Over the last couple of weeks we've been playing Project X Zone 2 in between other engagements. Not because it isn't a game worthy of our individed attention. In fact, it's hard to imagine a more star-studded game out there with the most recognised characters from franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, Shenmue, Fire Emblem, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Yakuza, Ace Attorney, Streets of Rage and other celebrated games brought together for what amounts to the ultimate mash-up of stars from Bandai Namco, Capcom and Sega.
In many ways it mirrors the first game in the series, a strategy-RPG in the vein of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, with a weird cross universe story spaning time, space and dimensions and with a combat system that borrows from the fighting genre while providing plenty of strategic depth for the RPG fan.
As you progress in the game you'll learn more about what order to launch attacks and time them correctly to build the multiplier, while making sure you match up your pairs correctly with solo units, positioning the units you attack with so they can have favourable support. You buy and find items to equip that dramatically alter the effectiveness of the pair, and you upgrade attacks, and pick from a list of bonuses.
The battlefields themselves offer up slightly different mechanics with real-time traps among other things to keep it interesting even as you enter battlegrid after battlegrid. Positioning, elevation, support combinations, keeping your formation tight (and risk big counters), or spreading your squad to balance the risk. There is a lot to consider, and much like in any great tactical game it is only after many hours that you fully grasp all the details to fully exploit and maximise your effectiveness. But that's also something that will annoy some. Project X Zone 2 is not at all as punishing as many other games in the genre. You'll have plenty of healing items and means to recover and so you can progress quite easily without making full use of your units.
This is most definitely a game that's all about fanservice. And while most Western players will likely only have a decent grasp of a fraction of the character roster (if you know them all really well, we bow down to your superior gaming pedigree), you're sure to find both new favourites and have moments where you're reacquainted with characters you thought forever condemned to the retro shelves of your local used game store. It's really great and as a long-time fan of video games this mix of learning about new (but actually sometimes really old) characters, and seeing familiar faces is, simply put, moving.
But fanservice can be a double-edged sword. And while it's great to see Ryo Hazuki again, it is also a little sad to see him in a support role where his little story bits make the most obvious references to the Shenmue story you can think of. While we cannot say if this is true for the entirety of the cast, it does come across a bit like a benefit gala where all the acts play one or two of their most recognised songs and perhaps join together for a heart-warming or cringe-worthy (depending on how you see it) joint performance.
And something has to be said about the dialogue and the lengthy conversations. The plot is rather nonsensical, but that is expected and perfectly excusable given how difficult it must be to bring all these characters from various franchises together. But still the dialogue could have been way more succinct. At times the plot reminds us of the multiverse episodes in Family Guy where Brian and Stewie travel to various strange dimensions and talk to each other as they figure out what's going on. Now imagine if Brian and Stewie had been replaced by a dozen or more characters who feel the need to add their insight to the discussion. It's far from ideal even if there are gems in the conversations that are quite enjoyable.
It may sound like we're being overly negative here and it should be said that you're experience will largely depend on how familiar you are with the material. If you've clocked serious time with games like Darkstalkers, Namco x Capcom, Sakura Wars, Star Gladiator and .hack - you'll no doubt enjoy gems in the dialogue more often than we did during our play-through. We chuckled at the ninja affairs between Hotsuma and Strider Hiryu, we enjoyed seeing Ryo Hazuki and Ulala, Ada, Leon, Chris and Jill were all serious, but we smiled some with the exchanges between Jin, Kazuya and Heihachi. And who doesn't enjoy Goro Majima? Or Phoenix Wright for that matter. And it was great to see KOS-MOS again. Alright, so there's a lot here that is brilliant fan-service. But it should be said that you'll likely still find it a mixed bag. Nevertheless, looking through the Crosspedia with all the characters you encounter and enemies you fight will take you back to your childhood whether that means NES, Mega Drive, PlayStation, Dreamcast or PS2.
We started out by saying that this is a game we've been playing in between other games and assignments and the main reason for this is the lengthy chunks of dialogue. There's a lot to digest and after finishing a mission and saving the game you know there's going to be a lot of set up and dialogue until you get to enjoy the combat again, so this means you might gravitate towards closing the lid on your Nintendo 3DS and doing something else for a bit and then picking it up again. The pacing isn't great. It's something that a lot of games in the strategy-RPG genre suffer from, but we've never come across something as extreme as this. That said, there is also something rewarding about playing this game if you've grown up playing titles from Sega, Capcom, Bandai and Namco. You'll get to hang out with old friends, meet new ones, and rediscover acquaintances you've forgotten over the years.