Project × Zone

Publisher

Banpresto / Namco-Bandai Games America

System

Nintendo 3DS

Genre

Turn-based Strategy

Release Date

June 25th 2013

Rating

T

 

In 2005, Namco cooked up an idea for a turn-based strategy game that involved all the myriad licenses/universes the company owned. But during production, they realized that what they had didn’t meet their specifications, so they asked Capcom if they could license some of their franchises. Combined with a convoluted but still serviceable story, a few original-generation characters, an amazing soundtrack, and what we got was Namco × Capcom, the greatest game to never be released in the US (on the PS2, at least; the greatest game to never be released in the US period was Metal Wolf Chaos for the G1!XBox. I mean, fucking duh).

Now, eight years later, Namco and Capcom came together again and invited Sega along to give us Project × Zone for the Nintendo 3DS. No body, anywhere, was ready for this.

While hailed as a “spiritual successor,” given that a handful of the characters and plot points from Namco × Capcom are brought up or make an appearance, Project × Zone is a full-on sequel to the previous game. It starts off with a robbery at the Koryuujii estate, where a handful of thugs steal an ancient family heirloom, which their master believes can help them travel between realms (realms, in this case, meaning individual game/anime universes). Mii Koryuujii, a high school student and heir to the estate, ends up hiring Kogoro Tenzai, a detective with training in ninjitsu, to help figure out who and why. Along the way, characters—good, evil (sometimes both) and neutral—are encountered from numerous franchises owned by the three aforementioned companies, such as Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Tekken, Valkyria Chronicles, .hack//, Shining Force, Fighting Vipers, and a bunch of others you probably haven’t heard of but are kicking yourself for not getting more familiar with.

Let ye who is without contention over who is and isn’t in the game cast the first stone.

Each chapter pits you and a handful if not all of your PCs against a gradually increasing army of enemies, the task for each chapter usually being to wipe them all out. Everything is represented by 2D sprites that, honestly, are very well detailed and look good regardless of what they are doing on screen. Some elements on the map are rendered in 3D, but in some stages, set pieces can get in the way of the action, and there’s nothing to show just where they are and where the enemies are coming from. Thankfully you can use the D-pad to rotate the camera and/or zoom in or out. Each stage is set up on a large map with a ¾ perspective, which is easy enough to navigate; just imagine the circle pad tilted 45° clockwise.

Each player controlled unit is made up of two characters—usually from one particular franchise (e.g. Ryu and Ken; Jin and Xiaoyu; Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine), but occasionally from others, to really sell the crossover dynamic of the game (e.g. Chun Li and Morrigan; Frank West and Lei-Lei; Demitri and Dante).  The remaining third of the lineup are the solo units that you assign to one of your teams, who allow that unit access to their own special techniques and abilities. Unfortunately, some solo units from Namco × Capcom that were fully controllable have been demoted to this classification (e.g. Tron Bonne; Arthur; Heihachi Mishima). When you’re in combat, you can tag them in with the L button, or, if another friendly unit is on an adjoining space, you can tag them in with the R button…and there’s no restriction for using one or both at the same time; hell, on some of the tougher enemies and/or bosses, it’s practically required. Some stronger enemies and just about all boss enemies have barriers you have to break through before damaging them properly. Aside from hit points, each unit, yours or the enemy’s, has a Cross Points gauge (confusingly referred to as XP, which can easily be mistaken for EXP), which acts as a super meter for that unit. Player controlled units have access to special abilities relevant to each character’s skills and abilities, and can affect the preceding battle, or even the entire chapter. When a unit acquires 100 Cross Points, they have a couple special options available to them. They can either a) use the Y button during combat to launch a very powerful super combo, complete with requisite cut scene, or b) hit Start to switch to Multi-Attack mode, and hit up to four enemy targets with a…different kind of super combo. Of course, enemy characters such as bosses can do this, as well. Even worse, the scant few luck-based abilities can fill up every single enemy’s XP gauge to 100, setting your characters up for a world of hurt.

The combat is fast and furious, and if you call both a solo unit and a nearby team into battle with you, can get incredibly hectic and almost too difficult to follow. See, experience gained isn’t based on just defeating or doing damage to an enemy; the type of damage you do also counts. Your main source of experience how many hits you land in a combo, and combos are judged by how many hits you inflict while your target is in the air. The only problem with that is that some attacks can take a part of a second to start up (aiming guns, jumping into position; logistic problems like that), or some attacks don’t have enough oomph in them to keep an airborne target airborne. And your experience gained is based off of the most hits in a combo you do, so if your attacks bork out halfway through, you’re essentially fighting the rest of the battle for free. Cross hits are when your solo units or neighboring players jump in and land hits in the same timeframe as your characters, symbolized by blue numbers popping out of the target. That thankfully has a window of about two seconds, which resets every time a hit is landed…and it keeps the target frozen in air, making it easier to rack up big combos. You can also land critical hits by hitting the target just before they hit the ground, producing yellow numbers on impact…but the window of opportunity for that can be measured in frames, and if you botch your timing and let them land, you have to start from the top.

If you’re in the game for the story, then…well, you’ll be wondering just what you’re doing after a bunch of chapters. Hell, even the characters in the game point out the absurdity and irritation with the plot breadcrumbs they’re stumbling over. Speaking of which, the character interactions throughout the game are brilliant. Not only do they reference things that happened in their own pasts that sound like or something similar happening to another character, but the pre- and post-fight banter between them is remarkable. There are hundreds of possible combinations of solo units and pairs, and every single possible combination has dialogue to go with it. Half the fun is seeing how, say, pure and bubbly Gemini and Erica react when paired up with the completely batshit Juri Han.

Unlike the previous game, there isn’t any kind of shopping or money to deal with. That is to say, you can’t buy equipment or restorative items in between chapters…or anywhere. This also makes it tough because items that add Cross Points are rarer to come by (and only fill up the gauge to 100 of 150). This is especially frustrating because the only other way to build the gauge readily is to fight enemies…and there are a finite number in the game, so grinding isn’t as much as a thing as it was previously, despite what Kite or BlackRose would say otherwise. Also: bosses tend to build up their Cross gauges more quickly than yours, which means their super combos—which you can’t counter if they use first—seem to come out much more frequently. The sound is top notch, with tracks taken from several parts of the characters’ respective franchises. Unfortunately, there’s no English language option. That’s right, everything’s in Japanese. Though reading the characters’ speech boxes isn’t a hindrance, it can cause some issues in regards to characters whose names have been changed in the transition overseas. Vile from Mega Man X is called VAVA in Japan, and Lei Lei of Darkstalkers is called Hsien-Ko in the west, for starters. Also, a few songs couldn’t be properly licensed, but unless you’re a hardcore fan, you won’t be too bothered by that.

Good: The action is fast and intense, and the potential for tons of damage is always there; the dialogue between your characters crackles like lightning; the attack animations, especially in the cutscenes, are gorgeous; if you’re playing it right, your characters hardly ever die, if at all.

Bad: You’re not pleased with the rosters…you’re just not; stages can drag on and on, especially as the game progresses; the right type of healing item can be few and far between.

Overall: It’s understandable if you missed out on Namco × Capcom, which sucks because that game was fantastic. This game lives up to its predecessor, and you would be a fool to pass it up. Just don’t be surprised that this game contains a few spoilers for the previous game, on the off chance you wind up picking it up later.

Ari Rockefeller

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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