I’m no stranger to the video game cross over. Kirby laying into Pit or Devil Jin coping a Hadouken to the groin is no longer the surprising spectacle it once was. So when another fighting themed crossover in the form of Project X Zone was announced, only the truly hardcore fans seemed to raise their eyelids. Could an original Capcom cross Sega cross Namco Bandai strategy RPG featuring over 200 characters be enough to satisfy fans and 3DS users alike? Or would seeing Chris Redfield fighting alongside Zero be too much for us Westerners to cope with?
I’m all for mashing my favourite video game memories into one experience, but when attempting to explain why over 200 characters from 27 video game series are joining forces, things can get messy. Early on we see Chun-Li, the Interpol agent team up with succubus Morrigan. Video games hulkiest thighs alongside gaming’s most voluptuous bosom… sure, i’ll bite. But when the well known faces of Ryu, Jill Valentine and Dante began to become lost in a sea of characters from seemingly every Japanese RPG and anime series that never saw the light of day on our shores, I knew I was lost. Project X Zone often feels like it is built around one big punch line which is “let’s see how funny mooshing all these characters together will be.”
With every variant of go-get-em teens, perky schoolgirls and sullen bad-arses, the whole cliched anime gang is in town. With a roster this diverse, spanning alternate timelines, universes and futures, the story quickly becomes one choppy, confused mess. Once the characters begin to admit that they themselves are confused as to what is happening and where they are at any one point, it’s time to take that as a hall pass, sit back and just enjoy watching Frank West (Dead Rising) snap ‘Erotic’ photos of every female character.
However, whatever X Zone lacks in logic, it easily makes up for in addictive, semi-tactical battles. It shouldn’t work, hell, I’m not even sure I wanted it to work, but somehow against all odds, this jungle juice Frankenstein has enough laughs and enough solid gameplay to squeak through the bat-shit crazy cracks. And if you are ever confused about the history of .hack or why the sexy robots have a grudge against you, then the included Crosspedia can catch you up on all the characters motivations.
While it is always a fun nod to see Frank West (of Dead Rising) and his new posse fighting in locations such as the Willamette shopping mall (setting of Dead Rising), none of the characters ever actually feel like themselves. A collection of cliches and one liners each character would likely say are merged with the rest of the crowd creating hollow characitures.
As far as tactical strategy games go, X Zone is on the simpler side. Each battle is won by moving teams of two towards an inevitable beat down with a boss (often in the form of a sexy robot or monster). The crowded, straight forward matches often feel more like a game of Monkey’s in a Barrel with your 5 year old cousin than a strategic chess game that many other titles achieve. X Zone is a game created simply for our amusement. Like a child throwing a handful of bugs in with a spider just to see what will happen.
By attempting to combine and mutate a number of genres, combat never feels as polished or as fun as the series X Zone pays homage to. Attack commands in battle sequences often feel more like a bad fighting game than an interesting addition to a strategy game. However, when you line up an attack featuring 5 characters beating down in tandem, it can be beautifully chaotic. X Zone makes an effort to equalise all the characters which creates freedom in choice but never allows for any logical plans that utilise the strengths of different characters.
Doling out damage builds a shared power meter between your team which can be used to block, counter and perform special abilities. It comes in handy but is never game changing enough to incorporate into your strategy. The same can be said for levelling characters and the minimal loot system involved.
When X Zone falls short in terms of logic and gameplay, it always manages to keep you coming back simply for the chaos it embraces. The dialogue is dumb but often hilarious, the visuals are simple sprite animations but the animations still chaotically pop off the screen and while the gameplay brings nothing new to the table, it manages to create a simple satisfaction in its madness.
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