Project X Zone is a new strategy RPG that takes famous characters from Capcom, Namco-Bandai and Sega franchises and combines them all into one mega-crossover adventure. There are characters from everything from Sakura Wars to Darkstalkers. But this crossover gimmick is far from all there is to the game and it easily holds its own against the greats of the TRPG genre.
Good — Filled With Insanity
I've already talked at length about the insanity inherent in a crossover like Project X Zone. After all, it is a game featuring characters from games as different as .hack—a game based inside an MMORPG—and Tales of Vesperia—a fantasy tale set in another world. But what's so impressive is how the writers have managed to connect everything together. It's easy enough when the parent games are both set in the real world—after all, teaming up John McClane and Chun-Li on an interpool case seems like a great way to catch the bad guy in my book. But how do you connect things as different as Resident Evil and Valkyria Chronicles? Through a thematic chain.
Valkyria Chronicles has a race called Valkyries ("Valkyrur" in the English translation), so does Valkyrie's Adventure. Valkyrie's Adventure has demonic dungeons to explore, so does Devil May Cry. Devil May Cry has tons of monsters fighting it out, so does Darkstalkers. Darkstalkers has zombies, so does Resident Evil—it's like a video game themed "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."
And aside from how they are connected, it's really fun to watch these characters from very different worlds interact and see the friendships they make.
Good — Lots of Customization
Customization is one of Project X Zone's strongest points. In the game, there are many different partner teams, but where the customization comes in is when selecting the third member of these groups. There are a large selection of solo characters that do not have to be paired with their own respective series. Matching the right solo character to the right group can make your units far more effective than if they are alone (or with a third team member assigned at random).
To further tweak your units, defensive and offensive items can be used to help your groups specialize in specific roles. These are dropped after the defeat of almost every single enemy.
Beyond that, the order in which you use your attacks in battle can make all the difference. Doing one of each type of attack gets you a bonus attack, and if combined in the right way, the enemy will never get a chance to block (as they'll spend the whole time being air juggled). Moreover, being in a square next to another team unit allows you to summon them into your battle for one attack, adding yet another chance for more damage in your combos if you can time it right.
Good — Complex Level Design
The most important factor in TRPGs is the level design. And the 46 stages of Project X Zone are top tier. No level feels like a throw-away stage and all are built quite differently from one another.
The game is smart about its use of different heights. Some characters may be able to fly and can thus cross terrain the rest of your forces cannot. Also, enemies may be positioned above you and be more than willing to rain down upon your army when you least expect it.
There are levels from each of the games included that grant a wide range of enemies as well as locals. Each level is also trying to dissuade you from your objective—there are always treasure chests strewn throughout the corners of the map to tempt you into splitting your forces to go after them.
But perhaps the strongest portion of the level design comes in the form of constantly changing objectives. Halfway through the vast majority of battles, conditions on the battlefield change drastically and turn your once-winning positions into near death traps. The game is rarely as simple as "kill everything and win."
Mixed — An Unforgiving Difficulty Curve
Of course, such complexity makes for an unforgiving difficulty curve. At first I was slaughtering the enemies, grabbing all the treasure, and then ganging up on the boss to win the level. By about the midway point of the game, I was lucky if I could do more than carve a path straight Sto the boss and kill it as quickly as possible (while I still had healing items to keep us alive).
In Project X Zone, you are rarely in an evenly matched fight. The enemies always outnumber you dramatically. Most of these can be killed in one hit, but the stronger enemies can take two or three attacks to kill—and the bosses more than ten. While your characters will generally be stronger, the sheer numbers of enemy forces add up in a hurry, especially in those levels where reinforcements show up halfway through.
Mixed — Can Take a Long Time to Get the Team You Want
If there's one thing negative about Project X Zone, it's that it takes its own sweet time in unlocking characters for your use. Some characters you get right at the start. Some you don't even meet until halfway into the game. And as this game easily clocks in at over forty hours, that can seem like an eternity when all you want to do is lay down the hurt Valkyria Chronicles 3 style.
Project X Zone is a great strategy RPG. It has amazing level design, an enjoyable battle system and, much like the Super Robot Wars series, does a great job in combining a collection of wildly different characters into a cohesive (yet totally insane) narrative. This is a top-of-the-line game in the TRPG genre and is well worth playing by TRPG fans as well as those just interested in crazy crossovers.
Project X Zone was released in Japan on October 11, 2012, for the Nintendo 3DS. There are currently no plans for an international release.