Back in October 2014 (a time when I was still writing this stuff on Tumblr), I dedicated the entire month to writing articles about Project X Zone, a crossover, tactical RPG on the 3DS featuring characters from Capcom, Sega and Namco franchises. It quickly became one of my favourite games ever upon playing it and I just wanted, nay, needed to express that love somewhere (you can check out said articles here). So, you can probably guess how I felt when a sequel was announced (spoilers: there was a lot of screaming).
Said sequel, Project X Zone 2, was released in the West in February 2016 so, one year later, I’m doing this shit again because (unsurprisingly) I love the sequel too. But is it an improvement over its predecessor or is it just the same game with only the most minute of differences? Well, that’s what a review’s for, isn’t it?
At its core, PXZ 2 isn’t all that different from the first game. Every chapter, you’re party is dropped onto a map and you must maneuver them around and defeat all the enemies to proceed (though some chapters do have additional conditions). Your party is divided into two different types of units – Pair Units (the ones you actively control) and Solo Units (individuals that you “attach” to Pair Units). If you played the first game, this all seems very familiar, which on one hand is a good thing since it means you don’t have to spend ages learning a brand new battle system or anything. It was always a relatively simple system anyway so newcomers don’t have to worry either. Don’t fix what’s not broken, right?
That’s not to say that it plays exactly the same as the first game, however. In fact, the differences become abundantly clear from the tutorial levels alone. For starters, rather than having each unit (ally and enemy) have a Speed stat that determines turn order, chapters have a Player Turn and an Enemy Turn. On your turn, you can move your units in any order you wish, with a unit’s turn ending after fighting an enemy or by manually ending it yourself. Once your turn ends, the enemy does the same thing.
Also, your units’ positions will affect how much damage you can deal. Attacking from the side or behind an enemy will yield better results, and even increase the odds of inflicting status effects. Likewise, enemies will try and do the same to you so you need to be careful about leaving your units exposed. There seems to be an actual attempt to incorporate a greater level of strategy than the first game. It even handles more like a traditional RPG in some ways.
For instance, each Pair Unit has Skill Points (SP), which are used to activate character-specific skills or defend against enemy attacks. In the first game, you needed to spend XP (Cross Points), which were shared across the entire party. Here, though, XP is reserved only for activating special moves and and completely blocking attacks. This simple split means more opportunities to buff up the party, heal the wounded etc.
Defeating enemies will reward you with not only items to use but also Gold, which can be spent in the Shop that becomes available in-between chapters. There, you can stock up on healing items or equipment to give your party an even greater edge. Considering that the only way to get this kind of stuff in the first game was from either defeating enemies or opening treasure chests, it’s a more than welcome addition. Although, in regards to consumables, you can only bring 15 of each item into a chapter which may sound limiting but, considering how easy the first few chapters are and how much Gold you can potentially earn, you’ll find yourself easily stocking up on them as the game goes on.
You’ll also earn CP (Customise Points) for both Pairs and Solos, which are spent on either upgrading your attacks or unlocking new skills for them to use. It always felt like Solo Units were never doing much damage in the later chapters of the first game (since they didn’t gain any kind of experience) so this is a great way of boosting their damage output and making them still feel relevant throughout the game.
Even the battles themselves have been tweaked. The basis is still the same – you attack using the A button in conjunction with a direction on the D-Pad – but you’re now limited to only attacking three times. Any moves you don’t use in battle, however, receive a Charge Bonus, meaning they’ll do extra damage the next time you use them.
The Cross Hit (which freezes enemies in place if a Pair and Solo land an attack at the same time) also returns and is possibly even better at building up XP this time around, but now, certain attacks will trigger a Cross Break, ending the Cross Hit early but dealing extra damage. It can/will throw off your combo sometimes but it’s still a welcome feature.
There’s also a brand new mechanic called a Mirage Cancel, where (at the cost of a tonne of XP), you can cancel an attack to gain an extra move and slow down time, making it easier to land Critical Hits. Thing is, though, I kept forgetting it was even a thing and I honestly never found a use for it myself. It ultimately feels a little pointless though players that might still be struggling to get to grips with the battle system could find a use for it (there’s also a Training mode that can be used in-between chapters).
