Fifteen years ago, something like Project X Zone coming stateside seemed like an impossibility. Titles like the Strategy/RPG Super Robot Wars series, that took characters from varied series across different companies, saw plenty of traction in Japan. The licensing nightmare that would need to be untangled to bring something like this stateside, however, was more than the powers that be wanted to tackle. It probably seemed like too much effort for too little pay off. So, while we occasionally saw guest characters, like Spider-man or Wolverine in a Tony Hawk game, it was left to hackers and fan fiction writers of varying levels of talent to introduce our beloved characters to each other.
Finally, in 2006, Atlus took a chance on releasing GBA’s Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation in the U.S. It quickly sold out, as well as the sequel. Seeing some potential for the market, Atlus and Bandai Namco brought over the straight RPG Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontiers. The main “non-original” character in this one was Xenosaga‘s KOS-MOS. A fun but repetitive title, this one proved once and for all that there was a western appetite for official mash ups. Finally taking the plunge, the states saw its first full-fledged total meeting of Capcom, Sega, and Namco Bandai characters in 2013’s Project X Zone. Apparently, it was a success as the sequel has arrived on our shores.
The story of this title picks up after the events in the original. Everyone has gone back to their own dimension and time. Peace cannot last, though, for then there would be no plot. The appearance of strange portals in the sky concerns the investigative duo Reiji and Xiaomu of Shinra, as they explore the quarantined remains of Shibuya. After little time, they find themselves teaming up with members of Shinobi, battling B.O.W.s with Resident Evil’s Jill and Chris, and surviving attacks from Street Fighter’s M.Bison and Yuri.
The sheer wealth of characters from various franchises could earn this strategy/RPG the alternative title Video Games: The Video Game. Those who thought the ridiculous amount of playable fighters in the previous installment was overkill have seen nothing yet. Not to give away anything, but people who show up are not just limited to Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai’s combined stable. Certainly, the particular duo referenced here has been let out of the bag already, however, I avoided these spoilers as part of the fun of these titles is not knowing who appears.
Actually playing the game can be a bit of a mixed bag. This title is divided up into numerous chapters. Near the beginning, these felt repetitive. The flow broke down into some characters coming across some sort of conflict. Then, one or more new people arrive. Either the newcomers or the original grouping explain that these party crashers are from another time/dimension. The initial conflict is resolved with the newcomer’s help and then the chapter ends. Fortunately, after hours of this same chapter formula, the plot started to get moving and add some variety.
These initial hours are bearable due to some smart translation work. This is a game that realizes how sumptuously stupid this entire thing is. Were one to attempt to describe the entirety of the plot, it would come across as the ramblings of someone who was mainlining ether while playing through a vast retro collection. It’s basically an excuse to intermingle franchises so they can throw good-natured barbs at each other and tell terrible jokes. For the most part, it works well. Almost everyone reads like how the characters are in their respective franchises with a thin layer of self awareness of the situation. When stated “almost everyone,” the exception is the villainous Ouma member, Sheath. While the joke is that the “American” antagonist is the most Japanese thing ever to grace anywhere, it wears thin after a bit.
Speaking of thin, it is strange that this strategy/RPG feels so when it comes time for the action. Broken down to the basics, players move hero teams around an isometric board until they come within striking distance of an enemy. Selecting attack brings up the side viewed attack screen. Here, it is a matter of inputting simple commands to unleash attacks, of which the player can use three per team per turn. Proper timing of the combos results in critical hits. (This side view battle system hasn’t changed since Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontiers, in case there is question.) The thing is that this knowledge is all that is needed to succeed. Despite the fact the there are two different power gauges, health, cross combos, and super attacks thrown into the mix, all a player needs to do is purchase and upgrade equipment and skills between battles. Oh, and try to attack from the rear.
This title is no slouch graphically. Utilizing well put together sprite work, Monolith has taken the wildly disparate styles found across the various series and put it all together into a cohesive whole. This is all done while, for the most part, maintaining the look and feel of the characters’ original appearance. Nothing felt out of place except when that was the true intent. Some of the work in the actual battle sequences could have used another pass over, but for the most part, this was pleasing to the eyes and worked well with or without the 3D effect.
Finally, there is the sound. When bringing this over to the west, Monolith decided to not to spend the money on English voice actors. Purists might respond “who cares, I would have skipped it anyways,” but it would have been nice if the characters that have iconic English voices would have received the full translation treatment. On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that some of the dialogue is so hilariously dumb that actually understanding the speakers would have ruined the written word. Kind of like when I try my hand at giving a speech. The music is a mix of original and familiar themes. It manages to tickle the nostalgia bone, but it isn’t quite up to par with other contemporary RPG tunes.
Project X Zone 2 is a funny, charming and amusing title. It sets out to entertain video game fans of all stripes and allows the player to jump from world to world to get a taste of other titles they may have been missing. Just based on the built-in “Crosspedia” encyclopedia database, the stack of games that I really want to try out has grown (Resonance of Fate, in particular.) It’s not challenging, but it was never meant to be. The gameplay is simply the vehicle to deliver the true focus of this title: dumb fun. Players who don’t need everything to bristle with a dark malevolence will find a great time in this one.