It's difficult to know what to expect out of such a massive crossover like Project X Zone 2. When one game includes characters, places and references to dozens of franchises from across five different companies, one must wonder whether there will be balance to all of the different parts at play. Fortunately, Project X Zone 2 pulls it off beautifully; while the story may ultimately not be anything to write home about, the gameplay and presentation alone make this an accessible RPG experience that anybody should be able to enjoy.
The story of Project X Zone 2 doesn't require knowledge of the events of the first game, though veterans will certainly appreciate subtle references to them. The premise mostly follows how Shinra – a secret government organization that deals with paranormal threats – deals with a series of giant golden chains that have begun to appear across space and time. Naturally, this is used as a vehicle to introduce characters from multiple different franchises, and for the most part it works.
The plot never takes itself too seriously, and this works very much in the game's favour. Characters are frequently wisecracking and addressing the absurdity of whatever situation they find themselves in, and it helps keep things lighthearted and silly, in a sense. That being said, the plot can be fairly difficult to follow, and it feels shallow as a result.
When literally dozens of characters all chime in during one conversation, dialogue can be confusing and it becomes tiresome to read through walls of text. Due to the ensemble cast, not everyone gets a lot of screen time either. This causes something of a domino effect; poor characterization makes it difficult to care about the characters, which makes it difficult to care about the plot in general. Granted, one likely isn't playing a game like this for its engaging and coherent plot, but it would be nice if the storytelling was better executed.
Of course, the meat of this game is found in the strategic gameplay, and it's here that things can get pretty addictive. Instead of the confusing number system of the first game where characters and enemies went in a varying order, there are now player turns and enemy turns. This helps streamline the experience and makes it much easier to plan out strategies. Characters move about on a grid, and placement is now of utmost importance. Attacking an enemy from the side or back allows one to do more damage, but enemies can do this to players, too. Also, standing next to an ally gives you the option to have them jump in to the battle and give you a hand in doling out some punishment.
Battles are live action and demand split-second timed button presses. Typically, each character gets to use three moves during a battle, with the goal being to chain them together in a way that allows them to juggle the enemy character. Attacking the enemy just before they hit the ground initiates a critical that both does more damage to them and gives the player more experience points at the end of the fight.
Naturally, there are much more technical elements available for more skilled players. Attacks can now be charged between fights; choosing not to use a certain attack during a fight means that it will have increased effectiveness when used in the next fight. The Mirage Cancel is another new addition, where the player can cancel a move as they're using it, get back one bar of the attack gauge, and slow down the enemy in the process. Cross Hits have made a return from the first game, too, where timing a support or solo unit's attacks with yours will freeze the enemy in place in fill up the XP gauge much faster.
Separately, all these techniques may not change up the game too much, but together they make for a battle experience that requires finesse and attention in order to dish out the most damage per turn. The beauty of it is that this makes for a battle system that will satisfy both newcomers and veterans. It's certainly doable to beat waves of enemies by just spamming attacks and taking a more basic approach to things, but there's depth here that puts a much higher skill ceiling on the whole affair. In general, fights aren't as difficult as they were in the first game, but they're still challenging enough that they don't feel easy.
There's also more in-depth character customization options, which allows one to build teams that cater to their own playstyle. In between stages, there's an 'Intermission' where players can go to a shop to buy items and gear for units. Additionally, there is now 'CP' earned by each character which can be spent to level up specific attacks or purchase new skills to be used in battle. This gives you plenty of control over how you want each character to grow, and the limited resources means that you need to plan out how you want the party to be oriented.
Naturally, one can't talk about a Project X Zone game without mentioning the presentation, and Project X Zone 2 absolutely delivers on this front. Characters and enemies are all drawn in high-quality, colourful sprites, and watching them in action is a sight to behold, especially when there are five characters attacking an enemy at once. The animation is handled in a fluid, bombastic manner, and it never gets tiring seeing characters using the same attacks over and over. Regardless of how much action is on the screen, the framerate never once slows down, and the 3D effect lends a nice sense of depth to some of the attacks. Overall, the visuals are possibly the best part of the experience and almost make it worth the price of admission alone.
The music is also very well done, though one's enjoyment will depend on how familiar the player is with the various franchises being represented. Remixes of songs related to each character or series are present throughout the whole affair, and help to give the soundtrack both depth and diversity. While they do tend to blend together after playing the game for long enough, one would be hard pressed to say that this is a boring soundtrack.
All in all, Project X Zone 2 is an enjoyable experience that improves upon some faults present in its predecessor, while adding in some interesting new features. The storyline may fall a little flat, but the amazing presentation and engaging gameplay will be more than enough to keep you hooked. Naturally, a game such as this will be more appreciated by those who are more familiar with all the different franchises being represented, but don't let that scare you off if you're new to most of them. Overall, we'd highly recommend that you pick up Project X Zone 2 - it's a colourful, crazy and fun SRPG that will likely entertain gamers of all skill levels and interests.