Project X Zone and the Frightfully Fantastic Fanservice

_In Street Fighter Alpha, Cody had a super move that involved him doing jabs, then turning around to whiff a jab, then turning back around to hit more jabs, and repeating this a number of times. As a kid, I saw this super move, and thought to myself “What the shit is going on? This move just looks completely broken…maybe it’s some kind of glitch?” It wasn’t until years later that I found out that it was a reference to a glitch from Final Fight, in which turning around in mid-combo would allow you to combo enemies infinitely. The first time I saw somebody do it, I instantly remembered that Alpha super, and said “Oh my God…that is hilariously awesome that they put that in the game.”

_Imagine for a moment that you were raised in a dungeon with a PC that wasn’t connected to the internet. Every couple of days, a masked man came in and installed a new game onto your computer. You got all of the PC classics: Doom, Starcraft, Diablo, Deus Ex, Thief, System Shock 2, Elder Scrolls, Minesweeper, Quake, The Sims, Monkey Island, BattleChess, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Final Fantasy 7, Half-life, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Oregon Trail…you name it, you got it. You’d have an intimate knowledge of video games and how to play them…but you’d know little to nothing about Nintendo products. Someone then hands you a Gamecube and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Your reaction would likely be “What the fuck is this and why should I give a shit?” Assuming your captor taught you profanity, of course.

Fox: “Boobubwabwuhbah.” Kid me: “Where do I sign?”

Granted, most people know all about Nintendo franchises, especially those of us who grew up with the NES or SNES. Nintendo branded themselves expertly. It didn’t take long for most NES players to realize that if NES games had this template for the cover, it was probably worth renting/asking your parents to buy on a whim at Toys’R’Us. Add to this Nintendo Power cornering the market on “showering young kids with previews on Nintendo’s upcoming first party titles,” and us youngun’s were eating out of their hand when games like StarFox, Pokemon or Kirby were released. So when something like Smash Bros. came out, chock full of all of those franchises we grew up with, various cameos and backgrounds lifted from their games to become playable fighting arenas, we were sold simply on the nostalgia.

_All of this relates directly to Project X Zone, the new [for the US] strategy-action-RPG hybrid for the 3DS. PxZ is a crossover game featuring characters from various Namco, Capcom and Sega franchises. The plot is paper-thin, yet strangely hard to follow. Battles are long as piss, although that’s kind of par for the course when it comes to SRPG’s. The combat is fun, but can be repetitive, and it isn’t particularly difficult.

With that kind of a description, it sounds like I don’t think very highly of PxZ. On the contrary, I think PxZ is a work of genius and is quite possibly the best pure fan-service game ever created. But the same thing that makes it so great in my eyes will also most likely relegate it to niche status.

_In most crossover games, especially ones with this many franchises crossing over, most of the callbacks are done visually. Sega All-Stars Racing features numerous scenes recreated in the tracks that would be recognizable to anybody who played the games of origin, crossover fighters feature countless moves instantly recognizable to people with only a passing familiarity of the series, the Mario party-esque games feature various “Remember this guy?” characters as selectable characters, so-on and so-forth. The selling point of these games is “Race/Fight/Engage in sporting events with your favorite company’s characters!” PxZ’s approach is similar, but differs slightly in that the selling point is closer to “Watch 3 company’s characters engage in banter in a tactical-action RPG setting!”

_PxZ features characters from around 30 franchises, spanning multiple genres, publishers and developers, and is extremely dialog heavy. I mentioned earlier that the narrative isn’t strong, and it’s not. The plot is “the dimensional walls between various worlds are falling apart, and different universes are getting mixed together. Wander around throughout a bunch of stages based on franchises owned by these three companies and try and fix it.” But the plot doesn’t really make an attempt at being good: it’s there simply to serve as an excuse for all of the characters to meet up and stick together to resolve something.

Where the writing truly shines in in the treatment of the characters and general history of the franchises they hail from. What separates PxZ from other mash-up style games like Smash Bros, Sega Racing, PlayStation All-Stars, Marvel vs. Capcom and the like is the amount of dialog and interaction the characters have, but it’s also what will create a barrier for enjoyment for many people. In Smash Bros., you don’t have to give a shit about Donkey Kong if all you care about is beating the holy hell out of people with Pikachu. In PxZ, you don’t really have a choice in the matter about having to sift through some Ghouls’n’Ghosts related chatter once the Ghouls’n’Ghosts stage rolls around. Don’t know Ryu’s move names? Well, I guess a lot of his talk will be lost on you. Know nothing about the main plot of Tekken? Looks like 80% of Heihachi’s, Jin and Xiaoyu’s battle dialog is going over your head.

