When Companies Fall In Love, We Get Project X Zone 2

You see, kids, when one multi-national game developer and another multinational game developer really love signing contracts with one another, sometimes their creative teams touch and characters just get all over the place. And when that happens, something wonderful can emerge, the dream of fangirls and fanboys all around the world: They put together some ridiculous story to tie things together so those characters can just muck about with one another and mix personalities that may or may not be… explosive.

Then you throw in a sense of strategy and some minor RPG elements, and you’ve got yourself a cross-over like Project X Zone 2. It’s a bit more complicated than the birds and the bees (but seriously, why are birds bumping ugly with bees anyway?), but when it’s done well enough, you’ll get more hours at a time out of the experience.

The actual game of Project X Zone 2 is simple enough. In classic SRPG style, you move the characters at your beck and call around the map, attacking or using items, or use a character’s unique skill that can garner further experience through defeating enemies or boost attributes. Unlike many standard SRPGs, however, is that the ability to create unique teams of characters isn’t a possibility— and it’s not surprising, since these are characters from so many Sega and Bandai-Namco characters and not any customized figures.

Story-wise, a series of portals have opened up in the various different game worlds, dropping in people who don’t belong and pitting them sometimes against one another, but usually joining forces together to find out just what the hell is going on. Golden chains pop up in different worlds, without any warning or explanation, and there appear to be a few stray characters who may or may not explain why those chains are there. For the little bit of the game I’m actually allowed to talk about, the story is filled with more mysteries than solutions—the only solutions I’ve so far experienced have been on the order of “So whose universes are being tapped into?” And on that front there are many who appear from world to world—Phoenix Wright, Shinobi, Strider, Darkstalkers, even faces from Yakuza and Shenmue appear.

The battles are as straightforward as any others I’ve played in the genre. Your characters are already in the story, so there's no need to build a team, and they’re strewn around the environments in their predetermined locations. All movement happens one unit at a time, each unit containing two characters (and sometimes a support unit) and each being able to move a set distance. Depending on what’s nearby they can open chests or break barrels, use items on pretty much everyone in play, initiate a skill that can increase experience or specific character attributes, or flat-out attack.

During an attack, there are usually three triggerable attacks that can be done, each with a unique button press. The trick is, like a fighting game (where many of Project X Zone 2's characters originated), activating each morve at the right time and connecting attacks together to stretch a combo as far as possible, thereby inflicting the most damage. It's about trying to juggle an enemy in the air for twenty seconds or longer.

It might sound straightforward, and it is, but it’s tricky to do unless you know how one character launches an opponent up or down, then planning accordingly. And each of those attacks is actually multiple attacks, hence the combo counter, so you’re doing all sorts of damage to whomever you’re up against. If you’re near another unit you can bring them in on the jump, and if you can plan everything out juuuust right, you’ll have everybody in the fray at once wailing on some poor bad-guy sap. Support attacks are especially noteworthy, since they bring with them added animation to give the already-sparkling action more of a firework appeal.

The real draw of a game like this is having characters from different games interacting with one another, which means dialogue is key. And with a blend of cheeky lines, fan-service double-entendre, and Professor Layton being the biggest wimp I didn’t expect, it’s funny and worth reading through for more than just story arcs. Seeing Morrigan and M. Bison interact with a bunny girl who speaks Japanese with an American-ish accent and mangled translations like “Very macho police lady desu!” is golden. And if you pay attention to the little touches, most of them are references to other manga or games, like the insult “Usagi Yodumbo” or “A gunsmith? Don’t tell me… two girls? They like cats?” (in reference to a personal favorite, “Gunsmith Cats”). Some even poke fun at anime nerds in the US for clothes and language-ing skills—the writers were clearly told to throw in just about everything nerdy they could within reason.

After my allotted time with it, the one major downside I can see is that it’s still highly linear, leading one chapter into another without enough options to make a team really unique from any other. Even the ability to select a different outfit for a given fight, like Chun-Li’s Alpha skinsuit instead of her traditional blue dress, or taking off Ryo Hazuki’s jacket, would make me think I was actually creating something unique, but instead we’re hand-held from one space to another without any say in the manner. Even if it was something as minor as an outfit, I would feel like that kid who has a “vote” in where the family goes on vacation next. Shifting some optional items that boost attack or increase HP and selecting certain skill upgrades does not personalization make.

But hey. for tongue-and-cheek story and conversations for people who take their favorite games too seriously, this should probably be on the radar. The release date is February 16th, just two days after Valentine’s Day, so you know what that means… probably a romantic dinner, then two nights of waiting for PXZ2 to come out, passing the time with obscure anime and making references only your fellow nerds will even snicker at. Which reminds me, I should go brush up on my “Usagi Yojimbo”. It’s been a while.