The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
In the movie Anchorman, the Channel 4 news crew ends up in a back alley after getting lost. A team of news anchors from another channel shows up and incites a brawl. Right before they start fighting, other groups of competing anchors and news channels show up, each led by notable comedians and actors in surprise cameos. Chaos breaks loose, sparking an all-out TV news gang war. Every stage of Project X Zone feels like that scene.
With appearances from more than 200 characters from 27 different Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai games, Project X Zone is a cameo-fest that always ends in war. This is not a bad thing. Everyone knows the big names like Mega Man X and Dante from Devil May Cry, but even when characters are unfamiliar, you can access an in-game database that gives you bios and details on what franchises everyone is from.
Cameos extend beyond characters. I found myself with Tronne Bonne (Mega Man Legends) and Frank West (Dead Rising) fighting side-by-side in Willamette Mall (where Dead Rising took place). Seeing all these characters together in notable locations is just plain cool.
The narrative bringing these characters together is garbage. It doesn’t make sense, and characters are suddenly and frequently pulled into different dimensions for no reason. The characters openly confess their confusion about what is going on, perhaps in an attempt to relate to the player. The story is simply an excuse to push notable characters into a room together and lock the doors behind them for our amusement.
Compared to other games like Fire Emblem, Project X Zone is a simpler strategy game. Teams of two and three characters move around a board to attack enemies, but it never hits the chess-like notes of comparable strategy games. Nearby teams offer additional attack power, so if you line things up correctly, you can have five characters throwing attacks at one enemy at the same time. You won’t find distinct classes of fighters, and everyone has the same basic range of movement.
The homogenization of all the characters’ abilities creates a double-edged sword. With everyone being similarly powered, you are free to use all the characters you have all the time, which is good when a game focuses so heavily on its large cast. Alternatively, the similarities mean there aren’t many opportunities to craft a combat plan that expertly highlights the strengths of your teams; you don’t focus on one team of characters as your A-team.
Issuing attack commands during encounters feels closer to a fighter than a strategy game. You still have all the time you need to make decisions, but the 2D presentation gives it the look of a fighting game. You choose attacks by pressing a combination of buttons and directions on the d-pad. This approach gives the experience an action-oriented feel, perfect for fans who just want to see what happens when Ulala (Space Channel 5) and Chris Redfield (Resident Evil) team up.
As you take damage and dole it out, you build a shared meter amongst your entire team that can be used to revive dead characters, block or counter attacks, and pull off impressive special attacks. Typical battles play out with your assorted teams taking out small enemies to build the meter so you can unleash special attacks on the bosses. These attacks are always over-the-top and incorporate sprite and 2D traditional hand-drawn animation. I went out of my way to try and see as many of these as I could, oftentimes sacrificing a tactical advantage just to see a special attack from a character that I had not seen yet.
What Project X Zone lacks in expert strategies and rewarding tactics, it makes up for with a plethora of fun combat animations. Project X Zone probably could have been a success based purely on the characters featured on its box art, but even if it featured a completely original cast of characters, watching everyone go head-to-head would still be fun to watch. I wish the story was more discernible or interesting, but that’s what happens when you try to craft a story with more than 200 guest stars.
Email the author Kyle Hilliard, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.