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.
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.
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.
SteamWorld Quest Review — Full Steam Ahead
The SteamWorld series has a habit of refusing to be confined to a single genre. The first entry in the series, way back on the Nintendo DSi, was a simple tower-defense game. That title was followed by procedurally generated platformer SteamWorld Dig, and then came strategy action title SteamWorld Heist. Now, developer Image & Form has dived into the turn-based RPG with SteamWorld Quest: The Hand of Gilgamech.
SteamWorld Quest is set in the same universe as the previous SteamWorld games, featuring a cast of steam bots who speak in a rapid, chattering language, helpfully translated for the players by subtitles.
As usual for a SteamWorld title, the first thing to draw the eye is the lovely hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. The game has a surprising amount of detail in these 2D sprites, and players may find themselves suddenly noticing a detail that previously escaped attention.
The first characters to be introduced are Armilly and Copernica, a wannabe knight and alchemist, respectively. The animation provides great hints towards the character personalities before they even speak, showing Copernica as being quiet and introspective, but with a strong will, while Armilly puts up a brave front to cover deeper insecurities. This depth continues through the game, with subtle character tics betraying plot hints and nods to backstories.
Players pick up new party members as the game progresses, first running into Galleo, a big green bot who acts as party healer. Other characters can also be recruited, adding their own skills in combat to the roster. Only three party members can be active at once, so getting the balance right is important.
Combat itself is handled by a card system. Each character has a deck of no more than eight cards, three of which can be played each turn. By using their entire deck, players utilise effects such as attacks, defensive spells, healing, buffs, debuffs, and so on. Pleasingly, the combat system is complemented by a captivating sense of style, with each card channelling old-fashioned computer punch aesthetics.
The developers are clearly fans of collectable card games, as cards can also be chained together into combos, which provide an extra effect on the completion. This effect is not as easy to achieve as it might sound, however, as some cards require ‘Steam pressure’ to be played. This mechanic brings in an element of deck building and strategy, as players balance building steam pressure with spending it. Therefore, players can spend a significant amount of time agonising over new strategies, trying to decide on an effective build for the limited deck size.
Getting card game elements in a video game wrong is easy, by having the mechanics too complex or unwieldy. SteamWorld Quest avoids the pitfalls experienced by games such as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories by making the card-based combat relatively simple. New twists and complexities are added gradually, thus giving the player several ways to build a deck to suit individual play style.
Cards can be crafted at the travelling merchant, providing a use for the various materials players pick up on their travels. Cards can also be upgraded to increase their effectiveness, preventing useful early cards from becoming obsolete later. Players can add to their decks by finding cards scattered about the world, along with weapons and accessories to make characters more effective, emphasising the importance of exploration.
SteamWorld Quest is more story-driven than its predecessors, and a lot of time between battles is taken up with talking. The conversations never outstay their welcome, as the plot moves along at a pleasing pace, and the characters are engaging enough to keep the player interested. As players progress, more backstory is uncovered, and some scenes can be surprisingly emotional, with the fluid character animations underscoring the dialogue in a believable way.
The writing uses consistent characterisation that is happy to show the player about the world and the characters instead of spilling everything in a massive information dump. This writing style serves the pacing well. The only real issue is that while the game allows skipping of dialogue, entirely skipping a scene is impossible, so when players are re-exploring an area for hidden secrets, the same scenes keep playing out, even if they have been seen before.
The game has frequent nods towards world-building and backstory, which serves to draw the player in. Progression reveals that the problems in the world of SteamWorld Quest go deeper than invading Dark Lords and evil magic. The first time the player notices that the language the steam bots speak is like a more pleasant version of modem noise, implying that the characters are speaking in binary, is a nice touch. Other geeky references are scattered around, including an equippable book called an Octavo, a sneaky reference to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
Despite the cartoonish artwork and often light-hearted dialogue, hints at darkness are ever-present in the universe of SteamWorld Quest—something that is underscored by the music, which starts off pleasant and whimsical. However, as players progress into more dangerous areas, the mood of the soundscape also shifts, providing a counterpoint to the action and dialogue while never being obtrusive.
The gameplay flow is easy to get into once the basic controls have been established, though toggling the ‘speed up’ option in the menu is a good idea, as otherwise players need to hold down the right trigger to speed through enemy turns during combat. SteamWorld Quest shines when showing off the amount of depth that it offers in crafting cards, building suitable decks, and deciding on party composition for each area, with each enemy encounter tip-toeing delightfully between the exploitation of strengths and weaknesses. Boss battles, in particular, can be challenging unless chain combos have been mastered, which can itself be tricky if the character decks do not have the right balance.
SteamWorld Quest: The Hand of Gilgamech is a wonderful, fun RPG adventure that has a lot of depth to delve into, secrets to explore, and story to uncover. The game looks beautiful, sounds brilliant, and has a smooth and absorbing gameplay flow. SteamWorld Quest, is surprisingly easy to get completely sucked in to, with the card game elements providing an impressive amount of complexity to the combat. Any RPG fan should give serious consideration to adding the title to their Nintendo Switch library and fans of previous SteamWorld games will find a lot to enjoy in the art and lore, too.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
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