Very NOT “Usagi Yodumbo” instead HAPPY Japanese crossover game Fun with issue!
As a game, Project X Zone 2 (that's “Cross Zone," not “ex zone”) is a unique beast to tackle. It’s one part Fire Emblem, one part nerdy pub trivia stream of movie and game references, and a heavy helping of “Oh yeah, I remember that game, how did I forget about that?” But in that same Kevin Smith movie way, if you’re into that sort of thing, the crossover appeal of a fankid’s dream like PXZ as a series is enough to satiate your nerdy desires, and for plenty of hours.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect by any means. The reason I put “one part Fire Emblem” up there and didn’t reference any other game is because this is a straight-forward SRPG of the same style, where characters are chosen for you at the beginning of battle no matter who’s in your preferred line-up or not. Through the sequence of chapters, each consisting of a battle that can take over an hour each time, players take command of the squad to achieve a general goal: usually ending with “defeat all enemies,” but often beginning with tasks like reaching a certain point or destroying specific items within a turn-based time frame.
Actually fighting is a mixed bag of timed button presses and borderline unnecessary decisions. Each player team—everyone fights in pairs, with the option of a supporting character—has a selection of physical attacks that can be used once close enough to an enemy to strike and usually the attacks have a specialty: launch an opponent into the air, break their guard, or just pummel and hope for the best. Supporting characters can attack during that turn, as well as a pair nearby (if they’re close enough) to build the action. There’s also a combo meter that can generate bonuses for a strong, high-level of combined-attacks combo. But there’s only so much that can be done with this. Once you’ve figured out a few buttons that work for you, they become second-nature, and you may even forget the other buttons exist. Grinding isn’t really necessary, so it grows monotonous.
The battle-specific tasks aren’t too bothersome, though the occasional boss character puts up more of a fight. And by “puts up a fight,” I mean “can do significant damage on a single turn,” which is easily rectified by the following turn. See, unlike a game like Disgaea or Fire Emblem, items can be used on anyone by anyone, so long as you still have a character left in turn. No matter a character's position on the field, an item can revive a fallen comrade or heal HP and ailments, which means at the beginning of every enemy turn it’s a simple matter to have everyone at peak power. If you search the field you can find even more items, and healing items are cheap enough in the shop to keep at least ten of everything on-hand for a given situation. This means no battles are particularly “challenging,” just annoying when having to navigate the same item menus over and over again.
At least the story is fun. Without giving anything away, a bunch of gold chains have appeared across multiple worlds, giving every area of the random Sega and Bandai Namco universe a connection to one another. Complete with coincidental “bumping into” between the heroes and/or villains of said area. And they hit a little bit of everything… Shenmue, Captain Commando, Street Fighter, Space Channel 5, Resident Evil, and so many others play some role, whether playable or as a support character. But what makes it fun is the stream of jokes and references throughout; it’s fine to appreciate Dante and Vergil from Devil May Cry conflicting with the Nemesis from RE: Nemesis or seeing Skeith from .hack//INFECTION on the same battlefield as Dante and Morrigan from Darkstalkers.
The dialogue makes this game hum. It’s the American otaku antagonist that speaks in jumbled Japanese that only barely makes her point, complete with constant and always-unnecessary “-desu”. It’s the young Kite talking to a “fox”-y bad girl saying “Stranger danger!” Hell, it’s an appearance by Dural that includes a character wondering aloud if they haven’t yet found Sarah Connor, and even a reference that one day they hope to be made entirely of polygons (even though they admit that pixel art is much cooler). The world is a sequence of self-referential awareness and pop-culture references from games to TV to movies, and it all feels amazingly appropriate for certain characters. Everybody has a personality that befits them and isn't entirely one-dimensional.
But because of the game and style presented, as fun as the story might be and as engaging as the fights can get, there’s limited map exploration—only as far as a character can move in one turn, then once the fight’s over, you’re outta there. And there’s such limited customization options for upgrades that your team never actually feels unique to your playthrough.
I understand I shouldn’t expect the depth of SRPGs like Disgaea to build up a team from scratch, but I would like to feel like I was a part of the situation and not simply watching like a coach from the sidelines. Once that’s a possibility, I will totally be onboard with PXZ as a series. But as enjoyable as this can be one battle each sitting, it overstays its welcome. But I’m happy it exists, and takes the concept that established characters can be played with like the Play-Doh these devs may have snacks on as children.