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Project X Zone 2 Review – Crisis on Infinite Earths

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Publisher: Bandai Namco | Developer: Monolith Soft | Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game | Platforms: 3Ds | ESRB/ PEGI: T/12+  | Release Date: February 12, 2016 (EU)/ February 16,2016 (NA)

Project X Zone 2 is quite, quite mad. But with over 50 characters vying for screen space, it was clear that the writers and had a decision to make: either attempt play the entire thing completely straight-laced and end up with something po-faced and ultimately awkward, or embrace how utterly barmy the idea of a world in which Shadaloo and Umbrella team up, M Bison could command a group of Hunters from Resident Evil to do his bidding, and Heihachi from Tekken  could hire Phoenix Wright to sue Shadaloo for defamation of character (in fact,this how both characters are introduced, along with Kazuma and Majima from the Yakuza series), and run with it. The result is a game that feels like a cross between a shonen anime series from the 80s that book ends big fights with tons of exposition, and an episode of Axe Cop, as if they gave a five year old to play with a box full action figures and wrote down the results.

Characters are introduced at a steady pace as the ever expanding cast of heroes and villains, lead this time by Reiji and Shaomu from Namco X Capcom (the first title in the series which was only released on PS2 in Japan), hop dimensions attempting to thwart the latest diabolical scheme by Ouma, a cadre made up of the villains from the franchises represented in the game, including the likes of Bison, The Rhythm Rogues (Space Channel 5 Pt. 2) and Vile Mk II (Mega Man X)

It might sound a bit mind boggling, but the narrative doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the previous games in the series or the franchises the characters are from; though you may appreciate some of the more subtle references that allude to past events if you do. However, the way many recurring characters are introduced can often be boiled down to” Hello, person from this place we are now in, I remember you from the last time this thing happened” which unsurprisingly does begin to grate after a while.

Though the overarching plot is paper thin and basically a convoluted excuse to ram all of these characters into the same narrative space, the game’s dialogue more than makes up for this, with characters frequently addressing the absurdity of the situations they find themselves in and engaging in plenty of lighthearted banter that keeps the tone light and interactions engaging. Impressively, each character manages to  retain their own distinct voice, and the localisation team deserve praise for doing such a brilliant job translating the script (even if all the VO work is Japanese only) as it adds extra punch to each encounter and helps make it easier to follow the narrative and figure out what exactly is going on. With so many characters involved, this must have been quite a feat, though admittedly some get much more screen time than others.

The bulk of the experience, and the enjoyment you’ll get from it, is found in Project X Zone 2’s brilliant turn based battles that are as flashy as they are addictive. Replacing the convoluted and often confusing system of the previous game in which individual characters and enemies went in a varying order determined by their stats, the process has been streamlined into simply having player turns and enemy turns, making it much easier to keep track of where everyone is and plan strategies in advance. The map is divided into a grid with characters able to move in a certain range each turn. Placement of your troops is now of the utmost importance as attacking an enemy from the side or behind allows you to do more damage, but this applies to the player’s characters too. Also, standing close to an ally allows them to jump into the fray as well and dole out some extra punishment.

Skirmishes are skill based, with characters performing strings of moves initiated with a single button press. Though it looks incredibly chaotic, the action is somewhat rhythmic with the timing of your attacks critical to inflicting maximum amounts of damage. Each team gets to perform three moves during a battle (four if you can unleash a special at the end), attempting to chain them together in a way that allows you to continually juggle the enemy with extra damage inflicted and additional experience points doled out at the end of the fight if you can strike the enemy just before they hit the ground.

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Not using an attack during a fight now charges it, improving its effectiveness when used in the next battle. Another new addition is “Mirage Cancel,” which lets you cancel a move just before it strikes, recover a bar of the attack gauge, and slow down the enemy as it falls. This gives you a better opening to land Cross Hits, which freeze a character in place when a support character lands a hit at the same time as your main team, making it easier to score more hits as well as in filling up your XP (special/counter) gauge much faster.

By themselves, each of these techniques don’t effect the flow of a fight too much, but when used together they can be absolutely devastating. However, to do so requires a certain level of finesse, timing, and attention to detail in order to cause the most damage per turn. Creating a system that feels like a wonderful blend of hack ‘n’ slash and turn based strategy.

The beauty of Project X Zone 2‘s battle system is that its outward simplicity belies a surprising amount of depth. Like a good fighting game, there’s plenty of fun to be had for both serious and casual players alike. Though it’s possible to beat waves of enemies by simply spamming attacks until everything is dead, advanced players have the tools to take enemies apart in a much more effective manner if they want to, and gain rewards as a result. Although skirmishes aren’t as challenging as they were in Project X Zone, they’re still difficult enough that they don’t feel too easy (and you can always ratchet up the difficulty in the options if they do)

there are also far more ways to customize your teams so that they cater to your own playstyle than in previous entries. For example, you can adjust which solo characters accompany your teams into battle and equip gear and accessories that adjust teams’ stats and immunities.

