The first information I ever received on Project X Zone was in a YouTube video I’d happened upon earlier this year. The lengthy trailer I witnessed coupled epic sounding music, characters from multiple franchises, and some seriously badass-looking combat that looked straight out of a fighting game (not to mention the number of characters that showed up from fighting games). My first thoughts were that not only did I have to get my hands on the game, but that the meshing of RPG and fighting game was something I hadn’t seen before (I’ve seen my share of mash ups such as Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Survivor’s mixing of tactical and classic RPG styles or Sigma Star Saga and its strange mash up of classic RPG with shoot-em-up gameplay). After a bit of research, I then discovered Namco x Capcom on teh internets and found myself wondering why I hadn’t heard anything about the series until now.
Having finally received my copy of Project X Zone, I began my trek through the quirky RPG adventure in hopes of yet another wonderful 3DS title to keep in my 3DS case. Essentially two factors would be all that I needed to determine the worth of this game: was it a worthy tactical RPG and were the fighting elements strong enough to make the game’s twist more than a forced gimmick. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as thrilled with the resulting gameplay as I was hoping to be.
First of all, I went into the game knowing that the story would be something absolutely bizarre, and not the major selling point of the game. I know that in any mash-up, story takes a backseat to gameplay and the notion of having several characters from different franchises on screen at any given time is the main draw. Thus, Project X Zone didn’t surprise me with a stellar story and that was completely okay. The story centers around dimensional warping from game to game and thus you’ll see familiar locations from the characters’ respective games (which was a very enjoyable portion of the game). I also enjoyed the dialogue at times.
In terms of a tactical RPG, though, the game feels like a bare bones shell of other RPGs on the market. Though there are a large number of characters with unique moves and such, each has essentially the same generic results. Thus, though different characters will give you different dialogue and animations, effectiveness is not really dictated upon the individual characters but almost entirely upon your success in each individual battle as well as the placing of your units on the map.
There are a few unique tactical aspects of the game including the XP system which allows you to gain experience and bonuses based on your battle success. You can then use XP to trigger special attacks during battle or trigger actions outside of battle (such as countering or blocking an enemy attack). Another element involves attacking enemies while within close proximity to an ally unit on the battlefield. This will allow you to call them in for a support attack in the vein of a fighting game. Characters do gain levels and learn new moves but since the game features chapter-driven gameplay without a world map, levels become of less importance along the way as you’ll gain them at a rather constant rate through your journey.
Though the tactical gameplay wasn’t anything to write home about, the battles were really of the utmost importance to me. I had hoped that these interactions featured gameplay that mimicked that of fighting games. What I found out is that battles are no more than tactical rhythm games. Essentially you input attacks using the D-Pad/Joystick along with the press of a button. There are sequences of attacks you can press in order to gain a bonus attack but the biggest problem with combat is that input is only needed once every 5 seconds or so and only 3-5 times per battle. Though this type of gameplay is certainly suitable for those not wishing for a fighting game experience, I was hoping for something a little more fleshed out. No, I’m not asking for a large variation of inputs from character to character (I understand the reasons why they couldn’t do that) but instead just combat that felt more attuned to fighting game battles (or at least the option to make the game more like a fighting game).
Amidst all of the negatives, though, the game does feature great looking anime battles and a fun soundtrack (it isn’t the highest quality of instrumentation but it feels fitting for the game). The environments in the tactical portion of the game are a little more drab but they do reach familiar areas from the characters’ games. Also, there are enemies that show up from the different universes. Finally, the most obvious appeal is seeing so many different cameos throughout the game and getting a small glimpse of how these characters would react outside of their usual environment. If you’re only in the game for nostalgic purposes (and you know many of the cast from Capcom, Sega, and Namco games), then this may be a game for you.