In the Project X Zone

hisui_icon_4040 I remember looking at screen shots of Namco × Capcom and thinking that we would never get the game here in the United States. I really wanted it but games with so many properties involved are notoriously hard to license. It turns out that was not a bad assumption as we still don’t have an official English release of Namco × Capcom. (Side note: I never remember that Reiji Arisu and Xiaomu are from Namco × Capcom. They always seem like Endless Frontier characters to me.)

Then in 2008 something shifted slightly. It was Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars. A fairly well-regarded fighting game for the Wii with a lineup of Tatsunoko and Capcom characters from all over the map. And it has a legitimate US release. It did not open the flood gate for every crazy cross over game from Japan but it did signal that maybe with a bit of luck some titles that were previously just in the realms dreams and fan translations were possible.

And so when I saw the Project X Zone movie I was super excited in general but not very optimistic about it chances. But then people kept telling me that there were rumors that it was coming out in English. And soon enough those rumblings were a reality. Apparently it was a bit of a pain in the ass to get all the necessary licenses. But it was here. The game I asked for.

So I had to put my money were my mouth was. I pre-ordered the game and got a 3DS for my birthday. So was it worth all the times I mentioned in the APB?

Mii Kouryuuji is an ultra rich fighting cheerleader who has a mysterious power. Kogoro Tenzai is a ninja detective, in a very silly and not very ninja like suit, who works part-time as Mii’s tutor. When demons steal the portal stone from Mii’s mansion the barrier between worlds starts to unravel. So Mii must gather a team of heroes (and villains) from a wide variety of Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega properties. Tactical battles ensue.

This is a game that is extremely self selecting. It puts up several barriers that essentially ask people to please stay away if they have no dedicated interest in the game. Some titles lure you in with flash and spectacle (the specialty of the Triple A studios), others with a simplicity that hides hidden depths (The forte of the indy developers), while the rest usually offer you a well-worn formula with some innovate polish. All these approaches center around attracting an audience with sweet promises. They are like carnival barkers shouting for you to see the greatest show on Earth. Project X Zone on the other hands you a flier for an exclusive club with a shrug more than anything else resembling communication.

What are these velvet ropes keeping people out? First of all as I mentioned before this game is a sequel to a series that never came out in English. And that game came out in 2005 which is like 100 years ago in video game time. Second not all of the games appearing in this story are games that were ever released in English. Some franchises like Sakura Wars had the fifth title released in a niche run but any of the earlier iterations are really only known either via the anime or fan translations. Valkyria Chronicles III on the other hand never got an English release and Cyberbots and The Adventure of Valkyrie: The Legend of the Time Key are even more obscure. Many of the other titles were either small or mostly forgotten releases. How many people REALLY bought (or at least remember) Fighting Vipers or Zombie Revenge?

Also the game is a tactical RPG which is automatically condemning into niche status. It is not that games like Fire Emblem Awakening and Final Fantasy Tactics can’t be successful. It is just even when they are a hit they always just feel like, “well that was a hit for that genre” more than “broke every record we ever had and more.” It is just a style of game that appeals to a certain type of player that has a far less universal appeal than something with a distinct beer and pretzels familiarity.

And quite frankly it is just nerdy. It unabashedly takes these different universes and mixes them together in the most fanboyish way possible. It is littered with in-jokes, obscure references, and pastiches at the very core of its being. It essentially says, “If you’re not a nerd: KEEP OUT!” The fact that is has so many titles contributes to that fact. You might be a hardcore Street Fighter fan, who has a tattoo of Ryu fighting Akuma, but that does not mean you are clamoring to play a game with the stars of Resonance of Fate. The Venn diagrams of those two fandoms certainly has some areas of overlap but those cricles are hardly in the shape of an annular eclipse as well. Add in a few dozen other titles and there maybe a handful of people who have played all the games involved let alone actually liked all of them.

But on the other hand some of those barriers are still barriers but they are not as bad as they seem. You don’t really have to have played anything that came before this. There is no plot element in here that demands that you played Namco × Capcom let alone any other the other games that make this stone soup of a title. Characters reference that they have met in the past. Sometimes that happened in Namco × Capcom, other times in Street Fighter X Tekken, and sometimes they just assume that similar people will know of each other with no real historical precedent connecting them. But you quickly just pick it up in context. If you know when they actually met it just adds and extra layer.

Also all the characters get little bios in the game after you meet them. I have never played Tales of Vesperia or God Eater but after reading their bios in the in-game encyclopedia I was able to quickly get who everyone was and what their general character schtick was. I might have lost a little nuance to some of the characters but no one is really looking for that from Genghis Bahn III or Devilotte de DeathSatan IX. Really all in all if you’re a fan of say 4 or 5 of the series then you are probably set. With Mega Man X, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, and Dead Rising in the mix I am sure many of these characters will be familiar favorites to quite a few players even if you have no idea who Bruno Delinger is. (And you do know who he is. You just might not realize it.)

The tactics part of the game is fairly straight forward. They hold your hand and slowly increase the difficult curve as the game goes on if you’re not a huge tactics person. This is not the throwing you in the deep end technique that made Final Fantasy Tactics famous or the brutal unforgiving task master that has become a trademark of the Fire Emblem series. Heck, I did not even know how to get a free attack each turn until a third of the way through the game. (But that was me being very silly and not paying attention.) If anything they game is easy enough that it might turn off a lot of the tactical RPG fans raised on meat grinder games made of essence of frustrated tears.

