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Disclosure: the author was provided with a review code of this game by Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Monolith Soft
As the Avengers films and the Super Smash Bros. series have shown; crossovers can make for some amazing entertainment. A cast full of iconic characters fighting or helping each other is the stuff of childhood fantasies – and while it doesn’t always make for a good product (considering how divisive Batman v. Superman has been) the crossover as a concept is interesting enough that even less dedicated fans of these characters can find something to enjoy in the situation. Mix a 50 hour long strategy RPG with characters from several dozen beloved video game series, and what you get is a big, dense adventure that’s sure to feel like it won’t end any time soon. Indeed, an ending is not something that 3DS title Project X Zone 2 gives its players without a prolonged effort – for better or for worse.
Disregard the number 2 in the title, because this is not a game that requires players to be up to speed with anything that came before it. Namco, Capcom, and Sega are Japanese powerhouses that have been around for years, and with so many IPs under each of their respective belts, it’s insane to think that anybody could be familiar with every single one these publishers have produced. The heroes of this tale are the gun-toting Reiji, and fox-girl Xiaomu, who were the protagonists of Japan exclusive PlayStation 2 crossover Namco x Capcom. While there are enough callbacks and instances of continuity in the story to make you realise you’re playing a sequel to a decade-old game you likely know nothing about, the game can still be enjoyed just fine on its own, even if some character appearances won’t mean as much to you as it might to the creators. The main attraction here is of course the enormous line-up of gaming characters, with superstars leading the charge such as Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li of Street Fighter fame; X and Zero of the Mega Man X series; Dante and Vergil of Devil May Cry; and Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Leon S. Kennedy from the Resident Evil franchise. Of course, Capcom’s heroes aren’t the only recognisable faces here.
On the Namco side of things, there’s Tekken fighters Jin Kazama, Kazuya Mishima, Heihachi Mishima, and Ling Xiaoyu. Cult franchise .hack (“dot-hack”) is represented by protagonists Kite and Haseo, while long-running RPG franchise Tales is bafflingly only represented by characters from Tales of Vesperia. Stars of Sega’s Yakuza series Kazuma and Majima are present, as are Virtua Fighter‘s Akira, Kage-Maru, and Pai Chan. Also from Sega are Streets of Rage‘s Axel, Space Channel 5‘s Ulala, and Shenmue‘s Ryo Hazuki. These are just some examples of the line-up in the game, but you’ll notice Sonic the Hedgehog is absent despite Sega’s involvement, and it’s likely because this project was designed with only humanoid characters in mind, so no Pac-Man here. That may be disappointing to some fans, but the cast of Project X Zone 2 does include some characters that are sure to raise a smile with gamers. Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey are one of the almost 20 supports the player can call on during battle. Nintendo even got in on the action with Chrom and Lucina of Fire Emblem Awakening becoming one of the many duos under your command. Xenosaga‘s android KOS-MOS meanwhile pairs up with Xenoblade Chronicles‘ Fiora, while Capcom ninja Strider teams up with Sega’s Shinobi Hotsuma. I could go on about the boatload of characters found here, but I’ll bring the rest up where appropriate.
Special supernatural investigation organisation Shinra (not that one) is led by agents Reiji and Xiaomu. Peace in their home city of Shibuya is shattered when giant golden chains pierce the streets and monsters appear in order to gather these mysterious objects. They’re being commanded by Saya of rival organisation Ouma, and are collecting the chains for unknown purposes. Somehow more of these chains have also shown up across many different worlds and time periods. Ouma seems to have formed an alliance with the most dangerous people in each of these worlds, and heroes will have to band together in order to put a stop to Ouma’s forces and mysterious plan.
Considering the amount of characters and worlds we’re dealing with here, the start of Project X Zone 2 can be a little much to take in. The tutorial consists of about 5 brief chapters that jump from Tokyo, to the world of Fire Emblem, to the world of… “The World” which is the virtual reality cyberspace where the .hack series takes place. This prologue jumps around a lot and sets up character relationships such as the ninja team which doesn’t really get followed up on until a fair bit into the game. Continuity becomes much simpler and easier to follow once you reach the first proper chapter, though it doesn’t slow down with the character introductions. As the first true mission of the game though, it definitely hit all the right spots for me personally as I watched Heihachi Mishima rescuing Phoenix Wright while Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine fight off a zombie horde with help from Kazuma Kiryu. It’s such a delightful mix of characters I love that really sold me on the game right there. With Reiji and Xiaomu discovering this team of heroes in Tokyo they discover an entrance to the underworld of Makai, and from there the team only grows larger as it recruits Darkstalkers Morrigan, Demetri, and Felicia before traveling to the next world and what new faces will await them there.
