Have you ever wanted all your favorite game characters from Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai altogether in a strategy RPG? Well, consider your wish granted! In Japan at least, that is.
Project X-Zone is the newest offering from Banpresto and Monolith Soft, published by Namco Bandai (look at all those comapanies!) and for the most part is a pretty standard strategy RPG. You choose where to move your characters, which are grouped in pair units, and which enemy on the map-grid to attack. Once you choose which enemy character to attack, you leave the grid map and move into a battle screen, where you can choose from a variety of button based attacks to string together. You can also summon certain ‘support characters’ into battle using the left trigger button, or perform a joint-attack with another character pair that was standing near you on the grid map by using the right trigger button. What this basically means is that it’s entirely possible to have about 5 characters on screen at once, jumping and slashing and shooting at an enemy all at the same time. This gets pretty chaotic, and the fact that it doesn’t slow down the framerate is most likely due to them cleverly using SNES style 2D sprites.
These are high level 2D sprites, mind you, so the graphics are really nothing to complain about, even if they are a bit nostalgic. Flashiness is added to the game by having an overlaid, high-quality animation scene show up whenever you use a character’s special attack. These are usually really fun to see, and I found myself saving up special attacks so I could see my favorite character’s *cough* Dante *cough* animation over and over. Moreso than the animation specials however, I found myself enjoying the movement of the little 2D sprites while they were fighting; all the characters move and attack in a way that is completely faithful to their original source material, and the level of detail paid to them is amazing. Morrigan from DarkStalkers does her little hand-clawing thingy (you’ll know what I’m talking about once you see it), the characters from Resonance of Fate fly around shooting and dropping grenades, Ryu from Street Fighter has splashes of ink follow his attacks ala SFIV, it just goes on and on. Each character is lovingly rendered exactly as they appear and move in their original game, and it is awesome.
While the gameplay is incredibly fun and addictive despite its simplicity, and the appearance of the various characters (which are almost overwhelming in how many of them there are; some are awesomely obscure as well, like Batsu Ichimonji from Rival Schools) is enough to please even the most rabid fanboy/fangirl, there’s one huge problem with Project X Zone: the story. Granted, it’s probably difficult to make a cohesive narrative that somehow involves all these different worlds and characters being together, but Project X Zone’s story just started to annoy me. There was only so many times I could handle the ‘Where are we? Who are you? We’re blah blah and we were just minding our own business when there was this flash and now we’re here and OH LOOK ENEMIES let’s band together and fight!’ scenario before I just started skipping past the dialogues altogether, unless it was a character I particularily liked. On a quick side note, kudos to the developers for even having the characters’ dialogue be true to their original character, but I wish they all had something more interesting to say than ‘Let’s keep going until we find a way back to our original worlds!’.
Besides the story, the only other complaint I had was the length of the game, which at about 30-35 hours seemed a bit extreme for a handheld, but I guess I should have expected that from a strategy RPG. Overall, Project X Zone is a really fun little strategy game for any RPG fan who likes any games from Capcom, Namco Bandai or Sega. Just don’t go in expecting a literary masterpiece, and you’ll enjoy it.