetitive, I was usually focusing so much on keeping enemies airborne while keeping combos going that it didn’t seem that way to me. While Project X Zone seems like a mindless button masher on the surface, it is quite a bit more complex in execution.
The game also hosts a unique variety of maps with only a few chapters reusing maps. I really appreciated the intricacies of some of the maps that the game featured. Many of them are, of course, taken directly from various games across various platforms. There’s stages from Xenosaga, old Sega arcade games, Mega Man X4, Sakura Wars, Dark Stalkers, Tales of Vesperia, Super Robot Wars, Resident Evil, the .hack series, and many other games.
Another place where Project X Zone really stood out to me was the character interactions. The game’s plot itself is actually rather paper thin. Bad guys are trying to do something bad in the multiverse and it’s up to the good guys to stop them. The plot itself is really just an excuse to get characters together in the game, and the game itself makes fun of the flimsiness of the excuse plot.
Where the game truly shines is in character interactions. The dozens of characters in the game’s cast have quite a bit of dialogue between stages and even before and after individual battles in a stage. While this sounds like a lot of text to scroll through, the game manages to keep the level of dialogue at an arguably tolerable level. It’s also possible to get different pre- and post-battle dialogues depending on which solo units you pair with regular units, which can lead to some pretty amusing results. Thankfully, most text in the game can be scrolled or skipped pretty quickly (though there isn’t an actual scene skip option).
It’s in this constant banter between the game’s cast that the game’s incredibly well done localization really shines. The original Japanese script obviously relied on making tons and tons of references to all of the games featured in this crossover game. The English script does this, while also keeping faithful to the localizations of each game. All of Yuri Lowell’s moves are translated not directly from the Japanese names of the moves, but exactly as they were in Tales of Vesperia. So Souhajin (蒼破刃) is Azure Edge, just as it was in its original game. X and Zero’s moves follow naming conventions from Mega Man X 1-4. And so on. At one point a reference is even made to a specific mistranslation in a Dark Stalkers game. Whoever worked on the localization of the game seemed to take a great amount of care in making sure that the English version was faithful in its references to various games (something I wish could be said for Dissidia: Final Fantasy…)
Another complaint about the game is that the player is given way too many enemy units to fight in each given chapter. This is true! But the game somewhat counterbalances this by making the character use every single unit in battle. By the time every character in the game has been recruited, the group controlled by the player is rather large. The game thus throws an even larger horde of enemies at the player. Apparently this is also pretty standard fare for Super Robot Wars type games, which Project X Zone is somewhat reminiscent of (I believe the same developer as the SRW games was involved with it?)
One function of the ridiculous amounts of enemy units featured in the games chapters is to balance the game’s leveling. Project X Zone balances everything so that by the end of the game, all playable units are pretty much within 5 levels of each other. Since the player has to use everyone, this ensures that no units get left behind. Whether this is a good or bad then depends on one’s playing style, I suppose. I actually liked this feature. I always had the problem of deciding who to use when I was playing Fire Emblem: Awakening.
I would argue that Project X Zone wears out its welcome around 85% into the game. This is when chapters start to feel really long. Thankfully, the game has an incredibly handy Quick Save feature. Unlike most quick saves, which are erased as soon as they are loaded from, quick save in this game is permanent. You could arguably abuse it in the middle just in case you messed up later on. This game is very much made to be played in small chunks if the player so desires.
There’s also a fair lot of fanservice. Of the geeky reference kind and the usual kind. Despite the game having 2D sprites, the developers made sure to include jiggle physics wherever possible. I personally didn’t care (and again, the game makes fun of that a bit), but if that kind of thing bothers you, you may want to skip certain special attack cut ins.
Ultimately, Project X Zone is kind of a weird game. I can certainly understand why it got a somewhat lukewarm reception. And I can understand the argument for it being repetitive. Despite that, I found the game to be pretty enjoyable overall. I enjoyed the fun character interactions and dialogue, hectic but repetitive battle system, and the game’s stage design. Each character also gets their own theme straight from their own game, which is also pretty nice. But as I said before, I just love crossovers in general.
All that said, I have no desire to replay Project X Zone whatsoever. I enjoyed the experience one time through, and that’s good enough for me. It was kind of like when you hold a really crazy party at your house and everyone you know (and people you don’t) show up. You wake up the next day and wonder if it really happened (Mega Man X in a crossover game? Seriously?!). But then you see your entire house in utter disarray and realize that you weren’t completely crazy. I’ll always have the fond memories (and copious amounts of game screenshots) to remind me of the good times.
For me, Project X Zone was a dream come true in a sense. I only knew maybe half of the franchises featured in the game at most, but I loved most of the characters. Now I actually care that we didn’t get Valkyria Chronicles 3. As a huge fan of the Mega Man X series, seeing X finally featured in a crossover game and not just Zero (which leads me to believe that Keiji Inafune was not allowed within 100 meters of this game’s development) was a dream come true in and of itself. This may also be the last game in which one can play as the original Dante from the Devil May Cry series. I like to joke that Project X Zone is full of dead franchises, but in a way it is. It brought back those characters and gave them a world to play in. For that, I’m very thankful.
Love crossovers? Don’t mind a bit of repetition in favor of rewards for timely execution of combos? Love hilarious dialogue and references to games obscure and famous? Love flashy, ridiculous attack animations? Fan of intricately done 2D sprites? This may very well be the game for you.
Apologies for the heavy Capcom bias in these screenshots