Project X-Zone: More is Less

Project X-Zone is a cross-over tactical RPG featuring characters from a vast number of franchises from Namco, Capcom, Sega, and others. The vast array spans series from the obscure to the classic, with characters such as X from Megaman X, Ryu from Street Fighter, Arthur from Ghouls and Goblins.

A Mash-up Mess-up

Throwin’ It All Together

Project X-Zone has 50 characters split into 20 pairs and 10 solo units. These characters come from over a dozen different franchises. The game does a relatively good job of integrating the characters without making them feel superfluous, and the dialog contains dozens and dozens of fan nods, inside jokes, and references for each and every character. No matter who you’re a fan of, the service will be thorough.

Without Reason

While the characters are well representated… the game does an even worse job than most of explaining why. I will explain the entire story for you and still not spoil a damn thing: worlds are melding together because PORTALS. Yep, there ya go. When you get a cross-over RPG like this you don’t expect much of a story – in a way it’s a lot like a fighting game – but the story in this game is particularly cringeworthy.

And With Delay

One of the most annoying aspects of this game is how long it waits to introduce a lot of the more high-profile characters – the characters that people would actually want to see. Characters from series like Endless Frontier, Dead Rising, or Darkstalkers come in an abundance right from the start. That isn’t to say these characters were bad to see… but them being given so much spotlight time meant that more storied characters from more well-known series were delayed to an unbelievable degree. Resident Evil and Megaman characters(except Tron, but… who cares about Tron?) are, for example, delayed until nearly halfway through the entire game. X and Zero in particular are I believe the very last characters you get introduced to despite being probably the most high-profile characters short of Street Fighter – who are, thankfully, introduced very early.

Round 1, Fight!

Plan of Attack

Before each chapter you’re given the ability to set up your characters. Each pair unit can equip two items – a weapon/armor and a support item – and can be matched with a solo unit who will provide them with extra abilities, passives, and who will assist them in battle. The equipment system is incredibly shallow, with items being basically straight up immediately apparent upgrades for the most part. A few items offered some interesting choices especially as you got into the late game, but those were few and far between and sadly not the norm. Matching a pair unit with a solo was a bit more interesting as abilities with similar effects don’t stack so you have to avoid wasting passives and stats.

Sadly, this is an area that they could have done so much more. When I think of all the cool things they could have done with a system like this, it just makes me so disappointed. I mean, how cool would it have been to have specialized bonuses or attacks if you paired certain people together – imagine Kos’Mos, T’Elos, and the android Alisa having a special bonus since they’re all androids… or Jin and Heihachi having a special penalty when matched together since they hate each other… it feels like such a missed opportunity, such a lost chance to add depth to a system that ends up being incredibly shallow.

Weakness in Numbers

When you’re building an experience designed to be strategic, it’s important to present a challenge and varying conditions. Project X-Zone fails miserably in both regards.

In stead of providing you with meaningful enemies that are difficult to beat and require thought and strategy… they present you with dozens(and yes I mean this literally) of small enemies that just take one or two attacks to beat. This leads to a feeling of tedium and exhaustion in stead of satisfaction and accomplishment. Completing a level never felt good for me, it never felt rewarding. A single round could take 2 hours, and it wasn’t an exciting 2 hours, it was 2 hours of wading through trash mobs, effectively. And, worst of all, you never knew for certain how many trash mobs you’d have to fight because the game loved to introduce more and more trash as the round went on.

To make things even easier, you are given a plethora of different healing items – all of which are flavour items from the various gameworlds in question by the way – that can restore your healing or your ‘cross points’ (effectively ability points although they restore whenever you get hit or use an attack). These items come from little treasures around the maps or from defeating enemies… the sad part is you end up with so many items you can’t possibly use them all. There are so many items there is literally no reason to even try to be conservative with them. By the end I had 8 items that would restore my entire party’s full hp and cross points as well as at least 100 other items ranging from 10-70% restoration of either cross points or hp and 20 of every status restoration item.

