After beating up Juri, Sigma, and V-Dural in the Project X Zone 2 demo this year at E3, I had the chance to sit down and talk with the series producer Kensuke Tsukanaka. I noticed the combat had undergone some subtle changes, and decided to begin by asking the producer himself how the system had been tweaked since the first title was released.
How has the battle system changed since Project X Zone?
Tsukanaka: One of the big differences is, of course, the presentation and graphics. A lot of the sprite animations have been revamped and the New Nintendo 3DS hardware has let us to a bit more on that end. We made the combat flow—both in terms of encountering enemies and simply in doing combos—a lot faster than the previous title.
In terms of the combat specifically, we revamped a lot of the groundwork we laid in the original. We haven’t officially announced this yet, but, we are going to include some new elements to the existing battle system. We actually took it out of the hands-on demo here at E3, but, we’ll be announcing it soon! We know it’ll add more depth to the battle system.
[Note: This was revealed as the Mirage Cancel system.]
How do you make combos flow together? With such a variety of combinations in terms of Solo-Support attacks and Pair-Support attacks, is it difficult to get them to work together without feeling clunky?
Tsukanaka: Originally we had this idea that Project X Zone wouldn’t have these kinds of combo attacks tied to one button. For example, hitting a button would only be one attack—but, that wound up being very clunky, so we decided to use the system we have now. A player really has to pay attention to a few things: the enemy’s position in the air, cross attacks, and which attacks launch enemies in what direction. This made it much easier to chain combos together and, consequently, made the gameplay feel a bit simple. The combo itself though is really dynamic, and each pair unit has a different feel. That was our aim with the combat system and, while it does feel simple, it also feels really satisfying, and pairing solo units with pair units does actually change how players use combos.
When I played through the demo, I got to beat up Sigma with X and Zero. That’s a really great bit of fan service. How do you come up with these kinds of ‘cool’ moments?
Tsukanaka: I’m glad you asked that! The scenario writer for the game, Monolith Soft’s Souichiro Moizumi, puts a lot of thought into these moments. He’s actually quite a courageous guy. Two things he thinks about are where the story can crossover, and what pairs of characters can help those stories cross over, but also make sense. Before he thinks about a scenario, he asks himself ‘if this character appears here then we should make one of their common enemies appear,’ so he thinks about these patterns and makes note of them.
After that, he tries to incorporate each appearance directly into the scenario. So, from the base, he thinks about these encounters, then builds a scenario around them, and then finds a way to link them together in one story arc. That’s how he approaches creating the game’s story.
Now that we’re talking about story, you’ve mentioned that Project X Zone 2 will put more emphasis on its story elements than its predecessor. Has this approach to making “cool moments” made it easier to approach the game’s story?
Tsukanaka: When you compare the scenario and story of Project X Zone and Project X Zone 2, I think that the first title was much simpler. The game had a definite formula of people meeting, getting transported somewhere else, fighting a powerful enemy, and then repeating that process. Some fans weren’t so hot on that, and fans said they wanted to see more depth and complexity. Naturally, we’ve tried to move away from the simple patterns that haunted the last game. We added some more complexity to the story line, including making the player wonder who is going to join the team next, which we didn’t necessarily do in the previous title. The volume of the game, in addition to having more crossovers, actually made it a bit easier to develop a story.
Are there any characters from each of the publishers in this game that you really wanted to use, but didn’t get the chance to?
Tsukanaka: It’s hard to say, really. When we first select the characters, we think about a few things: equal representation from all of the publishers, but also making sense of the character choices in terms of story. I don’t feel we’ve shoe-horned anything in for the sake of fan-service (he chuckles here), everyone has some pull to the story and the roster reflects that. Some suggestions get shot down, but really the ones that wind up in the final game are characters whose worlds have some common ground. This is actually why some of the pairs got mixed around – originally, the pairs were assigned differently. When we were thinking about what we wanted to do with the story, we noticed that using the same pairs would limit what we could do drastically. In fact, it was after re-organizing the pairs that we saw the story unfold, and we used that freedom to make the title better.
Kazuma and Goro from Yakuza Dead Souls appear. What inspired that decision? Is this a pair that just made sense for the story?
Tsukanaka: They definitely came into the story as a result of looking at where the scenario would crossover. For example, and we haven’t officially announced anything like this yet, but Kazuma and Goro have some common ground with some of the characters from Resident Evil, don’t you think? Zombies are a key factor in those games, so maybe you’ll see some kind of collaboration or crossover between these two characters. You’ll be able to find out when you play it!
Project X Zone 2 was a worldwide announcement. Has that changed how you’ve marketed the game? For example, Sakura Wars isn’t exactly popular outside of Japan, and they don’t really appear in the demo or footage you’ve shown.
Tsukanaka: I don’t really think we’ve changed how we advertise the game, at least not In comparison to how we advertised the first. We do consider which characters are more popular for western audiences, though, and we do show them off a bit more since they have that huge fan following. We keep this in mind when we propose character rosters to Sega and Capcom.
Also, some characters like those from Sakura Wars aren’t that popular outside of Japan, but we hope that the popular characters they do like expose them to these characters, and make them say ‘oh, man, these two are kind of cool, I wonder where they come from…?’ That’s one of the goals we have with this title. We don’t think that unfamiliar characters scare off fans, we think it draws in new ones. Think about it: if we didn’t pay attention to these characters, and they didn’t get as much attention as other fan favorites, then doesn’t that reinforce their lack of popularity abroad? The game is about doing the characters justice, and I think getting players to go out and look into those characters’ worlds is an honor.
You mention Monolith Soft, who also did the Baten Kaitos series. Are fans ever going to see that name again, inside or outside of Project X Zone?
Tsukanaka: (laughs) So, do you remember that KOS-MOS and T-elos, from Xenosaga, were in the first Project X Zone game? We didn’t include them just because Monolith Soft was developing Project X Zone, we put them in there because there were so many fans of their games on the team, and that they happened to make sense for the world of the game. The reason there’s not Baten Kaitos characters in the story is because they just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
As for the title itself outside of Project X Zone, well, I can’t really say much about that yet, but I think we need some substantial feedback from fans before moving forward with a project like that. What do they want to see from it? What platform do they want to see it on? If we can gather more voices for Baten Kaitos, then maybe we can start something with Bandai Namco Entertainment. That’s about all I can say right now!
How did Summon Night’s Aty become a part of Project X Zone 2?
Tsukanaka: So with Aty, you know that she comes from a world that’s pretty heavily based in fantasy, right? Well, there are a couple of other characters in the game that come from a fantasy world—Yuri Lowell & Flynn Scifo—so she came into the picture because the categories of Summon Night and Tales of Vesperia overlapped. Another reason is that Summon Night is an important intellectual property of Bandai Namco’s.
How do you form a move set for a character like Phoenix Wright, who hardly moves in the games he stars in?
Tsukanaka: Right now we’ve only released screenshots of Wright and Maya talking to other characters. You’ll get to see how he plays in a trailer we’ll be releasing soon, but just to give you peek, we designed his move set closely around how he moves and acted in the courtroom in Ace Attorney games. We’re going to reproduce some of his famous actions in battle, and I think big fans of the game will be really pleased with it.
Project X Zone 2 is a crossover title that brings characters from Bandai Namco, Sega, and Capcom’s franchises together to fight against a common evil. The game is slated for a 2015 release.