In May 2005, Namco X Capcom was released for the PlayStation 2. The game was a mix of action role-playing and tactical role-playing that brought multiple characters from across various universes and games between Namco and Capcom. Seems like a fun concept, right? Well, there was only one problem: it was only released in Japan. Bummer. However, other regions wouldn’t be completely left out in the cold, as it’s follow up, Project X Zone (pronounced Project Cross Zone…yeah, first it was the Vs. series, now the Cross series it seems) was released in the US on June 25 (as well as other regions a couple weeks later and Japan back in December). It’s time to see just how well mixing different characters from different franchises works.
At the start, a girl named Mii (a Project X Zone original character) awaits a detective at her mansion to investigate the theft of a blue portalstone from her mansion. After her private tutor Kogoro arrives (also a PxZ original) some monsters show up, possibly the ones that stole the stone. This is the first of five prologues that kind of sets up the main scenario; people are vanishing from their respective worlds and reappearing elsewhere. After you begin the main chapters of the game, you still end up meeting new characters from time to time as they all try to figure out just what the heck is going on and how to stop it. I’ll say this, the cast of characters is kind of expansive.
I haven’t played many tactical RPGs, but those I have will see individual characters with the ability to move around and attack enemy units on a grid-like map, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or the Fire Emblem series. Project X Zone works like that as well, except each unit you control is made up of two characters from the various Namco, Sega, and Capcom franchises represented, and they’ll attack in tandem during battles. How this works is that when it’s time for a unit to attack (if you wish them to do so, that is) you have three choices of attack that require hitting the A button in conjunction with the D-Pad. There’s also a red bar that’s in the lower right of the top screen that shows you how many times you can attack, which is equal to how many different attacks you have available. While you can repeat the same attack over and over again, the game rewards you for changing it up by giving you an extra attack if you use every different attack you have available. That means at the start of the game you can have each unit attack up to four times in battle, and later on when you learn new moves this can be increased to six.
As you attack enemies, you’ll see a little XP meter fill up. This does not equal experience points--that’s actually a separate meter labeled EXP--but cross points. As you damage an enemy, this meter will fill up to a max of 100. Think of this like a magic points system shared across all units in battle. You can spend these points either by using skills that each unit possesses, defending enemy attacks, or by unleashing a very powerful special attack on an enemy. The skills range from healing allies to extending your movement or attack range, and typically cost anywhere from ten to 30 cross points. For defense, you can typically choose to either counter enemy attacks, deflect some damage, or deflect all damage, depending on how much meter you want to spend (if your unit is stunned, you can’t defend in this way). However, special attacks require 100 cross points which will completely drain the meter. Still, when fighting stronger enemies and bosses, it can often mean the difference between defeating an enemy and letting it live for another turn.
So far this looks promising, but let’s make battles even more interesting, shall we? While a paired unit always fights together, they can also be joined up with a solo unit. You can have a solo unit that’s paired with a, um, paired unit attack once a battle to deal some extra damage. However, if a solo unit’s attack and the main pairs’ attack connect at the same time, a huge X appears over the enemy and freezes them in place for a short period of time. This allows you to get in some easy hits depending on which move you select as the enemy won’t be constantly bouncing up and down, possibly out of your reach, which happened to me a few times. It’s also worth noting that while performing a cross attack your cross points meter can now go up to 150 points. However, if you’re between 100 and 150 and you’re not performing a cross attack, the meter will still remain wherever it’s at. You can also call in support attacks if there’s another unit adjacent to your position that effectively works like a solo unit attacking.
Now here’s where Project X Zone falls a little flat: that’s basically it. Between chapters, you go to an intermission screen where you can equip weapons and gear, swap solo units between main units if you wish, and save your game. Outside of that, though, each chapter has you “auto-travel” to a set location, some dialogue happens, you fight a bit, more dialogue, more characters and villains might show up, you fight some more, and the chapter ends. What’s strange is that for a game that’s partially labeled as an RPG, there’s not a lot of other RPG elements to it, so to speak. Granted you do level up your characters as you defeat enemies, and as you level up you learn new attacks and skills to use, but there’s no towns to travel to between chapters, no gold to collect, or items to buy. Instead, any items and gear you get are either found directly on the battlefield in chests or objects you can break, or by defeating enemies. You also can’t travel wherever you wish, as all chapters take place in pre-determined areas.
To compare, let’s take a look at Fire Emblem Awakening
. Between battles you could travel to a couple different towns on the map to buy and sell items and upgrade your gear, you could interact with the various units to increase their friendship and relationship with each other, you could mix two units together on the battlefield to support each other, and you could travel to areas already cleared and utilize downloadable content and Streetpass to grind for experience to level up the units how you see fit. With Project X Zone, everything is basically set in how going from location to location works as well as the enemies you encounter. With that in mind, each battle has a set goal to meet for victory and defeat, which may change a few turns in if more characters enter the fray in a cut scene. While a lot of the time the ultimate victory goal is to defeat one or more major enemies, it’s beneficial to take out as many enemies as you can beforehand to increase your experience level and level up faster since you can’t really grind, so to speak.
All that said, Project X Zone isn’t really a bad game. It’s just not that deep of an RPG compared to others in the genre of tactical RPGs. The combat system isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be, as there is some strategy that can be applied in battle. When you hit enemies with attacks, they will either be launched into the air or flung to the wall at the end of the attack. Once they come back down to earth, so to speak, you can launch another attack to continue the combo. If you hit the enemy just before it touches the ground, you can get in some possible critical strikes, but if you wait too long you’ll lose your “combo,” and if the enemy has a block meter that filled while you were attacking, you’ll have to drain it again. Mixing in solo and support units also requires some strategy; if you freeze an enemy with a cross attack at the wrong height, some of your normal attacks might miss. This can be a huge problem for bosses who already have a high amount of health and damage output.
Overall, I do recommend picking up Project X Zone, but not if you’re expecting a deep Fire Emblem-style game. It is labeled as a mix of action RPG and tactical RPG, but the RPG elements aren’t quite as deep as other tactical RPGs, or at least it didn’t feel that way to me. I’m also a little curious as to why the audible dialog is all in Japanese as opposed to also recording English dialog and being able to switch between the two, but that’s just a minor nitpick. However, it is a fun game, though a bit on the easy side. I don’t think I really used any skills outside of just experimentation until a few main chapters in. The skills can come in handy and probably should be utilized when you have a full meter unless you’re about to attack a boss. The minor enemies can usually be taken out in two turns, or one turn and a counter attack if it has the chance to attack you, or one turn period
if you have solo and support units to help out. Still, it is a fun game and will keep you busy for quite a while with around 46 chapters to go through, including prologues. I just wish it was a bit more deep.