Project X Zone 2 3DS Review

I remember the time when a little game was announced in Japan that went by the name of Namco X Capcom. It had a cool premise in which it featured a collection of characters based around Namco and Capcom properties. It threw in people like M. Bison, Ryu, Megaman, Heihachi, KOS-MOS, and Taki, with good and evil characters from those worlds fighting off in a strategy RPG that had an eccentric action-focused battle system. I waited and waited for the game to get a release in English, but that never happened. I gave up waiting and ended up playing the game with a fan-translation patch. This is where I found out that while the idea of all these characters in a game together was cool, the mechanics dragged on for too long, it was repetitive and rather shallow, and by the end of its 80 hour adventure, the grind had become too much of a burden to think of it as a great game.

It was a similar experience with the series’ first English release, Project X Zone, a sequel with a different name that managed to somehow get a release, but still suffered from some of the same problems I had with Namco X Capcom. Now with a sequel to Project X Zone in our hands, has the game changed at all? Or is it still a fan-filled wet dream that doesn’t know how to produce an engaging game once the honeymoon period has worn off?

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Story was never a strong point for Project X Zone, and while the story picks up from that game (you don’t need to play it to enjoy this sequel), it’s easier to follow this time – it doesn’t feel as disjointed and all over the place – but can still get long-winded at times when the game’s huge cast of characters have to chime in on the happenings of the plot. You won’t find any exceptional storytelling here. This is a fan-service plot that basically allows all these video game characters to cross space and time, and work together to take down the evils of Shadoloo and the scheming Saya, who always seems to be causing issues in each game for our protagonists Xiaomu and Reiji.

One area that I feel makes an improvement over the other entries is the dialogue. This is genuinely witty, with some great comical moments that build on character traits – Ryu’s obsession with getting people to do tatsumaki senpuu kyaku (hurricane kick) and Ryo Hazuki asking people where sailors are – that takes away some of the dull dialogue when the game tries to get serious with exposition. The writers even attempt to add some relationships to the characters, such as an early introduction to Phoenix Wright, who just happens to be Heihachi’s lawyer, as Shadoloo has framed him for some property destruction that he honestly says he has nothing to do with. It’s small titbits like this mixed in with a solid translation that makes this enjoyable to play through, although the bar wasn’t exactly set high by the previous titles.

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But I’ll be honest, this game was not built aiming to offer a gripping adventure or even to bring the best strategy RPG experience. Monolith Soft (of Xenoblade Chronicles fame) have made this game to bring together all these characters. Project X Zone 2 is the only place where you will see newcomers to the fray, such as Resident Evil‘s Leon S. Kennedy, Streets of Rage‘s Axel Stone and Shenmue‘s Ryo Hazuki join with the likes of Dante and Vergil from Devil May Cry, Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza and Fiora from Xenoblade Chronicles. There is a huge range of series covered in Project X Zone 2, so if you are a fan of Japanese games, games like the Tales of franchise, God Eater, Fire Emblem or even Nightshade, you will certainly know someone out of the cast of 58 video game characters, and that’s just the playable list, as there are plenty of villains that up the count.

Project X Zone 2 is spot on with its fan service. There is something magical hearing Volcanic Rim when its Ryu and Ken’s turn to attack, or Phoenix Wright’s Pressing Pursuit when he’s about to start a battle. The music gets me pumped every time, and when the combat gets going, seeing all these memorial moves come to life in the game’s brilliant sprite work is visually pleasing on so many levels. It’s a labour of love from the development team, and it really shows. The problem is, a great game isn’t based on your love and excellent representation of video game heroes and villains, it’s about the game itself, and this is where Project X Zone 2 falls a little flat.

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Battles were notorious for lasting too long in the previous titles, and so improvements have been made to hurry up the process. Rounds have been introduced, so now the entire team gets to move across the grid-based map, rather than speed determining the order of each character’s turn. This adds more planning to your movement, as you can focus positioning to take down potential incoming threats easier, due to the straight nature of the entire team taking their move, rather than the mishmash unit movement between your units and the enemy’s. Enemy attacks, unless it is a special move, will remain on the isometric view, rather than jumping into the battle, which makes the transition between enemy movement and your own quicker.

Project X Zone 2 still falls back too much on the standard formula of introducing more enemies into a battle. Each chapter will start with the fight, those enemies will be close to defeat, then more will come, then sometimes even more will come and then even more. It’s a repetitive part of the game where there is no surprise in these backup units arriving, as you expect to see more enemies appear when close to defeating the initial spawn, and this makes the game fall back into its original problem of battles being longer than they have to be. At least objectives later in the game do change so that you are no longer just killing everyone. One time you will have to deactivate bombs on the Queen Zenobia (the ship from Resident Evil: Revelations) or protect your mobile base from being hit (rather annoying on Chapter 26). Improvements are here to make it better than its predecessor, but it’s not enough to extinguish the problem, only to pat it down a little.

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As a strategy RPG, Project X Zone 2 is rather thin on the strategy. It doesn’t actually require brain work that something like Fire Emblem or Disgaea asks of the player. As long as you attack from the side or back of an enemy, you will be able to get through the game without much of a challenge. There are a couple of stages that can cause failures, because their objective causes instant game over if one enemy unit manages to touch what you are supposed to be protecting, but if you learn from the mistake, the next attempt should be more successful.

Actual fights are very action packed, and initially, seeing the visuals splashed all over the screen as your team goes to work on the enemy is a beautiful and hectic mess, but as time goes on, the same repeated moves begin to wear thin. You cannot skip fight animations, unless they are super moves, as chaining multi moves together by pressing A and a direction to activate the desired attack is needed to to extend combos and aim for the best timing to gain critical damage, which is just as the enemy is about to touch the ground. Solo characters attached to a duo team can assist, and so can characters that are positioned next to the attacking duo, dealing even more damage to the enemy, often in the 10s of thousands. The idea of a strategy RPG with active, flashy, combat is awesome, but its execution is too repetitive, since nothing ever really changes how they play out. You attack with 3-5 moves based on these simple two press inputs, and the timing is always the same – repeat the process and you can see how the the game begins to become tedious the longer you spend with it.

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Outside of battles, skills and items can be used to buff, heal and revive fallen comrades, but apart from healing units, I never felt the need to use skills until like 25 hours into the game – just under half the game’s  60 hours it takes to complete. One mechanic that is helpful is the ability to spend metre to counter or partially defend an enemy attack, while the special metre, the one used for the most powerful moves, can also be used outside of a fight to completely invalidate damage from an enemy, but the cost is being unable to use your super attack, since the metre needs building back up through fighting and gaining combo chains.

Project X Zone 2 is exceptional at managing to successfully bring all these characters together. There is clearly a lot of love for these franchises represented, and somehow the developers have done justice in their representation, from visuals, attacks, and character personality. Sadly, Project X Zone 2 is so focused on making that right rather than actually delivering a great game. There are better strategy games for the 3DS available that offer stimulating and more complex experiences, but there is only one series that brings such a diverse cast of brilliant characters, an amazing soundtrack and amusing dialogue. In the end, it comes down to how well you can slug through the shallow and unchallenging tactics and the annoyingly drawn out battles to experience such fan-service love, its huge list of references, and its desire to bring a title for video game fans of things Japanese.

6 out of 10