Tactical RPGs for Nintendo handhelds tend to be big winners for me. Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem: Awakening — I don’t know what it is, but that genre in portable form just does it for me. So, when I saw Project X Zone, I figured I would have another fun time on my hands. Sadly, I was mistaken. It’s nice to look at, but the embarrassingly bad story/dialogue and complete lack of strategy couldn’t keep me playing for long.
- TL;DR: Annoyingly bad story, repetitive missions, and nearly zero strategy/skill required
- Platform: 3DS
- Score: 5.5/10
- Hours Played: 8
- What I Played: Through story mission 10
- Recommended: If you know 75% of the roster then maybe, but even then, probably not
In Project X Zone, characters from many different games are brought together to foil … some evil group. Honestly, the story line is so convoluted and full of backstabbings and ulterior motives that it’s hard to keep track of. A group of evil-doers has a plan that the good guys must solve. It’s supposed to be a tactical RPG, so the story doesn’t need to go much deeper than that.
One of the big draws in Project X Zone is the roster, which is huge. Characters come from games like Street Fighter (Ryu/Ken/Chun Li), God Eater (Soma/Alisa), Resident Evil (Chris/Jill), .hack (Kite/BlackRose), and Tekken (Jin/Ling/Heihachi), just to name a few. The full roster can be found here, but suffice it to say that if you’ve got a favorite character in a game by Namco Bandai, Capcom, or Sega, they probably found their way into PXZ. I didn’t know most of the roster, but the in-game CrossPedia gives short bios on each character to try and get you up to speed.
PXZ plays out like many of the games I mentioned in my opening. Movement is tile based. Characters are paired up, usually by the game they come from, and attack as a team using their own signature moves, like Ryu’s Hadoken or Dante’s Million Stabs. Attacking builds cross points, or XP (not to be confused with experience, or EXP, which you also gain). Once at 100%, your XP bar can be spent on a special attack that shows a cut scene and deals heavy damage. Offense goes even further, though, with solo and support units. Some characters, like Tron Bonne and Arthur, are on their own instead of part of a pair unit. Solo units can be added to pairs and brought in to attack once per fight. If you initiate a fight within range of an ally, that pair of units can also be called in to support once per fight. Hitting with your initial unit and a solo/support unit will result in a Cross Hit, which can overdrive the XP bar to 150%. With so many characters attacking and so many numbers flying around, fights begin to look like Marvel vs Capcom 2.
The XP bar can also be used on defense and skills. When attacked, a unit can spend XP to either counter, reduce, or completely ignore all incoming damage. Each unit has various skills, like healing, increasing range/damage, or reducing the XP cost of defensive abilities. The only skills I ever needed to use in my ~8 hours of play were healing skills.
So, with such hectic action and a huge roster, why does Project X Zone fall short? While games like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars bring strengths and weaknesses into the equation, PXZ only requires a minimal amount of skill or thought before attacking. There are no strengths or weaknesses, no certain characters who do more/less damage against others. Attacking is based on input combos that range from A, Left+A, Right+A, Up+A, and, you guessed it, Down+A. That’s the full range of possibilities. Timing an attack right before an enemy hits the ground will result in a critical for extra damage, but it’s far from necessary.
Most enemy units can be brought down with one or two attacks. Since there is no concept of strength/weakness, the only way to make stages harder are to throw progressively more and more enemies at you. I’m only through mission 10 of 40, but each one is already taking upwards of 30 minutes just to get through all the song-and-dance of mashing A and watching units attack each other. Boss units are more of an annoyance than anything else, often having 10x the HP of standard units, if not more, taking forever to whittle down.
Graphically, I have nothing bad to say about Project X Zone. I’ve mentioned before how I think crisp 2D sprites work better than low-level 3D on handheld systems, and PXZ executes that to a T. Characters have that look of standing around and breathing while standing on the map, a nostalgic callback to the time many of these characters became famous. Attacks, while simple, are beautiful, flashy, and bright. Even when five fighters are attacking one enemy, there is absolutely no lag.
Stages are brutally repetitive. Every single one I’ve played follows the exact same formula. The group fights some enemies for two to three turns before some new allies-to-be show up. The new allies are apprehensive at first, telling the current group to stand back and let them handle it. Someone will ask a question, “oh my God is that [INSERT NAME]? The famous [INSERT DESCRIPTION]?”, to which someone will say, “it is! From [INSERT WORLD]!” Eventually, they decide to worry about their possible differences later and join forces for now. Every. Single. Time. The poor story linking all these characters/worlds together leads to some truly eyebrow-raising dialogue, and a lot of it.
Project X Zone brings together some of the biggest names in famous franchises from Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega. Unfortunately, the game created by the sum of those characters is far less than it’s parts. Fighting boils down to button mashing, although it is definitely a pretty sight. If you truly enjoy a huge portion of the roster, Project X Zone may be for you. If you’re looking for a tactical RPG with, you know, tactical gameplay, then stay away.