The original Project X Zone is a beast of a cameo machine, and the follow-up is no different. The sequel boasts more than 50 party members, many drawn from past Sega, Capcom, Bandai Namco, and even Nintendo games. With such a big cast, the odds are good a video game character you like makes an appearance in this game. Finding and using familiar characters is the exciting part of diving into Project X Zone 2, but it is also a clear crutch the game leans on to keep you interested.
How you feel about the characters in Project X Zone 2 takes you further than the actual moment-to-moment gameplay. I am a huge fan of Mega Man X, so when X and Zero entered the fray fighting familiar Mega Man X enemies, my waning interest was refreshed, but it faded again quickly. Adding new characters to my team was the main thing that kept me wanting to play, but you can only rely on that for so long. Seeing everyone together at a party is nice, but when interesting conversation topics run dry so fast, staying consistently engaged becomes difficult.
Project X Zone 2 is a tactics game with players taking turns moving on a grid to engage with the enemy in one on one battles. The tactical combat does little to stand on its own, though. Characters aren’t differentiated by class, and options are limited when it comes to equipping new abilities or changing out equipment. Some limited strategy exists in arranging your party properly to line up assisted attacks and approaching enemies from the back or side, but that’s as far as it goes. Engaging on the field boils down to simply taking out the weak and swarming the strong, and it becomes a chore.
During the actual character to character combat, you initiate a series of attacks, and timing them properly is beneficial. If your previous attack bounced the enemy in the air, waiting until the enemy is back on the ground to start attack number two is important. This is the same for every character, so even though their animations differ tremendously, you’re still doing the same thing every time you fight. It makes combat feel like a series of similar repeated tasks with little to no diversity.
(Please visit the site to view this media)
The story is awful, bordering on unnecessary. Between every battle, long drawn out conversations take place offering gibberish conceits for how and why these worlds are mashing up. Dialog gems appear, however, hidden in the banal over-explanation when it comes to the disparate character interactions. Moments like listening to Shinobi and Strider try to figure each other out, or hearing Heihachi try to convince Phoenix Wright to be his lawyer are great, but those moments are quickly brushed aside in favor of bland in-universe explanations.
Along with the opportunity for those fun interactions, gaining new characters also means new combat animations. The battles might be boring overall, but the special attack animations are a sight to behold, and often open the door for small references that are fun to spot. Resident Evil characters have explosive displays using familiar guns, and characters like Mega Man X use specific attacks seen from past games. Every time new characters joined my team, I eagerly tried out their special moves, more enamored with the spectacle than the damage output. Seeing what everyone is capable of is more enticing than the learning how .hack’s virtual word overlaps with the Resident Evil universe.
Project X Zone 2 gets a lot of mileage out of its huge cast. Character interactions stand out where storytelling falls apart; seeing everyone’s impressive animations keeps combat alive when things get tedious, but the total package isn’t consistently interesting. Seeing Ryo from Shenmue fight alongside Morrigan from Darkstalkers is a fun exercise in fan-service, but the mash-up lacks substance despite the long-winded attempts to justify and explain it.