And in stead of providing you with a wide variety of win conditions, the vast majority of the missions just fall back on the ‘kill all enemies’ condition. Once in a while they’ll throw in some timed event, but those are rare and even in those cases it usually turns into a ‘kill all enemies’. This is really disappointing, I would’ve loved to see some more varied objectives but doing that in a game that is this overloaded in every way would have really been impossible.

Overwhelming ‘Strategy’

The combat system in Project X-Zone also has a lot of potential… it offers a lot of strategic options. When you engage in combat with an enemy you get a scenario that reminds me a lot of the car-breaking mode from Street Fighter 2. You’re presented with the enemy on one side and the pair unit on the other. You then select buttons to use attacks – you can use up to a certain number, with a bonus one awarded for using each attack available once – and can also call in support attacks from a pair unit that was standing adjacent to the one you were controlling as well as solo attacks from whichever solo unit you had paired with them. The enemy just stands there and takes it – or gets thrown around based off the type of attacks.

And here is where it all falls apart. Every attack functions differently in terms of timing and what it does to the enemy. If you have 5 or 6 units and 5 or 6 solo units on the field and you could perfect those units and plan strategies around them… it’d be a very rewarding system. The unfortunate reality is that you have twenty each of pair and solo units and each pair unit has 5 attacks. This leads you to having 140 different abilities(20 pair units with 5 attacks each, 20 solo units with one attack, and all 20 pair units can also be used as a support unit) which is just an unreasonable number for anyone to be able to master. And, since you aren’t able to really master it, once in a while you’ll end up with an enemy flying in the air thanks to a poorly executed attack while your support/solo attacks hit the air where the enemy used to be, completely wasting those precious damage points.

When you combine this with the sheer overload of useless enemies… you end up doing nothing but button mashing for the most part.

Positional Irrelevence

The other spot where this game truly falls flat is the simple fact that a unit’s location on the battlefield quite literally does not matter. The only two things that make any use of location are your attack range and your support unit. Things like special abilities and item use are not limited by range. You can use your abilities or items wherever you are, and the area of effect abilities have such huge range… it really doesn’t matter. You just sort of move forward as quick as you can and kill everything as quickly as you can.

Final Thoughts

One of the few things that Project X-Zone does right is how it presents itself to us. The visuals, while not particularly impressive in terms of fidelity, nonetheless do pay homage to the characters in question. The characters are very well represented in how they move, how they act, and how they look… and more importantly, themes from each game were lovingly remastered for use on the 3DS. My only real problem is that the theme that plays at any given time is dependent upon the character who you are controlling which leads to a somewhat disorienting experience. Changing tracks every 1-2 minutes is not a good idea in a game like this – you never get the chance to appreciate the good job they did in repurposing these themes.

Another awkward aspect is just how unforgivably linear this game is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually a fan of linearity but when the game has literally no room for choice, it goes past my tolerance. There aren’t even any opportunities to farm or grind, there are no sidequests… the game quite literally goes from once chapter to the next directly. You can’t backtrack, take alternate routes, or even take side missions. People complain about a game like Final Fantasy XIII – but at least in that you can grind if you choose. This game is a game that should be being derided for being linear, because it is punishingly and painfully linear.

One of the keys to the success of many of the SRPGs is the use of limitations. Whether you’re talking Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Fire Emblem, you are put into a position where you have to choose who you want to bring. You need to pick what combination of abilities, classes, and character styles you want – and because of that, you have the ability to develop your own style and strategy. The lack of this is sorely felt in Project X-Zone, as you merely bring all 20 people and just sort of zerg everything.

Overall

Project X-Zone was, unfortunately, an unparalleled disappointment for me. While it did have a good measure of fan-service and some pretty cool music… the repetitive gameplay, lack of strategy, and ridiculous number of throwaway enemies creates an experience that is essentially a lesson in tedium. The potential was there for so much more… but they just never managed to live up to any of it. Point of fact, I was quite eager for the game to just be over after the first 10 hours or so.

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