Namco Bandai's upcoming 3DS multi-company mashup, Project X Zone, is an absolute treat, and is one of the best things I've played at Tokyo Game Show 2012. It's too bad that it has yet to be announced for North America. After spending some time with it today at TGS, I'm already prepared to import a copy when it releases next month in Japan, but I still want a full localization to happen, as this game is too good to be limited to one country.
Project X Zone takes characters from Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega and drops them all into a delightful blend of strategy role-playing and fighting game components, and then sprinkles on a extra-heavy topping of fan service. It's unabashedly crazy and over-the-top with its flashy battles starring lead characters from the three companies' biggest franchises. I want to shake the hand of the guy who brainstormed this project.
The TGS demo I played opened with dialogue between Tekken characters looking for a fight, or maybe a trip to Roppongi. When their silly (and fully voiced) dialogue finished, I found a varied group of stars (Chris Redfield from Resident Evil, Jin and Ling from Tekken, Dante from Devil May Cry, Mega Man, and others) all placed on a grid-based battlefield, set in the Ghouls 'n Ghosts world, populated with zombies, dragons and the like. Why? Who cares why!
Seeing all of the cute little sprite-y representations of these popular characters from various games on a tactical role-playing grid from another game scrambled my brain a bit, but in a good way.
I immediately took to battle, moving a party member over block grid spaces toward one of the many enemies. Once movement completed, I was swept away to a screen that looked more a fighting game stage than a role-playing game battle.
In the battle's attack phase, a button press -- or a combination of a directional pad and button press -- initiates an attack for a duo of related game characters. Once this attack starts, the enemy unit is knocked around the screen, usually in an upward fashion. From here, there is an opportunity to input another attack to chain with the first, with the goal of juggling the enemy in the air.
Continued attacks can be input to continue the damage, and optional assist attacks, mapped to the shoulder buttons, can call in secondary attackers or nearby ally units to increase the chain of hits. With proper timing, it's possible to chain hits through juggling to defeat an enemy in a single turn. The battles are not unlike those of Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier, but they're a fair bit more crazy and definitely more flashy.
While this battle system would be fun with any type of character, it's a thrill to see all of these franchise stars working together, and it's especially thrilling for this SRPG nerd to know that there's a strategy tie-in, with unit positioning figuring into how battles play out. Imagine Chris and Jill from Resident Evil working together by shooting an an enemy while Dante swoops in to get some extra punches in. Then Arthur runs in with his knight armor on and chucks some spears into the mix.
As crazy as this may read, it's even more nuts in action. Outrageous overlaid animations preface some of the larger attacks, and finishes are so serious that they're funny. But what really drew me in was that the timing play of the attacking/juggling is so fiercely gratifying that I didn't want battles to end. It really is that much fun.
As fun as the attack phase is, the defense phase is pretty dull in comparison. When enemies approach for an attack, you're not brought to a battle screen. Instead, you're kept in the map grid, left to select a menu item for defense or counter attack. While not particularly engaging, you can at least blow through this phase quickly, getting back to the good stuff.
I can only imagine how much more involved the battle and strategy becomes as more characters are introduced, and more moves are added to existing characters' sets. Unfortunately, these show floor demos weren't long enough to have any of that happen.
While I can admit that I'm a sucker for the fan service (watching Space Channel 5's Ulala strut out in the middle of a battle to shake her thing and shoot her space gun is hilarious), it's the battle system that makes Project X Zone so great.
We never saw Namco X Capcom, so I'm a bit nervous about seeing this 3DS sequel come stateside. But there's always importing, and this one is definitely worth importing.