Expectations are usually high when major franchises meet: Batman and Superman, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Family Guy and The Simpsons. The results can be erratic, a resounding success or a massive failure, but sometimes it just meanders around. Project X-Zone 2 is both exactly what you might expect from a crossover of major franchises, and the most of what you can expect from the ingredients provided.
A strategy role-playing game with a tinge of fighting game mechanics, on paper Project X-Zone 2 should be an homage to the glory days of its three starring publishers: Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Sega. In many ways, it nails the nostalgia approach, never failing to make me smile over many hours spent meeting new characters, teaming them up in Odd Couple-esque pairings and giggling at the incredulous concept of Segata, a former Sega mascot, being a character in a video game in 2016.
Your main protagonists are Reiji and Xiaomu, whose names I had to look up because they’re wholly forgettable. Xiaomu is an energetic fox-girl and Reiji is a cardboard cut who makes creepy passes at Xiaomu and other female characters. Both are simply there so you can have an excuse to be gathering up allies in the form of popular gaming personas.
The list of allies is staggering, as just a quick perusal of some of the appearing faces is bound to jog up some fond memories of beloved games. The cast is varied, from standards like Jill from Resident Evil, Ryu from Street Fighter, and Mega Man X meeting deeper cuts like Kite, KOS-MOS, and Ciel Alencon. It’s easy to enjoy Project X-Zone 2 simply for the sheer breadth and quality of the characters, and seeing them interact and joke with each other in short talking-head cutscenes.
It’s when the rubber meets the road that Project X-Zone 2 starts the falter, as there’s only one real thing to do in this game: progress through mission after mission in the story mode. All there is to do in Project X-Zone 2 is story missions and a training mode, which never really felt necessary because the mechanics are not really complex or difficult to manage.
The missions play out in a squared grid, as you maneuver units around the map in typical turn-based fashion. Each unit is composed of a Pair Unit and a Solo Unit; Pairs are a set of two characters that execute attacks together, and Solos can jump in to add to the combo.
When you initiate combat with a unit, the game goes to a side view of the fight, and you can execute one of your normal attacks. The idea here is to juggle your enemy — each hit of your attack sends the enemy flying, and similar to fighting games, you want to time your hits just right to keep the combo going, which increases the different rewards you get from combat.
Playing volleyball with your foe’s rebounding sprite is certainly entertaining, and there’s a lot of charm in the attacks that makes them fun to see executed over and over. You’re encouraged to vary up your attacks to build one of your meters as well, and keeping your combos varied and fresh means it’s easier to gain meter to expend on defending against attacks and executing special moves.
There’s a lot of meters and concepts to manage in battles, but despite that, combat ends up feeling a little simplistic. Mastering Project X-Zone 2 really means understanding when to initiate one of the many attacks at your disposal to juggle enemies. Once you’ve mastered the timings, both within your Pair-Solo Units and the additional option to have nearby Pairs execute Support attacks, you have every tool you need to breeze through the game.
The odd thing is the breadth of content, because as simple as the combat is, Project X-Zone 2 boasts a fair amount of missions. Quantity isn’t necessarily the complaint here, though, because the number of missions is fine; it’s the amount of enemies that the game throws at you that it starts to feel extremely repetitive. Most missions were just assembling my units in a defensive position and slowly marching forward, completing juggle-fest after juggle-fest. I never felt challenged strategically, and it made me wonder what the point of the upper layer of turn-based strategy was.
Despite that, I was endeared to the cast, and that kept me going for a much longer time than most role-playing games. It’s hard to pitch something sheerly based on novelty, but if the idea of having Phoenix Wright team up with Chrom and Lucina appeals enough to overlook faults, you could do worse than Project X-Zone 2.