While I was surprised at how many characters and franchises I recognized and was actually familiar with, there was still a fair amount that I was totally unfamiliar with. This game is a shining example of Your Mileage May Vary, as the more extensive your knowledge about the franchises, the more you’ll appreciate the writing. Characters often lampshade ridiculous things from each others games [or in some cases, their own], there are specific callbacks to lines of dialog from games, back stories are referenced, the localization references poorly translated lines of dialog from some of the older franchises [most notably the Capcom fighters] and even in-game mechanics of series. Resonance of Fate characters ponder how anybody can use a heavy machine gun because they can’t imagine anybody possibly firing a gun without back-flipping around in the air. KOS-MOS questions Arthur’s removal of his *ahem* “safety seals”. Ryu doesn’t worry about being shot out of a cannon, seeing how he can alter his trajectory in mid-air if needed via a tatsumaki senpuu kyaku. Bruno Delinger is thankful he “has his shoes this time” as they climb up a large tower. Ichiro just seems to have a kind of magnetism about him with the ladies. The game features a handy encyclopedia with info on every character in the game, but it’s not a replacement for more in-depth knowledge on the games themselves as much as it is a “Who the fuck are these people? Ah, ok, Shining Force EXA.”

While I don’t think the writing is so bad that somebody who has no prior knowledge or experience with any of the characters or franchises found therein won’t find anything worth chuckling over, the less you know about them, the less the game’s biggest selling point is of a selling point. Is someone that’s a big Street Fighter fan going to want to wade through the dialog and conversations of 50 other characters and an RPG battle system just to enjoy the SF references?

_As far as the gameplay is concerned…well, I admittedly have a weakness for SRPG’s, although this is more of a action RPG in SRPG clothing. If you played Endless Frontier, this is pretty much an SRPG version of that. Movement takes place on an isometric grid, with you moving into attack range to fight enemies, yadda yadda. Attacking utilizes different directions on the D-pad+A, giving you up to 5 attacks that you can preform [neutral D-pad included] with which you attempt to juggle enemies with your attacks. For something that’s generally pretty simple and repetitive, as that’s generally the only way you’ll attack from the beginning to the end of the game, there can be a surprising amount of strategy and timing involved. Critical hits are done by proper timing as opposed to RNG, different attacks will are better for building up Cross Points used for skills or specials or for dealing pure damage, and others are better used for breaking enemies guards or setting them in place for a Cross Assault. While it’s not a difficult SRPG by any means, especially if you’re a veteran of the genre, there’s more depth in the gameplay than some would leave you to believe. Characters attacks are different enough so as to be more suited to different players. A few people I’ve talked to have really liked using certain characters that I didn’t like using at all, and vice versa.

_Not to sound like some kind of know-it-all video game snob, I was familiar with around 80% of the characters and franchises that appeared in PxZ, and I loved it from beginning to end. In nearly every battle, every story scene, there was something that made me laugh out loud, or had me fondly reminiscing about old games I loved playing, or feeling like a bad ass when I finished a turn landing 5 criticals. Is this a game I’d expect anybody to enjoy as much as I did? No. Do I expect any gamer to derive some kind of silly enjoyment from? Most, but again, not all. I wouldn’t expect someone that grew up with nothing but US PC games to be have that much of a knowledge base for these characters [Ironically, given that this game is on the 3DS, if you’ve only owned Nintendo consoles in the past, your exposure to most of the cast would also be really limited.].  Is it something I feel I could 100% recommend to any fans of the action or strategy RPG genres? Again, no, because characters don’t get enough new attacks throughout the course of the game to keep most action RPG fans interested, and it’s too easy for most SRPG fans to keep interested. But if you have a soft spot for any of the companies involved, any of the franchises represented, any of the characters who appear, and a place in your heart for something that’s silly, tongue-in-cheek, and balls-to-the-wall ridiculous, you should give Project X Zone a try.

_Also, it’s got tons of traditional fan-service, too


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