What do you get when you take over 200 popular characters (50+ of which are playable) from various Namco Bandai, Capcom and Sega game series, throw them all into the same universe, and set them on a collective adventure in an easy-to-learn strategy game? You get fun. Pure, simple, unadulterated fun that was clearly crafted with the fans in mind. That’s what I took away from my time playing Project X Zone – that it was the sort of game you picked up first and foremost not just because you were looking for a solid title to enjoy, but to see Darkstalkers’ Morrigan, Virtua Fighter’s Akira Yuki and Xenosaga’s KOS-MOS fighting alongside each other, interacting and generally making a whole lot of fan dreams come true. That’s what I expected the moment I pulled the shrink wrap off this game, and after the time I’ve spent playing with it I can honestly say that Project X Zone delivers on everything I asked of it.
Of course, Project X Zone doesn’t just shove all these characters together with no explanation at all. Instead, the plot centers around a villainous organization’s criminal activities tying into the various multidimensional weirdness that’s started to take place – linking up times and places willy-nilly, and providing a suitable explanation of why Chris Redfield may be standing shoulder to shoulder with .hack’s BlackRose. The premise is a little silly at heart, but really, mixing together so many characters couldn’t be done without both the writers and the players having a sense of humor about it all. That said, while the overall plot may register as little more than ‘convenient gaming excuse’, the actual interactions the characters have are surprisingly well-written. Watching characters from disparate series acknowledge each others’ existence – showing respect or admiration to some, or just mere familiarity with others – is a real delight, and probably one of the single biggest draws Project X Zone has to offer. Who doesn’t want to see how (say) Morrigan Aensland would get along with other game characters?
Now, this eclectic mix of cross-series characters interacting with each other may be the main pull for the game – but ‘game’ is key here. It’s not like gamers are throwing down their cash just to watch a cartoon, after all. The gameplay of Project X Zone is a mix of turn-based strategy on the main map, leading into the actual fights between various characters – a fun balance of timed button-mashing and some light tactical thinking. Characters will team up to juggle and knock around their targets, and players will do their best to try and time and combine the various attack options they have in order to maximize the hurt they lay down on the enemies they’re going up against. Actual characters on the field come in solo and duo varieties, with solo characters capable of supporting nearby combatants in their conflicts – meaning you can get up to five allied characters working together in a single, hectic assault. While the actual combat and gameplay portion of these matchups are fun enough, what really impressed me was the graphical illustration of the battles. Put simply, they’re eyecatching – fluid and fun and exciting, and just a joy to see unfold before your eyes on your 3DS.
There are a variety of little tactical and strategic quirks at work in Project X Zone – the synergies that paired units have with solo units, the use of items acquired on the field, the placement of units to orchestrate massive assaults… but this is all slightly marred by the fact that, no matter how you slice it, the combat seems to err on the easy side. It’s not a complete cakewalk, but there wasn’t any point during the (rather linear) adventure where I felt as if I were up against the wall or I’d have to really get deep into strategic or tactical thinking in order to move on. This would have the potential to be a big complaint, were this any other kind of game. But the gameplay isn’t what piqued my interest in Project X Zone, and – while there’s definitely some solid fun to be had with it – it’s going to be a side dish to the aforementioned main course of the fan service the game provides. Most of the fun I had with this game came from enjoying the character interactions, or simply watching their various attacks play out – never mind what actual effect that had on the conflict at hand.
One thing that stood out was the decision to just run with the original japanese voice acting in the english port of the game, marrying the audio tracks to english text. Some gamers are no doubt going to miss having dedicated english voiceover talent, while others are probably going to be overjoyed at getting the full original voices in a language they simply don’t understand. Personally, I didn’t find the lack of english dubbing to be much of a concern at all. No matter how little I may understand of it, a good share of the japanese voice actors managed to deliver their lines with personality and energy that manages to cross any language barrier – and really, considering the spread of titles (Resident Evil in particular), it’s not as if we’re dealing with games known for their amazing english dubbing. On top of all this, there seemed to be a decent variety of lines for the various characters, minimizing (though of course never truly eliminating) repetition. If japanese offends your ears, however, you can always kill the voices at will.
The ultimate verdict I can give Project X Zone is that it’s detailed, well-polished, excitable fun that was created with established fans in mind. Chances are if you’ve been into console gaming for a few years, you’re going to be very familiar with more than one of the various cast members, and that alone may be enough to pique your interest in this game. For true fans, you probably don’t even need my endorsement – the roster alone would have been enough to spur you to pick this one up. Those of you who are interested but need more convincing, keep in mind that there’s a demo available on the Nintendo eShop – check it out and decide for yourself if you want to see a glorious mashup of gaming mascots battle it out on your Nintendo 3DS.