The game runs on that same formula for quite a while, with new pairs of characters and supports being discovered in game locations including 1930s Paris, the Resident Evil Revelations ship “Queen Zenobia,” Mallet Island from the original Devil May Cry, and Tales of Vesperia‘s land of Terca Lumireis. Pacing however is a persistent issue throughout this adventure. The excitement of discovering something like Xenoblade‘s fallen arm of Mechonis is hampered by the fact it doesn’t show up until around 30 hours into the game, by which point you’ll have grown tired with the incredibly repetitive formula of each chapter. It almost always begins with the squad arriving in some new world (lets use the God Eater mission for example). They’ll encounter some new hindrance that traps them there and forces them to fight – in this case, Shinra’s airship has broken and needs to be repaired. Suddenly the map gets filled with enemies, usually from the corresponding world (God Eater‘s Aragami beasts here), and not much later the heroes from that world arrive to save the day and join the team. I have no attachment to God Eater but the pair unit of Nana & Ciel are one of the more useful and enjoyable parts of the squad. From there you take out a good number of enemies and start to feel like you’re making progress when suddenly KOS-MOS (and it’s always KOS-MOS) will tell you that some new enemies are closing in. Enter Resident Evil‘s Nemesis and Ustanak, as well as some .hack enemies and probably someone else in the rotating cycle of villains you fight. Trust me, not 3 missions go by without M. Bison showing up somewhere. It gets old very fast, and only serves to pad out each and every mission.
The repetition is so high that missions really do start to blur together thanks to the rogues’ gallery quickly running out of villains to introduce. Some of the notable recurring foes include Tekken‘s Unknown/Jun Kazama, Tri-Edge and Skeith from .hack, Sigma and Vile of Mega Man X, Xenosaga‘s T-elos, and Xenoblade Chronicles’ Metal Face. Also like 4 villains from Sakura Wars. It’s really grating as a Western gamer, but the developers of this game must seriously love Sakura Wars because there are also 2 whole pair units of Sakura Wars heroes, as well as around 5 levels set in Sakura Wars locations. They’re cool and all, but it’s a bit jarring to see this old and mainly Japan-exclusive franchise get significantly more representation than something like Sega’s more modern and popular current series Yakuza which is limited to one pair unit and a single level. Maybe I’m being unfair, but I’m just saying that if you really don’t care about series like .hack or Fire Emblem, then there’s going to be a lot of the game’s runtime dedicated to these franchises and that can just make the repetition all the more frustrating.
I assure you, the repetition will become the most annoying part of Project X Zone 2. At the halfway point, the game runs out of new party members to introduce, but retains the same formula for each mission. “Oh hey, we’re in the world of Valkyrie! Oh no, here comes M. Bison, Nemesis, [insert Sakura Wars villain here], Sigma, T-elos, [insert another Sakura Wars villain here], and Metal Face again for the fifth time!” With no new foes to introduce, the game has to start trying to make villains like Valkyrie‘s Kamuz, Space Channel 5‘s Rhythm Rogues, and some aliens from Captain Commando into important threats. The game at least tries to break up some of the monotony with little cameo appearances from Ada Wong and Miles Edgeworth, but it only serves to annoy you when you realise they won’t be joining your team, and with little justification. There’s also a mission where a fire gimmick is introduced and the characters make a bunch of references to Sega Saturn game Burning Rangers while playing that game’s music – but it’s awkwardly shoehorned into a Space Channel 5 level and nothing of substance comes from it. There are 42 chapters in the game, but at least 10 of those could be cut and the game would honestly be better for it.
Project X Zone 2 is a turn-based strategy RPG, and not a particularly fast one which is part of what makes each chapter around an hour long. Each turn, your entire line-up of Pair Units are free to move across the field, make an attack, or use a skill. When you declare an attack on an enemy, the game transitions from isometric map to 2D battlefield. Your unit can then use special attacks up to three times in this battle through the use of the A button while holding a direction. There are streamlined fighting game style mechanics in place, allowing you to juggle enemies and string together special attacks into massive multi-hit combos. This is encouraged as well, as the game will reward you with a multiplier that boosts experience gained based on how many hits were in your highest combo for the fight. This is also where Support Units come in. Before the start of each mission you can assign a support unit to a pair unit. When in battle, you can press a shoulder button to call in the support unit who will perform a single special attack before retreating. The characters don’t have any other attacks, but they’re mostly strong fighters who can break your enemy’s guard and contribute a good number of hits to your combo meter. A nearby pair unit can also be called in as a support on occasion, and then you can wrap up the battle with a flashy finishing move.
