Project X Zone 2 Review
Imagine this - an army of Aragami from the God Eater series are wreaking havoc once more and Devil May Cry's Nelo Angelo is seen with them. All of a sudden, Kite and Haseo from the .hack series arrive on the scene to intercept them with Street Fighter's Ingrid by their side. Yes, the interdimensional crossover madness has returned again.
Monolith Soft revisits the realm of crossovers once more with another insane cast of characters that span various platforms and eras throughout the entire history of video games. Project X Zone 2, despite its name, marks the third entry in this strategy RPG series with Namco X Capcom on the PlayStation 2, released only in Japan, marking its starting point.
Project X Zone 2 returns its focus to the original protagonists of Namco X Capcom, Reiji Arisu and Xiaomu. They both work for Shinra, an enigmatic organization that specializes in abnormalities surrounding space and time.
Set a few weeks after Project X Zone, the pair of Shinra agents are investigating a new case that deal with the influx of new dimensional rifts popping up in Shibuya along with the appearance of golden chains throughout many different dimensions.
The premise of these crossover games have always been a giant excuse to get the cast together on a united front, but it feels a bit more sincere here. While newcomers to the series will have no problems keeping up with what is presented, those who have stuck with it since Namco X Capcom will get an additional layer of appreciation because it elevates the ongoing conflict between Reiji and Saya, his arch-nemesis that serves Shinra's rival organization, Ouma.
Project X Zone 2's storyline feels more like a continuation to Namco X Capcom and I appreciated the subtle nods to the events that transpired in that game many years ago.
An amalgamation of series veterans along with a handful of new faces populate the diverse cast. Series veterans from Namco X Capcom such as Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken, Xenosaga's KOS-MOS, and Darkstalkers' Demitri and Morrigan meet up again with a few characters from the previous adventure including Devil May Cry's Dante, Megaman X and Zero, and the Tales of Vesperia trio of Yuri, Estelle, and Flynn.
Some brand new additions to the cast are comprised of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima in their Yakuza: Dead Souls iteration, Hotsuma and Hibana from Shinobi and Nightshade on the Playstation 2 respectively, and even a few guest Nintendo characters were roped in - Fiora from Xenoblade Chronicles alongside Chrom and Lucina belonging to Fire Emblem Awakening!
Though some of the new characters come from obscure properties, the overall chemistry among the cast remains consistently solid. Their personalities play off of each other quite well with individuals picking on the innocence of Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki and getting taken aback at the audacity of passion that the legendary Segata Sanshiro himself has for the Sega Saturn.
One of the peculiar elements I quite enjoyed with the cast this time around was the principle of characters meeting familiar faces that belonged to their respective series, but from a different era in time. The awkward first encounter between Leon Kennedy in his Resident Evil 6 iteration toward Chris and Jill from the Resident Evil: Revelations timeframe made for an intriguing exchange of initial distrust that I had not really expected.
These constant discords occur on both sides of the conflict and I found myself unexpectedly engaged with the relationships characters had with one another. It was surprising to witness the nice balance of tone throughout the plot. While a majority of it was lighthearted shenanigans with the characters fooling around with one another, there was an emotional depth that stood out in Project X Zone 2 a lot more than previous games.
Almost each and every character felt crucial to the story because of how they intertwined with the cast of antagonists. June from Star Gladiators establishes her stake in it via a rescue mission for one of her comrades. Jin, Kazuya, and Heihachi from Tekken are infamously known for their dysfunctional family, but are forced to confront another key individual in their pasts.
I was a bit shocked when I found myself emotionally invested in this crazy crossover story.
Perhaps the single most outstanding aspect in Project X Zone 2 lies in its script. The localization for this game is a work of love and it shows. Characters' personalities remain intact from where they came from, but their conversations with other characters highlight aspects of them that were more subtly presented in their original works.
Though the game's audio is Japanese only, the care put into the localization for Project X Zone 2 made for an enjoyable time reading through each piece of dialogue. There were a few misses with some jokes to me here and there, but the intent still got through.
Story and characters aside, my primary concern before going into Project X Zone 2 was its gameplay. Let me be perfectly clear here before I continue on - I disliked the gameplay flow in the first Project X Zone a lot.
Fortunately, Project X Zone 2 takes into account its numerous problems and addresses them in intelligent ways. It expands the core systems that were in the first Project X Zone by bringing in a handful of new mechanics that help reduce the tedium of stages that often grew to be more than an hour long on a consistent basis.
A huge change that is immediately apparent in Project X Zone 2 is how turns are structured. In the previous Project X Zone, allies and enemies would share the same round in which an ally takes their turn and then two to three enemies would act followed by one or more allies and so on.
Now in Project X Zone 2, there are dedicated phases entirely just for your team and for the enemy team. This means that moving characters into position to support nearby allies in their assault has become a lot easier. It is also more simple to set up a more structured defense against incoming enemy attacks because where a unit faces plays a large factor into this game.
Side attacks and back attacks are another new feature in this sequel that increases the damage dealt based on a unit's position relative to where their target is facing. While side attacks add a significant bump in damage, back attacks absolutely shred through HP. This system works both ways, so I had to be careful where all of my units were facing versus incoming opponents and whether a spare unit could cover their backs.
Engaging in battle works in the same manner as in the previous Project X Zone - a unit of two characters face off against an enemy on a 2D plane and can execute different moves based on a direction on the D-pad with the A button. Juggling keeps the flow of damage going and timing an attack just before an enemy hits the ground rewards players with critical hits on that attack. Solo units and adjacent ally units can lend their assistance in battle to further increase damage output.
