Project X Zone Review: A Hell of a Crossover on the 3DS

by David Sanchez July 30, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

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There’s something to be said about a good ol’ fashioned crossover like Project X Zone. The game, which is published by Namco Bandai, is quite a winner, and it’s a great fit on the 3DS. Not only does this tactical RPG from developers Monolith Soft and Banpresto offer some good thrills and hearty laughs, but it’s also an inviting entry in what can otherwise be considered an intimidating genre. So whether you’re a longtime fan of this particular brand of game or a newcomer, you’re bound to have a good time despite a few miniscule missteps.

Right from the start you’re thrown into a slightly convoluted storyline that stars the biggest names from across the Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega universes. While this cornucopia of characters definitely stands out, they’re not exactly the main stars of the adventure. No, that honor goes to the wholly original duo of Kogoro Tenzai and Mii Koryuji. After a mystical stone that the two are in charge of watching gets stolen, the world enter this strange rift, and thus the crossing over of different universes makes sense. Well, it technically doesn’t make all that much sense, but who really cares because video games, am I right?

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You’ve got iconic characters the likes of Ryu, Frank West, Akira Yuki, Kurt Irving, Ling Xiaoyu, and Heihachi Mishima. It’s great to see protagonists and villains from Tekken, Resident Evil, and Valkyria Chronicles among others interacting with one another. Of course, I’m just barely scratching at the surface of what is an otherwise vast roster of stars. It’s understandable, then, that there are so many characters from so many franchises, each with their own back stories, that it’s really hard to keep track of everything that’s happening. So if you want to enjoy Project X Zone to its fullest, I’d suggest taking the wildly ludicrous plot details lightly.

Actual gameplay is split up into two parts: the world map and battles. The map is your basic isometric grid where you move your characters around and initiate battles. The main goal here is to move toward your foes in order to eliminate everyone who opposes you. You can only move a certain number of spaces, so it’s important to place your characters in strategic spots, whether it’s to collect health items, get the jump on baddies, or stand close to a support ally (more on this in a bit).

Standing in front of an enemy on the grid map allows you to engage him or her in battle. These sequences look a lot like a fighting game, but they play out much differently. When entering a battle, you control a duo’s attack pattern, and you select their moves from a short list of button presses that involve the A button and a different direction on the D-pad. It’s a simple system that allows you to dish out cool-looking moves and juggle your enemies around.

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Speaking of juggling, successfully doing so increases your Cross Gauge, which is essential for dealing super powerful attacks in addition to your basic repertoire. As you may have expected, you can’t do these moves at all times, so don’t think you can simply spam the hell out of them. Instead, it’s best to save power moves for the beefier enemies that can really take a beating.

Due to the fact that you’re often controlling multiple pairs of characters, placing them close to one another is definitely handy. Having allies adjacent to one another allows you to add an extra attack while you battle it out with enemies. Once again, these come in handy during encounters with tougher bad guys, but because all you need to do  is be near an ally on the map to initiate them, you can pull them off whenever you want as long as your characters are within range.

Solo units also boost your chances in battles and add yet another move to your arsenal. These characters pop up at the start or in the middle of battles, and you can assign them to your existing teams of two. Like characters who are adjacent to one another on the grid, solo units add an impressive extra attack that allows you to add more damage to enemy units. Aside from being useful, these moves often feature a quirky animation that’s just fun to watch. I mean, seeing Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins in his boxers really provides a good chuckle.

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If any of what I just explained sounds complex, you should know that it’s really not. The battle system offered here is highly intuitive. In fact, it’s almost a bit too intuitive. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, folks hoping for a more strategic experience on par with Fire Emblem Awakening are in for a slight disappointment. That’s not to say that Project X Zone is a disappointing game — if anything, it’s just a fun fast-paced title that’s easy to get into and well suited for play in short bursts. Of course, you could also get hooked in the “one more chapter” mentality and just keep playing for hours.

Graphically, the game sports a pixelated visual style that harkens back to old school tactical RPGs. This is no visual masterpiece, but then again, I doubt anyone was expecting it to be. It’s fun seeing bite-sized avatars of your characters walking around the grid and attacking enemies, only to see more accurate versions pop up when you pull off moves or during conversations. Specifically, I never got tired of seeing tiny pixel Frank West performing his cartoon-like spin attack.

Project X Zone is one of those games that feels right at home on a handheld. If you’re a 3DS owner with an affinity for crossovers, you’ll find that there’s loads of fan service here to keep you interested, regardless of whether you’re familiar with all of the licenses featured. The battle system may not exactly be varied, but it’s still a lot of fun and provides plenty of satisfaction. If you want something more robust, you could go with Fire Emblem Awakening. That said, if you’re in the mood for a jolly, nonsensical, and raucous good time, Project X Zone most certainly delivers on all fronts.

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