If you can say one thing about Project X Zone, it’s that it’s all business. There’s no need for exploration, deep customization, or coherence of plot; this is a game about a bunch of folks fighting it out over a grid. Combos will be made, numbers will fly, and shrill voice-acting will drown out even your deepest, clearest thoughts. But you don’t need those anyway, because you’re here for one reason only: to watch good guys from various franchises fight with bad guys.
Sadly, this winds up making for a tactically shallow and boring game. You’ll be dragged from one absurd situation to another for the sake of plot, customizing very little about the units in your makeshift army in between skirmishes. Individually, each unit is barely distinguishable to each other as well. All of them have basic attacks, and skills learned from gaining levels are all mostly the same moves dressed up with different names from one character to the next. For the vast majority of battles, these aren’t even necessary as fights can be won by avoiding skill use altogether once you learn to put up with the vapid enemy AI. It’s a series of character beat downs with short breaks in between to set up the next scenario.
Clearly, the main draw here is that there are a lot of cartoony goofballs from the franchises curated by Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai together in one package. On this base level alone, Project X Zone does a fine job. Each character has its own voice that matches up with his or her personality from the games that spawned them, and for as insipid as the story is, there’s some charm to a few of the conversations. Occasionally, you’ll even be hit with some clever inside-baseball jokes that poke fun at the video game business.
The real showcase is how these characters look and move when they’re together, but this turns out to be a bit uneven as well. Attack animations are lovingly crafted and pull straight from individual games the characters come from. That will give you a nerd chuckle by itself, but the rest of the game is drab and ugly. Environments are sparse and lack detail, and field animations for the characters are stiff. While you could give points for including enemies from various franchises to pad out the bad guy list (think the Red Arremer as a legion of recurring foes), they aren’t particularly varied past a few color palette swaps.
The actual combat should be given some credit, though. One unit on the map is comprised of a pair of characters that attack in unison and different combinations of buttons execute combos. Time these attacks correctly and your team will rack up serious damage, and even more so when you call in an attached support character or use the aid of adjacent units for combination attacks. The novelty wears off fast, though. While you’re given a nice list of different attacks to use, soon enough you’ll find the one or two that consistently work and rely on them for most of the game. Couple that with the aforementioned sameness of the cast and you’ve got the recipe for a boring-battle cocktail.
The worst part of it all is that you’re dragged by the ear through the plot whether you want to or not. There’s no opportunity to deviate from it for distractions like power leveling or farming materials from repeatable encounters and, depending on the situation, you never know who is going to wind up in your party from one fight to the next, and that’s a drag. Better strategy RPGs like February’s Fire Emblem: Awakening nearly overwhelmed you with options for customizing not only your troops but the way they behaved. Here, you’re simply going from point A to B, and that can rob your characters of meaningful growth and, by extension, rob you of any tactical complexity. It’s a boring death march toward the cliff of bad anime taste.
The crowd that always wanted to see Ryu deliver a dragon punch sandwich to T-elos has made their decision before reading this review, because this game is for them. Franchise devotees that don’t mind an inconsequential story to get a bunch of disparate characters together will appreciate how lovingly many of them are treated. But that’s about as deep as this puddle gets. With the wealth of RPGs, and even great SRPGs, that have arrived on the 3DS in the last several months, it would almost be unconscionable not to recommend one of those games instead of Project X Zone. Fun combat and screaming Tekken characters can only take you so far.