Project X Zone opens with two characters, a girl named Mii Koryuji and her martial arts teacher, home tutor, and hired ninja all in one, Kogoro Tenzai, discovering that Mii’s family heirloom has been stolen. The family is said to be behind-the-scenes in events all over the world, and the treasure is called a “Portalstone”. Sure enough, what results is a veritable dog pile of universes crossing over, meshing over each other in a tangle worse than a basket of strings.
Since I admit that the story may develop further after the point I left off of as I write this playtest, I can only say that what’s happened thus far can honestly be summed in three words—“chaos,” “confusion,” and “crossover”. For the first several chapters, the main group is beamed from world to world willy-nilly, each time growing as two or three new members join the fray.
Having so many characters from such different series in one game and coming up with a plot that links all the games together is almost impossible without being somewhat tenuous, but Project X Zone does okay, all things considered.
As a massive crossover game, it’s unsurprising the characters are drawn from an enormous number of franchises, some of which I’d never even heard of. More obscure franchises like Darkstalkers and Endless Frontier are present, but of course series such as Tekken, Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, .hack, and Mega Man appear as well. Other relatively unknown series, such as Yumeria, Adventure of Valkyrie, and Fighting Vipers also have their say. More recent franchises include Dead Rising, Resonance of Fate, and God Eater. Even the original characters from Namco x Capcom are back.
One thing I will say the game does well is seamlessly draw all these series together—not an easy thing to do, as some of these games were from the NES era, and others from the modern generation of consoles. Furthermore, their original art varies from anime-esque to cartoon-ish to realistic. In Project X Zone, though, the characters are drawn fairly consistently, with everything treated with the same amount of humor, similar type of art (I suppose it is impossible to completely standardize Mega Man and Resident Evil to one style), and same vivid expressions and poses that bring the game to life. The music also changes when a particular character’s turn comes around.
The game also makes a special effort to try to leave no one out of story events—an astounding feat when there are 60 characters in total to account for. While a line or two isn’t a particularly deep contribution, it still reminds the players that the characters aren’t forgotten. It seems like later, chapters are dedicated to certain characters periodically, too, so characters are always drawn back into a spotlight now and then.
In addition, Project X Zone goes the extra step and creates an encyclopedia covering the histories of all the characters… although players should read with caution. Most of the entries contain spoilers for that character’s entire game. It, and the battle tutorial that appears alongside it, are very helpful, though—one for understanding the characters better and the other for reminding you how some of the gameplay details work.
The gameplay itself is a crossover between different genres. On the outset, it looks like a standard strategy RPG, complete with grid system and breakable obstacles. However, once you encounter an enemy, the battle changes to what looks like a fighting game screen, with an announcer shouting “Ready, fight!” as the battle starts. That said, it differs from a fighting game in that here, your goal is to beat down one-sidedly upon your opponent while juggling them in the air for higher combos. More combos mean you gain more EXP and XP bonus after battles. Attacking right before they hit the ground brings critical hits.
Also, every attack sequence of a character contains a different set of motions that bounce the enemies different ways. When you couple this with support character attacks and solo character attacks, timing becomes very important if you want to earn XP. Speaking of which… XP is Cross Points. These fill up in a gauge at the bottom of the top screen and these are what are used to cast spells, heal, and use the special finishing moves. Using them causes massive and is extremely helpful in a boss fight.
The only way to earn XP other than ending your turn is to call in support. In Project X Zone, a character unit actually consists of a pair of characters, called a Pair Unit. These characters are usually, but not always, from the same game. For example, you have Yuri and Estelle (Tales of Vesperia) in the same Pair while Chun-Li (Street Fighter) and Morrigan (Darkstalkers) are in the same Pair. Pairs cannot be separated or broken up. Even if Ryu and Ken (Street Fighter) are in the same game as Chun Li, they are a Pair Unit, while Chun-Li is already in a Pair Unit with Morrigan. You can’t somehow combine or switch the characters around. There are 20 Pair Units (40 characters) in total.
While this lack of customization may feel annoying, the game does give you the option of switching around the remaining 20 characters, termed Solo Units. These characters can only be teamed up with a Pair Unit outside of battle, so there’s no switching within battles. You can’t input commands directly to these characters, but instead, you can call them in for an extra combo of attacks while your characters are attacking. If your two teams strike the opponent at the same time, the enemy freezes in space, allowing your characters to pummel it together and rack up the combo. Unfortunately, a Solo Unit attack doesn’t last long, and after they deliver their special attack, they leave the screen and the enemy drops from the Cross Hit’s hold.
On the other hand, you can also call forth Support Attacks if you’re standing within two blocks of another unit. They function much like a Solo Unit in terms of how they attack and the Cross Hit. You can also call them in conjunction with a Solo Unit, bringing three teams to the fight at once.
A turn in battle ends when you’ve used a set number of attacks (3-6, I believe, depending on your level) or when your Pair Unit executes its Special Attack.
The battle system is very dynamic and an exercise in timing, and even if you can’t really control your unit’s movements, you can determine which attack they use and the animation is very dynamic. Admittedly, so much is happening that it’s often very hard to tell what’s going on sometimes, but in turn it is fun to watch as you spot signature moves here and there.
The only problem is that, as the game plays on, the number of characters grows and grows, and the number of enemies also grows and grows. I haven’t had the option to choose which characters appears in battle yet, and I currently have 14 Pair Units, and more are still coming. And each time your characters fight, you’re taken to a separate screen where all the enemy juggling occurs. While the fight is interactive, it’s the same 3-5 moves until you level up.
In other words, it might get a little tedious as reinforcements arrive—not to mention, when multiple boss characters appear in each level. Bosses have massive amounts of HP, and can also dish out much more damage compared to the ordinary grunt, but you’re almost never in danger of losing a unit if you heal up with items you earn every time you defeat an opponent.
On the other hand, each battle is different as units are disabled, more allies appear almost every level, enemies teleport in, and even new Bosses appear. There’s always something happening in the battles, so while this does make the battles longer, it changes things up so it’s not “just” another battle monsters or zombies or demons and a single Boss appears and you have to beat them.
Project X Zone isn’t too difficult, and I enjoyed seeing many of the characters from series I know and series I didn’t know. It has admittedly drawn my attention to a few of the more unknown ones. The game promises to be long (it appears there are 40 missions), and while each mission may drag out, Project X Zone tries its hardest to keep you on your toes. I always find myself looking forward to what happens in a battle while simultaneously bemoaning just how long it will take.