Crossover fan-service is a powerful force. It’s why a lengthy turn-based strategy game like Project X Zone 2 partly succeeds. It takes advantage of its laundry list of characters from companies Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Sega and pulls them together, creating a stage for memorable instances and battles. But when those moments decline around the 25 hour mark, what felt like a crowd-pleasing extravaganza of iconic franchises turns into a tedious affair exhausted by a dull plot, an overreliance on its combat system, and unevenly paced mission objectives.
Project X Zone 2’s story justifies the presence of its multi-franchise cast of characters by throwing them into a conflict rooted in a war between Shinra–a secret government organization–and a rival organization known as Ouma that causes chaos in the world by opening up dimensional rifts. All the while, mysterious golden chains have started to sprout from the surface in other worlds, commanding the attention of the heroes from each to fight under a unified cause. This setup is as silly as it sounds, and the game spares no effort in addressing it further.
The game’s premise is enchanting, especially if you’re familiar with each respective franchise it crosses over. With an extensive roster that includes notable faces–such as Tekken’s Kazuya Mishima, Resident Evil’s Leon S. Kennedy, Shenmue’s Ryo Hazuki, and much, much more–it’s difficult to ignore the charm of seeing all these characters appear in a single adventure. It even digs deep into each publisher’s’ lesser known properties, pulling characters from series like God Eater, Star Gladiator, and Sakura Wars. And it’s when these characters come together that the game becomes euphoric. Words can barely describe how I felt when a young Heihachi Mishima–who had just uppercutted his way onto the scene as the intro music for Tekken Tag Tournament blasted in the background–saved a distressed Phoenix Wright from a swarm of demons. He wanted to hire him to be his defense attorney. In the 30 seconds that this lasted, the game was able to consolidate the best aesthetic qualities from each of these characters’ respective franchises into a single ludicrous, fan-serving instance.
Moments like this occur often and do well to heighten the thrilling and eclectic nature of fan-service that Project X Zone 2 utilizes. For everyone else, these moments may offer little. There’s a specific audience being catered to here, and if you’re not a part of it, you’re likely to be left out of the excitement. However, even if there are characters you’re not familiar with, important details are often relayed to bring you up to speed over each character’s respective background. An in-game encyclopedia accessible between missions also helps, clearing up any leftover essential need-to-know details.
While Project X Zone 2’s crossover moments are fantastic, its actual narrative is a nonsensical mess filled with excessive padding and repetitious encounters. This issue occurs halfway through when your party is constantly forced into battles with the same alternating round of villains. The process is as follows: villains appear, your party is shocked to see them, you beat them, and they flee. But before each villain escapes, they each give you a snide remark about how there’s a larger scheme at play that you don’t understand yet. This is repeated ad nauseum during the entire second half, making it difficult to care about what’s going on as your party attempts to uncover the conspiracy behind the golden chains. The narrative is content to tirelessly dangle the reward of knowledge in front of you in this manner even up until the 60 hour mark. It’s unfortunate since when crossover moments occur, the game’s appeal instantly picks back up. But when those take a backseat later on in favor of its lacking plot, Project X Zone 2 loses its charm, offering little emotional return in its storytelling.
Project X Zone 2’s combat fares better. Like its predecessor, the actual turn-based strategy component of the game doesn’t sport much strategic depth. Units once again lack clearly defined roles and you’re rarely challenged to consider their positioning on the grid-based battlefield. However, the game’s action-focused combat system is where its true strength lies. During a mission, you’re given a handful of units to take into battle. Each unit consists of a Pair Unit and a Solo Unit that you can call in to assist in battle. When you order a unit to attack an enemy, you’re thrown into real-time combat where you can strike an enemy a total of three times with a flurry of attacks using specific button inputs.
This comes together through the new Mirage Cancel ability, which lets your Pair Unit cancel an attack mid-animation to initiate a fourth attack. It doesn’t sound like much but when combined with the Cross Hit mechanic–an attack state that temporarily freezes enemies in place as consecutive attacks build up for even higher damage–it creates a degree of complexity that requires you to consider which attacks combinations to use to better optimize your damage against enemies. This is ideal during later game missions where it’s encouraged to eliminate enemy units in a few turns as possible, since enemies have high HP and defense and are more plentiful in numbers, which makes it easy for them to swarm you.
Mirage Cancels and Cross Hits help you inflict high damage, but pulling these moves off can be more difficult than it seems, especially against stronger opponents. As a result, you often need to consider which Solo Units you assign to your Pair Units, as each have different attack windows and status effects on enemies. For instance, combining a Solo Unit that launches an enemy into the air with a Pair Unit that specializes in ground attacks reduces opportunities to efficiently utilize these techniques, much less connect a viable combo. Plotting your attack strategy to take advantage of these mechanics is satisfying, and when they come together in perfect synchronicity, the impact of their execution is enhanced tenfold.
Much to the detriment of Project X Zone 2’s combat, missions are fairly repetitive. Objectives tend to involve clearing a map of its enemies, which becomes tiresome when there are dozens of units to dispatch at a time. This downplays the reward of combat, exhausting its mechanics rather than elevate them. Fortunately, new objective types are occasionally introduced that do help to diversify the experience. One mission challenges you to diffuse 6 bombs scattered across a map within a 10-turn limit as you deal with enemies, while another has you defending four areas on a map from enemy capture as you fight against an onslaught of others. These additional objective types are refreshing, but are so few and far in-between that they fail to alleviate the tedium of combat at large. For every new objective type you get to experience, you have to endure numerous hours of repetition, and by the time you overcome that, it barely feels worth the grind.
Project X Zone 2 understands the appeal of bringing together its massive roster of characters. It celebrates each iconic franchise, joining them together with others to create a multitude of memorable instances. But when it has to drop these moments to focus on telling an actual story with its characters, the delight of this crossover wears thin. It provides little satisfaction for sticking to its narrative, constantly reiterating on its plot and combat system to the point of exhaustion. And with limited diversity in its mission objectives, there’s not enough to keep Project X Zone 2 fresh across its 60-plus hour campaign. Project X Zone 2 is at first promising, but not even its fan-service can save it from continually faltering in the face of its drudgery.