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Hands On: Going for the Combos in Project X Zone

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Pure pixelated madness

When Project X Zone was announced for Japan, we could barely contain our glee. Here was a game with retro-styled visuals, rocking music and popular characters from Capcom, SEGA and Namco Bandai all rolled into one — oh, and Monolith Soft was one of the developers.

And then, it underwhelmed in the Japanese charts. It didn't surge to number one and shift a million copies, and localisation suddenly looked like a forlorn hope. Yet here we are, with its release getting ever closer and a reduced price of £27.99 being listed on the UK 3DS eShop; you can knock us over with a feather.

Yet uneducated hype is a dangerous thing, so it's pleasing that a demo has now arrived in Europe — hopefully to follow in North America — and a second is already confirmed for 27th June; that'll be in a Ghosts 'n Goblins stage. This first demo is in the Imperial Theater stage from Sakura Wars, giving SEGA fans in particular an early taste, though Capcom makes an iconic appearance or two.

As this is a demo, it opens up with a brief introduction to the game, opting to describe itself as a simulation RPG. Based on what we've played so far, we'd potentially opt for action RPG as a description, and this small taster demonstrates a combination of turn-based play with controllable battle scenes.

In terms of breaking down the gameplay, some elements will be familiar to those that have been investing a lot of time in Fire Emblem: Awakening in recent times. When controlling your characters you can opt to move to safety and avoid a battle — though weaker enemies can be taken on with little fear of deadly retaliation — or go within attack range of an enemy unit. Units go around in teams of two and, in some cases, with a third solo player tagged in. Based on the extensive game info buried in the menus, adding solo units to teams will be something that you may be able to do yourself in the full title.

A bit like in Awakening, if you attack with an ally unit within range, they can assist in the battle. The interface for this isometric stage view is intuitive once you get over the bright colours and distracting mini-graphics, so within moments you'll be strategically moving units around and using health items to recover from battles. There's a lot less micro-management than in Fire Emblem, however, as items are simply shared between all of your units in one menu, and most notably you don't get to decide who moves when, with numbers above characters (both friend and foe) showing when their turn will come around. This strips a lot of strategy out of the experience, which is fine as a design choice, and we found greater success going on the charge and staying on the offensive. If someone does get knocked out, it's possibly to revive them with another team, if you're willing to sacrifice a turn.

It's when you initialise a battle that the real fun begins, and the visual flair comes into its own. In the overhead view the combination of small pixel-based characters and simplistic environment design is underwhelming, but a battle scene zooms in for a side-by-side scrap. When you attack you use a combination of directions on the d-pad or Circle Pad, with the A button, to initiate different moves. The left shoulder button triggers a solo unit to join in — if available — while the right shoulder button does the same but with any assist teams you've been clever enough to ensure are in the vicinity. It's like an RPG turn-based remix of something like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, but with strategic and simple combo inputs. It's all in the timing, as some attacks lift an enemy into the air while others don't, and the trick is learning to time your core attacks with the assist attacks, to ensure that the initiated moves connect as much as possible. When you get it right the screen become a whirl of frenzied motion, with CrossX damage bonuses if you've pieced it all together well.

The ace in the whole in the special attack, initiated with Y. While each battle earns characters EXP points to level up, there's a separate and dynamic XP system that goes up to 150%. This XP creeps up as you chain attacks, and when it's above 100% a tap of Y will initiate the special move. It can be equated to the Street Fighter super combos, for one example, as a dramatic animation sequence kicks off with both characters dishing out a lot of damage in the most stylish way possible. These aren't just effective for KO-ing an enemy, but brilliantly intersperse pixel-based bombast with flashes of anime-style animations. For fans of the many franchises on display, these are a thrill.

And the fan service is strong with this one. Each team has music from their related series kick in once they're in play, which combined with their unique move-sets is great entertainment.

It's tough to tell how well this fan-service, stylish presentation and live-action strategy style will translate over a full game. There's plenty of statistical depth to gawk at if you dive off into the menus, yes, but the design decision of the game deciding who moves next, rather than leaving that in the player's hands, does encourage reckless abandon. There's no way of keeping units out of danger, as such, and when attacked you can use XP points — if you have them — to defend, full defend (which avoids damage) or counter with a single move on the battle screen once you've taken your hit. As the units all seem to be up for a fight, without notable classes to worry about, everyone's a tank. If we have one reservation, which may be quelled in the full game, it's that the novelty of aggressive play and timed — but basic — combos in battles will wear off.

But then, this demo is but a glimpse. It keeps us away from "multi-attacks", for example, and the environment on show doesn't have any chests or items to find and access. We certainly wouldn't rule out the prospect that this one will deliver some depth and intrigue to join the excitement and outrageous style on show.

With over 50 playable characters set to be included from 29 game franchises, we're excited to see just how far the full experience will go, while the fan-service could potentially be well and truly off the hook. While we'd put a cautionary sticker on the action/turn-based/RPG hybrid that this is shaping up to be, we can't help but enjoy the sheer darn audacity of it all. This small taster is a reminder of what makes gaming, particularly on Nintendo's handhelds, fun — it's not taking itself seriously, and will happily give you over-the-top fight animations and special moves when it could get away with so much less.

