Project X Zone 2 – Review
The X stands for Cross!
Project X Zone 2 is a one of the strangest titles I’ve ever played. It is a game that has seemingly no reason to exist, yet after spending considerable time with it over the past few weeks, I’m glad that it does. Co-developed by heavyweights of the Japanese gaming industry – Namco Bandai, Sega, Capcom and Monolithsoft – Project X Zone 2 is a fan service filled Strategy RPG romp that provides more laughs than it does challenge, largely in part to a liberal localisation and self-aware sense of humour.
Cross-over titles seem to be something of a tradition for the Japanese industry – Street Fighter x Tekken, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Fortune Street – there is something satisfying about this kind of collaboration in the same way Sony allowing Marvel to use Spiderman in Captain America: Civil War gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It can be interesting to see characters and properties we enjoy create stories that otherwise wouldn’t exist, so believe me when I say that the plotline in Project X Zone 2 could never exist were it not for the developers throwing caution to the wind and just having some fun with their intellectual properties.
If I’m completely honest, the story in Project X Zone 2 is something of a mess – both simplistic and convoluted simultaneously, it’s sole purpose is to give the player an excuse as to why somebody like Phoenix Wright is crossing both time and space in the company of Tekken’s Heihachi Mishima and Xenoblade Chronicle’s Fiora to battle M. Bison and an army of Resident Evil’s B.O.W’s. It really is mind-boggling how far into the game new characters are being introduced into the party, a side effect of which is very little character development taking place. A localisation that puts jokes before everything else goes a way towards mitigating this, as the whole affair feels too self aware to be overly critical. The narrative is divided into short Chapters, each made up of story scenes and a battle sequence which span between 20 minutes to an hour, perfect for portable bursts of play. Short play sessions can quickly turn to long binges however thanks to the surprisingly enjoyable battle system in place.
Compared to other entries in the genre, PXZ2 is a relatively easy Strategy RPG bolstered by some basic fighting game mechanics during the attacking phase. Success can be boiled down to three elements; strategic character placement, correct timing when executing a sequence of attacks and, if all else fails, liberal use of items. Attacks deal more damage when enemies are approached from behind or the side, a principle that works just as well for foes as it does for the player. Attacks are chosen from a selection of basic button combinations, more of which become unlocked as characters increase in level. Three attacks can be unleashed during a turn, with support attacks and special attacks stackable on top. ‘Juggling’ of enemies is encouraged much like a fighting game, as executing an attack just before the enemy hits the ground from the previous combination will add critical damage. Getting a feel for the precise moment is difficult as the timing is different for each character and attack, but by and large missing a critical bonus won’t make or break progress through a battle thanks to the very lax attitude towards item use. Advanced players can also attempt the ‘Mirage Cancel’ function, which when mastered returns an attack to the counter partway through, useful for extending combos and boosting damage. I myself was not very skilled at employing the Mirage Cancel, which wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be thanks to my frequent exploitation of items.
Rather than other SRPG’s, in which using an item eats up a characters turn, usage in Project X Zone 2 takes place between character turns through the menu with no restrictions on how many items can be consumed or by which character. This makes it possible to brute force your way through a difficult fight, but I suspect it is in place because Project X Zone 2 loves to spawn in more enemies frequently and with no warning. This free-for-all use of items goes a long way towards addressing an issue I’ve had in other SRPG’s (Natural Doctrine springs instantly to mind) where it is difficult to feel like you are strategizing effectively and instead get the impression that each battle is more like a puzzle that must be failed first in order to correct any ‘mistakes’ made on a subsequent attempt.
One minor issue that cropped up from time to time involved the camera controls which were sometimes unresponsive. Due to the isometric perspective, objectives were occasionally obscured from view and repositioning the camera was the only way to spot them. More freedom of movement would have corrected this, but this momentary annoyance doesn’t detract from the overall experience of the game.
Project X Zone 2 is a niche title in many regards but I feel confident in saying that it will definitely please the demographic it is aiming for. While the ridiculous story might annoy some players, the localisation team have gone a long way to ensuring that moment to moment beats are entertaining. The light mixture of SRPG and fighting mechanics also ensures that newcomers to the genre won’t feel alienated.
Stephen del Prado