While the paired units, like Chun-Li and Xiaoyu, cannot be separated from one another, I was able to freely distribute solo units to whichever paired units I wanted. This allows for some tactical flexibility since I had to consider which solo units would cover the weaknesses of particular paired units and if their attack properties in their animation would synergize with the unit I was assigning them to.
A robust training mode is available to put that thought into action. I was able to adjust specific settings such as enemy weight, levels, and several gauges to perfect my battle plan.
The specifics of battle encounters have also seen a notable reform. Previously in the first Project X Zone, I was able to eventually perform 5 attack actions by the end of it, plus an extra additional attack if I used every move at least once. This time around, there is a cap of 3 attacks which heighten the importance of critical hits along with key alterations to the game's design to accommodate this.
Even though less attacks can be used, the attacks pack more of a punch this time around. Another new system in Project X Zone 2 is charging up attacks that were not used in combat. For example, if I were to only use X and Zero's Up + A attack against an enemy, it would power up all their other moves for the next enemy encounter. These charged attacks not only have a damage boost, but also have increased Cross Point (XP) recovery and further bonuses during critical hits.
Another new feature introduced in Project X Zone 2 is the Mirage Cancel. Despite its fancy sounding name, it functions as an extender to combos that require some finesse to master. A Mirage Cancel can be activated anytime during an attack animation in which it will immediately end that attack, slow down time to a crawl, grant an additional attack action, and gives players an easier way to time their critical hits. While this normally costs 100 XP to execute, each character has a specific window in which activating Mirage Cancel will give them a red aura signifying that it only consumed half the normal amount of XP.
The XP gauge used to be the sole resource of Project X Zone for both offensive and defensive options and thus, it was spread a bit too thin to use for everything. Thankfully in Project X Zone 2, a Skill Point (SP) gauge has helped alleviate some of the responsibilities that XP had. SP is consumed for activating Skills, Counters, and the Defend option.
I wished there was an easier way to navigate to a specific Skill - trying to find the character who has the Skill to raise EXP rate on an ally among ten or more units proved to be a bit of a chore. A master list of all Skills available would have rectified this.
As a result, XP is a much more flexible resource that concentrates on managing Mirage Cancels, Special Attacks, Multi-Attacks, rescuing KO'd units, and the Full Defend option which negates all damage on the next attack.
One final noteworthy change to combat is how Cross Hits are handled. In Project X Zone, attacks from a main unit, solo unit, or ally unit that hit simultaneously with one or the other freezes an enemy in place. Cross Hits in the first entry made for mindless chaotic battles because any simultaneous hits would "refill" the freeze status on an enemy.
Now it is a much stricter system that does not allow for an enemy to be permanently frozen in place. While its principle remains, achieving a Cross Hit felt much more difficult this time around.I welcomed this change, however, because I was pushed to string my other attack options more naturally depending on how the enemy was being juggled. On the flip side, XP recovery during Cross Hits is much more substantial now as a result.
A plethora of new customization options are available in Project X Zone 2. There is now a Shop that sells consumable items, equipment, and accessories in exchange for Gold. Character Points (CP) can be earned to further enhance the attack properties of each individual move on a character and can also be spent on learning new Auto-Skills, passive buffs that trigger when specific conditions in combat are met.
Both of these options to spend CP are available to solo units as well, so it added another layer of strategy for me. Skills like reducing the cost of Mirage Cancels, auto-healing nasty status ailments at the start of a turn, and completely nullifying enemy defenses assisted me in various ways throughout the game.
On the visual side of things, Project X Zone 2 continues tradition by having beautiful character art for its cast that animate splendidly in their sprite counterparts. Special Attacks and Multi-Attacks now have an absolutely gorgeous cel-shaded style for character cut-ins during these ferocious attacks. Couple that with iconic music tracks from the series represented and you have a delightful presentation that honors and respects the properties in this crossover.
Plus, the user interface during battle encounters are much more elegantly presented now. It possesses a much cleaner look employing circular displays for an enemy's block gauge and a unit's number of attack actions left. Along with clearer icons for moves and generally being more vivid, battles are just visually slicker looking in a stylish manner.
The stage selection features a solid line-up of environments of memorable locations both new and old. There were a select few that were recycled, but most of it was completely different to one another. Some stage environments were a bit cramped which made the limited angle of the camera a hassle to fiddle with at times.
Mission variety still suffers in this entry too unfortunately. While a few missions have some objectives to handle, it all ultimately boils down to defeating all enemies to end a stage. I personally would have liked to see some situations in which characters had to escape an encounter due to insurmountable odds.
Overall, Project X Zone 2 is an impressive sequel that evolves the formula established in the previous Project X Zone title. Clocking in my first playthrough at a little over 51 hours, it is a meaty experience that does not overstay its welcome. It definitely feels more like a realized, complete package with an awesome sense of closure when the journey ends.
Rebalancing things to power up your characters in new ways along with a reduced HP pool across the board for enemies, stages rarely last over an hour. Even though this shift power balance makes the game a tad too easy at times, it makes for an enjoyable trip across worlds.
A New Game+ mode is available that carries over Gold, total CP earned, items, and adds an additional Auto-Skill slot along with opening up new Challenge Stages and a higher difficulty to those who seek greater challenges.
Project X Zone 2 is a brilliant follow-up that rectifies the sins of its previous game, even if it still shares a few of its flaws.