There are more than 50 people standing on the street. To one another, they look as if dressed for a Halloween party. A few don regular outfits, but mostly, it’s a real-life Party City catalog. Then, an even more costumed array of characters show up, each shadier than the last. The late arrivals threaten the previous party with violence and now everyone is on high alert.
A number of games have been here before, most notably titles from Nintendo, Marvel, and Disney. Project X Zone 2 uses an assortment of licensed characters from Capcom, Sega, and Namco Bandai—some recognizable, the rest obscure. Yes, it is a sequel, of a game itself based on tactical RPG Namco x Capcom. But I gather only a dedicated group played either of those games outside of Japan, an unfortunate consequence of lackluster localization and the original Project X Zone‘s terrible choice in name.
So, the motley crew of 50 or so do what any confused gathering of folks would amidst a foreboding lot—they take time for introductions and launch into a speedy syncing of watches. Some are watchless, though; it’s awkward.
The ensuing combat, generated by the mystery of unusual golden chains overtaking the world, takes place in a number of areas linked to the overwhelming cast of featured characters. It starts in Japan and travels through familiar locals such as the Queen Zenobia ship from Resident Evil: Revelations, Mallet Island from Devil May Cry, and several other destinations. The good guy Shinra group attempts to string the narrative together but the bottom falls out as soon as time travel, dimensional slips, and every world-building rule is broken.
After the schizophrenic character dialogues are over, the tactical RPG bundled into this thinly veiled video game advertisement actually hits its mark. Project X Zone 2‘s huge number of dramatis personae at any one time guarantees that battles—assembled on a turn-based grid system—will take a long time, but this is the only real drawback to an otherwise methodical scheme.
The sequel organizes combat by turns instead of the original’s reliance on a set queue determined by character stats. A turn begins after teams have been arranging by a preferred tactical location, best gear, and desired trio of combatants. Monolith Soft made a considerable effort to present an updated combat system designed to better integrate the player’s intended order of battle; the changes do wonders for the skirmishes, kneading together the deep customization options and upgrades applied during intermission. Simply, preperation feels like it matters.
Project X Zone 2 is accessible, and it’s easy enough to win provided you place moderate effort in learning the system. Players could get away with upgrading one stat, using one move, and relying on the pre-set character arrangements to artlessly slog through the game. Ignoring the detailed options in and outside of battle, however, would really be missing the point.
Allocating and distributing the appropriate points for stronger attacks, crucial counters, and joint maneuvers, then watching the battle unfold to reveal the strengths and weaknesses in various approaches is incredibly satisfying. The tweaks to the original battle system don’t feel so much as an overhaul but a pragmatic implementation on how to engineer a better strategy RPG. The fixes do absolute wonders for the early-to-mid segments of battles.
Once I got a feel for my ideal battle formation after several turns, and all the enemies and allies were on the playing field, the tactical mystery was solved, and I would merely wait for the stage to be clear, passing the time by pressing some variation of the A button. In an effort to spice up the repetitive rounds, some stages introduce clever obstacles and objectives that force an unorthodox approach. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of a late-game StarCraft II match—and by late game, I mean well after the opponent has left and I decide to stick around and Attack-move the remaining enemy troops.
The saving grace from this frequent boredom is watching a strange bedfellow of heroes chain together trademark attacks, mowing down an enemy that has no business confronting any of them—for example, Xenosaga’s KOS-MOS just slaughtering waves of Mets from the Megaman series. These 1-on-1 exchanges look fantastic on the 3DS, with each attack an homage to their character’s respective video game origins. Counters and group attacks look especially brutal, with the coup de grace being the well animated special moves.
Nothing that happens in Project X Zone 2 is surprising. The good-humoured encounters manage to rise slightly above sitcom level, and most of the dialogue has a good ear for the way the varied personas speak. Then again, this is an all-star cast, and it would take considerable effort to make boring.
Monolith Soft’s second attempt at a difficult feat exposes the fact that no imaginary world can house a story big enough, or comprehensible enough, to incorporate all of the heroes and villains that come bundled into Project X Zone 2. The early moments of battle and the research dedicated to getting each character’s persona just right is admirable and worth the visit. But all that is gold does not glitter, and the battle system succumbs to predictability a mere few hours into this journey.