And last but not least is the final barrier. As I stated before. This game is ultimately very self selecting. Certain people shake their heads at the as massive crossover projects like this as things that sad little nerdlingers play. But if you have read this far into a post like this you know where you stand on the issue. You were either high-fiving your friends about the prospect of this game or getting ready to mock that group of people celebrating a post on Siliconera.

Now that I have gotten that line of thought out-of-the-way I can finally talk about how the game plays. It plays like someone’s giant parody fan fiction in-game form. In many ways your reaction to that statement is a fairly good sign of what you’re going to think of this game. It is one of THOSE parody fan fiction stories as well. You know what I’m talking about. They start off super goofy but they have this background plot that is mainly there just to string the funny scenes together. Then near the end it gets all serious at the climax and most of the humor goes away for life and death stakes. Just so it can go back to be silly in the end.

Look. I used to read some amount of Ranma 1/2 fan fiction back in the day. It happened all the time.

And so those looking for the comedic version of Hamlet mixed with Gravity’s Rainbow and a dash of The Great Gatsby are going to be sorely disappointed. But that person probably goes through their life disappointed for many reasons. The gameplay is mostly there so you can see how different characters react to each other when they are in the same team. How will the mostly villainous Heihachi Mishima react to the purehearted girls of the Paris Assault Force and New York Combat Revue? Will Chris Redfield & Jill Valentine trade zombie killing tips with Arthur? What the heck do KOS-MOS & T-elos have in common with Juri Han anyhow? (Other than a love of outfits that emphasize side boob?)

Combat works like this. You move around teams of characters on a tactical map. Each team consists of two characters in a single unit who are the main fighters along with a support character. Most of the time these teams are two characters from the same series but occasionally they are just two people with a similar motif. The support units can be from any game series and add distinct flavor of cross over that the two-man teams don’t often have. If another team is within striking distance they can also provide a support attacks as well.

You can then string together combos with your main characters, support characters, and ally unit. Effective chains that keep enemies juggled in the air build up your X meter so you can use skills as well as powerful super attacks. It therefore combines the strategy of a tactics game with some reflex based combat to liven things up. It is not a full fighting game’s worth of complexity with the combos but do keep the players from just mindlessly hitting A to attack.

Overall it is not the hardest game. There are a few maps that are timed that can be tricky and you might die on specific missions where you have to keep until X alive or the whole team loses if your careless. But unless you activate the nightmare mode after the game is beaten for the first time I think most veterans are going to breeze through this game without a problem. It is definitely made for those casual fans who just want to see their favorite characters banter back and forth more than the high level strategist. I think it would have been better to just have that harder difficulty there from the start for them.

The thing about the game is you have to want this for the long haul. There are 46 missions with a good deal of reused enemies and maps. Since your jumping between worlds you will have to jump back to places like the Willamette Parkview Mall or the street of Paris in front of the Les Chattes Noires several times before the game ends. When the game gets in full swing you can have over 20 units on the map but the enemy will often have 4 times as many troops. So expect some of the later stages to take a sizable chunk of time even if you do them super efficiently. This is a game that quickly wears down on anyone who is a twitch gamer or someone who needs constant changes in gameplay. It is distinctly a game that benefits from being on a portable device. I find such long haul RPGs are far more tolerable when they are portable.

Some random notes: I totally ship Frank West & Hsien-Ko now. If not romantically then at least as BFFs who bond over the use of improvised weaponry like a pair of science bros. This game has Maaya Sakamoto ALL OVER IT. She voices three different characters in Project X Zone. Project X Zone proves the sad running joke that Capcom uses Mega Man more in weird side projects than they ever do in anything that should actually involve him. Like games centered around him. This is probably also the only strategy RPG were you will be able to use a character who is for all intents and purposes is John McClane. Sadly he never blows up a boss while yelling, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” but it would have been great if he did.

Also the one major downside of port is that the original opening song did not make it over here. Sadly Wing Wanderer by Yoko Takahashi was probably a little too expensive so we get a much less interesting instrumental version instead. All in all it is a regrettable loss but it is better than the game not coming over at all.

Was the game worth it for me? I had lots of fun. And that is what is important. Will anyone else enjoy it? Well, as much as I made the roped off club analogy before it is actually really easy to get into this party. Hopefully  I made it clear that the real question is how long are you going to want to stay at such a shindig. This is not a pulse pounding rave with mass appeal. It is more a nerdy Dr. Who convention with some streamers. I think that comparison alone says volumes.

I got to play something with Sakura Wars characters officially in English again. That alone was worth the price of admission.

– Alain

One thought on “In the Project X Zone

  1. Ho-Ling says:

    I picked it up very cheap in Japan quite soon after the release, which was kinda surprising at first, but I soon found out why the price dropped so quickly. The game is absolutely gorgeous, but sooooo repetitive. I enjoyed myself really good the first 8~10 missions, but then you realize that this is pretty much all the game offers, with few character upgrades, constantly re-appearing bosses (“you haven’t seen the last of me!” -> returns next mission) and just waves and waves of mooks (and old bosses) thrown at you. I finished at approx. 50 hours, but I think the fun disappeared around 15~20 hours in the game..

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