Leveling up characters has also been reworked. Besides earning experience at the end of each battles (which works in the usual manner), teams also accrue “CP,” which can then be used to level specific attacks or purchase new skills. This gives you plenty of control over how you want each character to develop and act, while the limited resources means you have to plan in advance what you want the team to specialize in.

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Project X Zone 2‘s presentation is first rate. The game’s cast is rendered as bright and beautiful sprites, each retaining the same sense of character from their original series, all while maintaining a cohesive style within the confines of the game itself. Moreover, watching them in action is absolutely thrilling, especially when a full team of five characters are attacking an enemy at once. Animation is fluid and action is stylish and chaotic, and it never gets tiring seeing characters using the same attacks over and over. Regardless of how hectic the onscreen action gets, the framerate never slows for a second. The 3D effects are used sparingly and to great effect to give the world a palpable sense of depth despite its use of 2D characters on a 3D map.

The soundtrack is also a real treat, featuring remixes of notable tunes from the myriad of franchises present in the game. The diversity of the soundtrack, is almost as varied as the roster of characters that make up your party, though your enjoyment will vary depending on how familiar you are with the various franchises being represented.

All in all, Project X Zone 2 does what a good sequel should: cut out the parts that didn’t work in the previous game, add some interesting new features, and be accessible to both new players and old without alienating either group. The storyline may be a little tricky to follow at times, but the rock solid presentation, addictive gameplay, and witty repartee elevate Project X Zone 2 from an overstuffed mash up to a genuinely brilliant SRPG in it’s own right.

Though gamers with more than a passing knowledge of the franchises  represented are bound to get more of a kick out of it, chances are most will be familiar with a large part of the cast as some of gaming’s biggest stars are included in the line up (plus a whole lot more you’ll want to get better acquainted with by the end). As such, I’d highly recommend giving Project X Zone 2 a whirl – it’s bonkers, but in the best possible way.

Project X Zone 2 was played on New 3DS XL and was provided by the publisher.

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Review

ZED Review — A Boring Walk

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ZED Review Screenshot 1

Players intrigued by the premise of ZED will have to look elsewhere for a game that delivers on the promise of an emotional journey set amidst surreal landscapes. Although the game does have fascinating visuals, the lack of any real gameplay makes the entire experience dull and uninspiring. However, despite being an altogether terrible experience, the ending is still somehow emotional.

ZED tells the story of an ageing artist suffering with dementia who must recover his lost memories  to create one final artwork for his granddaughter. The player assumes the role of the artist, stuck in his own twisted mind, to collect important objects from the course of his life and bring him peace.

Gameplay entirely consists of two things: walking around to find objects and solving basic puzzles. In all of the game’s areas, only four objects are to be found. Finding the objects is an incredibly simple task in most levels as the design is linear and leads the player along a path or through a small collection of rooms to find these items. Occasionally, one of the objects will be placed in a ridiculous location. Breaking the linearity in this way is incredibly frustrating and forces the player to backtrack and find hidden paths that are not immediately obvious. As for the puzzles, they take seconds to complete even without searching for the striking blue solutions on the walls of the level. Such a simplistic and unoriginal gameplay loop makes the incredibly short game boring to play through.

The environments are genuinely fun to look at and do a brilliant job of capturing the mayhem inside the mind of a man whose memory is failing him. Disappointingly, the game has no interactive elements within the environments beyond the key items, toilets, and plush toys. Even then, interacting with these objects requires specific mouse placement, which is almost impossible to predict as a cursor has been omitted for the sake of immersion. The game has many quirky assets, yet the lack of interactivity makes them feel worthless.

Eagre Games tries to create an immersive experience, though falls flat for a number of reasons, the most annoying of which is the load screens. The player progresses the story by unlocking doorways to reveal the next scene. However, after getting this glimpse of art, the player is thrust into a brief black loading screen which ruins the point of revealing anything at all.

The narrative is told through voice-overs that belong to the protagonist’s daughter and two different sides of his deteriorating mind. Subtitles are turned off by default, yet, without them, the player has no way of knowing that the artist’s voice is represented as a dual identity. What is being said makes little sense as is, let alone without the context of a warring ego and id.

By the end of the game, the player just wants to see the result of this painful object search and, surprisingly, the conclusion is overwhelmingly touching. Against all odds, ZED somehow manages to finish on a high that acts as a reminder that anything is possible if you chase your dreams.

The ending is the only redeeming feature of this boring experience. ZED is short, uninspired, and disappointing. For a game that sounded so promising, weak gameplay prevents it from having any real emotional impact. Hopefully, the strong development team at Eagre Games will learn from its mistakes to create something that is as fun to play as it is to look at.

OnlySP Review Score 1 Fail

Reviewed on PC.

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