If all this info is too overwhelming for you, there are tutorials within the game’s Crosspedia that can be reviewed at your leisure and go into much greater detail, but hopefully I’ve made my point clear. Between everything I mentioned, including being able to stack certain buffs, no longer needing a Cross Hit to increase your XP to over 100% and each chapter limiting the amount of Pair Units you can have on the field at once, the developers have gone out of their way to make the game more strategic and less of a slog to play through.
One of the biggest criticisms of the first game was that chapters would go on for hours because of the amount of enemies that would appear and how long battles would last. The gameplay here has been streamlined somewhat in an attempt to keep it from wearing out its welcome and, overall, I think it does work. Everything here has been improved so well that I honestly struggle to go back to the first game; it feels more archaic now.
But let’s be honest here. The real selling point of PXZ 2 isn’t its gameplay (as fun as it is). Much like the first game, it’s the simple sight of seeing all these disparate franchises crossing over with one another. It’s seeing these famous and not-so famous characters interacting with one another, working together and travelling across the multiverse to battle all manner of diabolical threats.
As I wrote in my review of the first game, it’s just a delight to see these characters actually talk with one another as it leads to some amazing interactions and scenarios that we could’ve only dreamed off. In the first few chapters alone, we see Chris and Jill from Resident Evil encounter a scantily-clad rabbit demon, a pair of Yakuza members drop-kicking zombies and three members of the Mishima family of Tekken fame (who all openly hate each other) team up to fight a psychotic Red Riding Hood look-a-like. How does that not automatically make it the best game ever?
The core cast is arguably better than before, with a lot more recognisable faces this time around, such as Vergil from Devil May Cry, and Natsu from Soul Calibur V, though there are still a few more obscure characters for certain fans. We’re talking the likes of Aty from Summon Night 3 and even frigging Segata Sanshiro, the mascot for the Sega Saturn.
There’s even a few guest stars from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Awakening and Xenoblade Chroncicles (the latter made me particularly ecstatic), as well as some cameo characters that occasionally help the heroes throughout the story. And, of course, plenty of bad guys to pummel.
Even the story feels like it’s had more effort put into it. In the first game, the cast bounced from one world to the next with little to no control, stumbling across villainous schemes in the process. Here, though, they feel more like they’re in control, actually coming up with strategies, pursuing villains and even tracking down former allies. Every character (with a few exceptions) has a reason to be involved. It feels a bit more tightly written than the first game’s story which, while entertaining, felt like it was being written as it went along. The translation seems a lot better too and is genuinely funny at times.
Plus, you don’t need to have played the first game to fully enjoy it (though it does help a little bit). Story-wise, it’s actually more of a sequel to the series’ predecessor, Namco X Capcom, which was Japan-only, meaning some plot elements will be completely lost if you know next to nothing about the game.
Honestly, PXZ 2 is the perfect sequel in many aspects but, unfortunately, it still has problems. Namely, it’s difficulty – it’s almost too easy. The first game was already a bit of a cakewalk but, so long as you know what you’re doing, you’re not really going to struggle with the game until maybe the final chapters. The most challenge you’re gonna get is with the extra missions you can unlock after beating the game but, by that point, you might wonder what the point is.
And despite all the improvements I’ve mentioned, if you didn’t like the first game, chances are this one won’t change your opinion. The battle system is virtually unchanged and later chapters will still eat up loads of your time. It’s very much a sequel designed for the fans.
That being said, I still wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone who’s the slightest bit interested. Hell, I still recommend the first game too but, if I had to pick one over the other, it’d easily be the sequel. In an age where a lot of videogames are trying to impress us with super-realistic graphics or cinematic presentation, Project X Zone 2 sets out to do one thing – be fun to play. It just wants you to have a good time and enjoy this crazy road-trip with all these characters.
If all you want is a game that can have Yuri from Tales of Vesperia, Phoenix Wright from Ace Attorney and the Morolians from Space Channel 5 all on screen at the same time or is just super flashy to look at, Project X Zone 2 will do more than satisfy you.