Project X Zone 2

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2016 (US), Feb. 19, 2016 (EU)


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3DS Review - 'Project X Zone 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 16, 2016 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

Project X Zone 2 is an action title that brings together the fiercest and most popular legacy characters from Namco Bandai, SEGA, and Capcom’s most beloved franchises to create the ultimate Strategy-RPG cross-over experience.

Project X Zone 2 starts sometime after the previous game. The agents of Shinra have run into another interdimensional conflict. In this case, golden chains appear across many dimensions, causing time and space to bend. Characters from the past, the future and alternate dimensions appear and attempt to manipulate the broken flow of space and time to their own advantage. The only way to stop them is for a band of heroes from across video games to join forces and beat the living daylights out of them. The heroes are a mix of old and new, including characters from Nintendo's Xenoblade and Fire Emblem franchises.

X Zone 2 improves in how it handles the crossover elements. The previous game mostly consisted of disparate characters who wandered into one another and had minimal interactions. Early on, you encounter Phoenix Wright, who has been hired by Tekken's Heihachi Mishima to defend him in court from M. Bison's Shadaloo organization, which is framing him for illegal bioweapon smuggling. It sounds absurd on paper, but it allows for amusing interactions between characters. There are a lot of crossover interactions like that, so it's fun to progress and see various characters. The only downside is that once the cast gets large enough, the party size is so bloated that it's difficult for less exuberant characters to get a word in edgewise. Otherwise, the plot is pretty dull and mostly serves an excuse for various character interactions.

On the surface, X Zone 2 looks very similar to its predecessors, but a lot of tiny tweaks were made across the board to adjust the gameplay. The most obvious is that the game is now turn-based instead of speed-based, which means that all of your party members act on the same turn and then all enemies act on the same turn, rotating back and forth until one side falls. It's a positive change because it allows you to plan your attacks and, more importantly, reduce the enemy's number of turns. Beyond that, it's the same style of strategy-RPG where you move your characters around the battlefield and then enter into combat actions.

Player resources have been more evenly divided between SP and XP. Every character has a selection of SP to cast special abilities. XP is a shared resource among all party members and can be used for powerful special moves or multi-attacks. The addition of SP is a great change, since it encourages players to use their characters' special skills more readily. It also lends an interesting twist to counterattacking. Attacking enemies costs 50 SP, defending takes a mere 20, and then you can spend XP (rather than SP) to perform a guard, which nullifies all damage entirely. It's fun to figure out the best investment of your resources, and it encourages careful thinking.

The combat system is almost identical to the previous Project X Zone game. You control two characters who function as a single unit, and most characters begin with two attacks but can unlock more as the game progresses. A change from the previous games is that you can only do three attacks per fight. No matter how many attacks you have, you can only use three, though it can be three of the same move or three different moves. To compensate for this, you have a new charge attack. Any attack you don't use will be powered up significantly for your next combat round, thus encouraging you to diversify your character combos.

Actual combat involves chaining attacks together for maximum damage, but there are a few more things to consider. Each pair can also equip a "solo" unit, who can lend an attack string. Attacking while next to another pair also allows them to join the attack. Each attack also has attributes; some have high damage, others can stun an enemy, and others can disable counterattacks. Perhaps most importantly, your attacks knock enemies into the air. When an enemy is about to land after being attacked, they are vulnerable to critical hits, which can boost your attack damage.

One of the new combat features is Mirage Cancel, but I felt it to be awkward. Mirage Cancel allows you to spend 100XP to instantly cancel your attack animation and get a single extra attack string. It seems kind of worthless because 100 XP is the same cost as performing a high-damage super move. Characters can gain abilities to reduce the cost of that move, making it more cost-effective to use. Performing a Mirage Cancel at certain points in a combo can further reduce the cost. The timing is very tight but allows you to work in extra attack strings at a rock-bottom cost. It'll likely be critical to certain play styles, but I imagine a good chunk of people will ignore its existence.

X Zone 2 emphasizes character skills and special abilities. Every character begins with one slot and one skill but can unlock more by spending CP, which is earned in combat, or leveling up. Skills grant special bonuses based on specific triggers. As you progress, you gain access to more powerful skills, some of which can fundamentally change how you use a character.