Each finishing move is a lengthy animation where your pair unit devastates an enemy with a signature move sure to please fans of the source material. Dante & Vergil recreate the climactic “Jackpot” gunshot from Devil May Cry 3, Jin and Kazuya perform the clash of punches sometimes seen with the Bandai Namco logo, Akira and Kage-Maru teleport the enemy to a Virtua Fighter stage and perform a ring-out, and Majima assists Kazuma in striking the pose seen on the original Yakuza‘s Japanese box art. The music will also change to a dramatic theme from the respective franchise, and boy is the choice of music amazing for every one of them. Unlike the dreadful MIDIs of the first PxZ, this game has some glorious instrumental renditions of iconic themes. Select Kazuya and Jin on the field, and you’ll hear a piano lead into the intro track to Tekken Tag Tournament. Yakuza 1’s battle theme “Funk Goes On” plays when you’re in control of Kazuma and Majima, while Tales of Vesperia‘s opening song “Ring a Bell” plays for Yuri and Flynn. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the tracks, they’re all used perfectly and make things all the more exciting. Kite and Haseo’s Data Drain finishing move plays a song called “Stairs of Time” from PSP game .hack//Link. It’s an incredible bit of music and makes fighting with Kite and Haseo so damn satisfying, and even made me interested in looking into the .hack series to see what I’ve missed (funnily enough, Link is apparently an awful game).
Just in case you start to find the animations too lengthy and repetitive, a press of the B button will skip right to the finishing blow. Combat really is surprisingly engaging and fun throughout most of Project X Zone 2‘s campaign. The only issue I’d really take with it is that the support character’s attacks can’t be skipped and they take a bit too long each time. As for strategy, pair units and support units can learn equippable skills that consume SP in battle for benefits such as healing all allies by a set percent of health, increasing the distance a unit can walk each turn, or healing status ailments. When the enemy turn happens you can use each character’s SP to defend or counterattack against enemy strikes. This has to be used tactically however, as these actions consume SP fast, and you don’t want to be left with no defense against an enemy leader’s special move. Yep, the villains have their own devastating and lengthy attacks, and they’re a prime reason for keeping a close eye on the XP meters. Unlike SP, XP is shared between an entire team, with a maximum meter capping at 150XP. These points are mainly used to execute finishing moves, with each one costing 100XP. You can regain these points through skills or consumable items, or by landing hits on enemies. However, the enemy teams’ own XP meter increases when they inflict or receive damage, so you have to make sure you aren’t leaving characters vulnerable to an enemy leader’s powerful special attack. If you’re desperate, you can use 50XP to make sure a unit receives zero damage from an attack, but this isn’t an ability to be used lightly. It’s a really interesting mechanic that turns missions into a tug-of-war and encourages you to be smart with how you use your special attacks.
This is actually a really engaging strategy RPG with shops, upgradable attacks, equipment and so on. The core gameplay is pretty rewarding, even if it can be spoiled by the game’s pacing problems. Even then, the story and characters can be quite enjoyable from time to time. Saya’s partner is an American bunny girl called Sheath who speaks in broken English, while Shadow from Space Channel 5 constantly intimidates the heroes with his poorly-defined “Dance Energy.” Not to mention one of your support units is Sega Saturn advertising mascot Segata Sanshiro, whose dialogue alone encourages you to assign him to practically every pair unit in the game at some point, just to see how he interacts with them. The humor isn’t for everyone, as particularly evidenced by Xiaomu, who will always find some way to work in a pop-culture reference into her dialogue, but in general the writing here makes the most out of all these characters coming together for an adventure.
Some fans may be a bit disappointed in the character line-up, as there are quite a few absentees in this game compared to the first Project X Zone. Devil May Cry‘s Lady, Tekken‘s Alisa, and .hack‘s BlackRose are just a few of the playable characters no longer found in the sequel, as is also the case for PxZ1‘s original protagonists Kogoro & Mii. Meanwhile entire series are no longer represented in this game – in particular Valkyria Chronicles, Super Robot Wars, Dead Rising, Ghosts and Goblins, and Rival Schools among others. It’s a shame there couldn’t have been more characters included here, as otherwise Project X Zone 2 is a definitive improvement over the 2013 original.
With impressive battle animations, engaging RPG systems, and excellent use of music, Project X Zone 2 really is a treat for fans of even just a handful of the franchises represented in its massive roster. If you can stomach 42 missions of repetitive villain encounters and unsurprising reinforcements, then its 50 hours of value that make for a fun journey that ignites passion for some of Japan’s iconic, as well as obscure, video game franchises.