If the final product can maintain diversity and hold our interest over a number of hours, this could be a real treat.

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User Comments (30)



SuperCharlie78 said:

no, I'd rather say this is a tactical jrpg with real time battle system, you can perform four or five consecutive attacks while your enemy stays like a puppet.
The game seems insanely fun



Tasuki said:

Sounds interesting but I will wait on a review on this game before I buy it.



uximal said:

Just downloaded the demo.This game is a must have, its day one purchase for me, Its fun and also not easy to keep everyone alive. Give it a try, I was skeptical at first but I have enjoyed it so much.



Hunter-D said:

The demo was fantastic, although it may take a while to get to grips with the system and the information (there's a hell of a lot!), but fundamentally the battle is based on timing your attacks properly. Hit them at the right time then you can rack up the points, land critical hits and finish off the enemy a lot quicker.

The music is AMAZING!



DanielBass1986 said:

I've played the demo 5 times already and loving this game! Cannot wait for the second demo and the release! If you liked fire emblem, get this, you won't be disappointed



FernandoMachado said:

I'm interested and 'll deffo get the demo. I think this might be the sort of game you need to play to feel it. Words won't do.



LittleIrves said:

I love that this fever-dream of a game is actually 1) made in the first place, and 2) coming to the west. Am intrigued, but worried my lack of experience with many of the franchises might dull the enjoyment? Although that Ghosts 'n Goblins stage might quell any of that skepticism right quick...



ramstrong said:

It will be a severe drain of my time. Fire Emblem or X Zone? Oh, I don't want to decide! I'm already spending too much of my time on Fire Emblem. Animal Crossing is coming up, too. I guess it's a nice problem to have: Too many good games, but I find I'm spending less time on real life as a result.

That being said, I'll definitely download the demo.



ricklongo said:

Can't wait to download the demo. I have a feeling this might end up being a buy for me.



Icefreak45 said:

My fear with this game is that eventually the fun in bashing your foes into submission will run out in the long run and your left not as entertained. Not to say im not hyped for this game, but a demo in NA would be greatly appreciated ;D



BakaKnight said:

Loved the demo!!!
Played it 3 times in a row XD;

True, a demo is just a taste, the real deal could be worse or better than what we saw, but damn, after such a demo and premises I can't avoid to feel super optimistic ^O^

Can't wait for the Demo B for come out and tease us more



Urbanhispanic said:

If they release the demo in the U.S., I'd give it a try. And I will also be getting Animal Crossing: New Leaf.



Kaze_Memaryu said:

Gotta say, I couldn't warm up with Project X Zone when I saw gameplay videos.
And I remained sceptical until I started the game...
Not only is the game ridiculously fun, it's also really well-balanced and tactically deep. The ability to actively use attacks with button combinations isn't just added for style, attacks can actually miss if the enemy is out of range for other attacks! You don't get that in a turn-based RPG every day, especially not with such concern for gameplay!
I recommend this game to anyone who likes RPG's, Action Games, Strategy, SEGA, Namco Bandai, Capcom, or anything else even remotely related to Project X Zone! Get it!NOW!!!



Weedy said:

I enjoyed my first playthrough of the demo although I didn't really have a clue what I was doing in the combat.
I've just finished my second playthough after reading through the very long tutorial burried in the menu and boy did it help, I destroyed the enemy and had more fun with the fighting mechanics.
One thing that it doesn't seem to mention anywhere, but that becomes quite apparent when you're trying to stratagise; you're XP gauge (think of it as a super bar) is shared between your party i.e. If one character uses it all up the next will start with an empty bar.



WindWakerLink said:

Reserved the game!! The limited edition one I mean, which is kinda like "The Last Story" limited edition a while back. I can't wait to play with X & Zero!!! ^__^ It's been too long since X8....



ollietaro said:

@squashie I didn't think Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was really me, either, however, it is the only game I've been playing for the last month. Go figure. I thought I was a strategy RPG-only type of person, but I was happily mistaken



ollietaro said:

I've certainly already gotten tired of the Fire Emblem: Awakening battle animations. Maybe the involvement with battles in this game will prove to be fun.



theblackdragon said:

@ollietaro: regarding FE:A — You know you can turn those off, right? I got bored with them too and toggled them all off so that now i only see units move around and stuff (and even that you can turn off too iirc!). it really helps to cut down the time it takes to sit through a given battle when you're just trying to grind, lol :3



Relias said:

Got it Reserved... I hope it's as good as it looks and sounds... (I also hope to get my grubby paws on a Demo..)



Relias said:

Tried Demo... was a bit skeptical at first... all I got to say now.. is going by the Demo.. This is the must buy game of summer period.. and has the potential to be one of the top games for 3DS of 2013... (I know that is saying a lot... but trust me.. it's just that darn good.. )

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