The new skill system is pretty cool since it allows you to customize your characters. For example, Phoenix Wright causes any enemy who deals 10% or more of his party's HP in damage to get stunned. You can pair him up with characters who benefit from being attacked or have counterattack skills and create a tank unit who can devastate enemy formations just by getting attacked. On the other hand, characters who have a critical bonus, such as the Virtua Fighter team, can benefit from skills that increase their critical attack window or further buff their critical damage. Some of the combinations are super powerful, and some forethought can allow you to take advantage of a character's strengths. You're not obligated to max out your characters to finish the game, but you'll get huge dividends if you do. You also can use CP to power up your basic attacks, which increases the damage and the chance of status effects.

Learning to master your skills is important because one of X Zone 2's biggest changes from the previous game is an across-the-board enemy damage boost. Enemies hit really hard, and boss characters can kill your party members in one shot. While enemies can counterattack, they require EP, which builds up almost identically to your XP. EP is shared among every boss character on the map, so based on their total EP, you can reliably tell when an enemy is going to use a super move, multi-hit move or counterattack. This, in turn, allows you to use your skills to defeat them without triggering those attacks or by mitigating those attacks.

This is probably the most interesting part of the combat system. Due to the variety of enemy strengths and weaknesses, figuring out the optimal way to avoid triggering team-devastating counterattacks involves using numerous party members. On the bottom screen, you can see which statuses a boss is immune to and plan accordingly. If you build your characters intelligently, you'll find comfortable niches for all of them. It also encourages you to have different characters take on enemies instead of sticking to a favorite team. I set up Chun-Li to wipe out multiple small foes at once, Fiora and KOS-MOS to lock down stun-vulnerable bosses, the Yakuza team for high-damage criticals that couldn't be counterattacked, and I focused on making the Namco x Capcom protagonists into my boss killers. I could swap in other characters as needed.

The one downside to this is that the game isn't always difficult enough to demand you take full advantage of its systems. Bosses can blow through your health, but barring some very serious tactical mistakes, that doesn't hurt much. A character who is downed can be instantly revived by a cheap and plentiful potion, and an injured character can be healed by an array of common healing items. It's viable to tank a boss's counterattack and use healing potions, especially since item use doesn't cost a turn. There are harder difficulty modes, but they're not available from the start. It's fun to figure out optimal strategies, but aside from a few rough levels, the game won't really push you to do so.

X Zone 2 still suffers from its predecessors' biggest problem: Combat takes a very long time. It's a faster game, but when every single attack sequence requires at least a 30-second string of combos, it starts to wear down really quickly. The changes to the combat system help speed it up, but it's still one of the slowest SRPGs on the market. The higher damage numbers reduce the feeling of enemy HP bloat, but at the end of the day, you're performing the same combos on the same enemies over and over again. Similar games like Super Robot Wars or Fire Emblem use pre-canned animations and feature an animation skip, which would've been very welcome in X Zone 2.

The stages are more tightly designed in that they're a bit smaller and have fewer enemies, and they are made more complex by various elements. This can include things like valuable retreating enemies, special objectives such as disarming bombs, or even stage-exclusive hazards like flaming traps or rolling balls. However, any stage that doesn't have a distinct element  blends into others after a while, and they end up feeling a little repetitive. A lot of them accurately represent stages or areas from their parent game, and that's a nice touch. It's nostalgic to visit Mallet Island from Devil May Cry 1 and see the courtyard represented in near-perfect detail.

Almost nothing has changed visually from the previous Project X Zone game in terms of sprite work and animations. The game has some great-looking attacks with neat touches that hearken back to the original games. My personal favorite is the inclusion of Marvel vs. Capcom 3's Lightning Loops combo in Megaman X's Zero's attack animations. As with the previous games, most enemies lack attack animations, which is disappointing and leaves most non-boss enemies feeling rather lacking. There are a lot of recycled base sprites, but almost all have new attack animations or new partners to prevent them from feeling copied and pasted. The music is excellent, and there's a fantastic selection of songs from the represented games. The voice acting is in fully subtitled Japanese and contains a great selection of actors and some genuinely funny line readings.

Project X Zone 2 is an improvement over the original game in a lot of ways but still maintains some of its fundamental flaws. The core combat and game design have sped up the base gameplay, but  it still suffers from an overly slow pace that contributes to the game feeling long and bloated. Fans of the franchises will enjoy the fun crossover elements and engaging experience, but general SRPG fans may find the title too slow to hold their attention. There is a simple and satisfying appeal in seeing Phoenix Wright help Heihachi beat the living daylights out of Metal Face, and at the end of the day, that's what Project X Zone 2 is about.

Score: 7.5/10

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