Failing to truly capture an audience in Japan, the mega crossover game on Nintendo 3DS has actually been released westside and is trying try to find its audience in other territories. Developed by Namco Bandai and including characters from the franchises of Namco, Sega and Capcom, this game opts to be the ultimate fan-service game and succeeds (somewhat).
The story is nothing short of paper thin, and is about as engaging as the story-driven (and I use that term loosely) Subspace Emissary mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. Each of the early chapters present themselves very repetitively, going from “Hello character A, let’s search around this area and figure out what’s going on,” to “Look character B! There are some characters from another game series we may or may not know!” Then the characters mingle with a villain or two, then you actually start the gameplay. It feels as if there are simply too many characters and the writers were just desperately seeking a way to bring them together in a variety of ways.
The story presents itself in text dialogue coupled with some well drawn anime-style stills. Reading the dialogue is somewhat engaging, but mostly when it’s a character you know of, as well as their personality traits. For example, I am very unfamiliar with many of the more Japanese-centric characters, but I was able to get (and even laugh out loud) a lot of the dialogue and references for Frank West. It is in this sense that the story does redeem itself; fans will love the little references that come with the dialogue and will most likely smile at what they read as the game progresses on. Anyone who does not know any better will not have any idea what any of these characters are talking about.
Gameplay is stylized to feel like a strategy game, but in this sense, it’s very bare bones in nature. Your characters move about on a grid-like map, allowing you to pick and choose your positions, as well as who to attack. The combat mode is somewhat different from the grid map. Hitting the A button and holding down a direction on the D-pad will initiate different combo attacks, and that’s basically the entire combat system. If characters are near each other, you can create assist “Cross” attacks and deal even more damage against the opponent. There are no blocks, no options, just three combos and possibly the solo and team assists depending on which characters are in your party or next to you on the grid map.
Fortunately, what the game lacks in substance it makes up for with flare. The actual combos you initiate are incredibly cool and fun to watch, and because you switch from character to character so often, it’s difficult to get used to the amazing well done sprite animations. Furthermore, when initiating basic combos without any Cross attacks, you are required to actually time when you start the next combo so as to make sure all hits land on the opponent (they bounce around during combos in a similar style to a Capcom/Namco fighting game).
In between turns, you can use items and skills to keep yourself alive during chapters and you will definitely need them. There are chapters where the game leaves your team members spaced apart and heavily outnumbered by small, large and boss enemies. So while there is little strategy involved, what little there is in question is crucial. Positioning your characters together will give you an edge with Cross attacks and this will allow you to boost your XP, an attribute you gain during combat, which can be used to revive fallen team members, counter, defend, and even initiate devastating and beautifully animated ultimate moves. These ultimate moves utilize special attacks from each characters’ respective franchise, combines it with a nifty anime animation and deals colossal damage on the poor sap who is receiving the brunt. This makes for a fun and unique experience for fans, if just a somewhat disengaging one.
The visuals in Project X Zone leave something to be desired. The environments have very limited draw distance, sometimes explicitly allowing the player to see the edge of the world. Said environments are also quite bland and feel somewhat soulless. Even familiar landmarks will feel desolate and uninspired. The grid map chibi sprites also don’t seem particularly engaging, looking about as impressive as an NES Final Fantasy sprite.
All of these complaints are rendered moot in all other areas however. During character dialogue, characters are represented by much more appealing anime artwork with a variety of stills to convey that character’s current emotion. In combat, the sprites, while still somewhat chibi-style, are much more engaging than their grid map counterparts. The attacks are drawn and animated beautifully, as are the aforementioned ultimate attacks. Each character looks and behaves as they should, using a variety of moves from their own games and sticking true to their actual style.
The soundtrack is actually quite superb. While it does simply remix older themes and has some bland in-between tracks, it is a viable and enjoyable soundtrack with a sense of personality. Attacks sound devastating and the all Japanese voice work is actually quite good. Some side characters do sound strange and some of the generic monster enemies sound incredibly annoying. Overall, not much to mention but much to complain about either.
Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
This crossover game will definitely enthuse fans, as it most likely was meant to do. But those looking for a full and fluent gameplay experience, or perhaps an engaging crossover story with their favorite characters may walk away feeling disappointed. I would recommend playing the demo on the eShop before making the plunge; this game is most certainly not for everyone, but for 3DS owners, it is definitely something worth at least giving a try.
+ Flashy, fun character animations
+ Fun character references in story
+ Solid soundtrack and voice work
+ Has some decent strategy elements
– Not all characters are recognizable for everyone
– Gameplay is disengaging and repetitive
– Visuals on grid map are bland
– Story is not particularly deep
Copy purchased by author for review purposes.
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