Hey, check it out--a game has gotten me peeved enough to just do an unfocused hate-dump rant! Haven’t had 1 of these for a while.
Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. This is the behavior of both the mentally insane, and players of Project X Zone 1. Although I would suspect that these 2 categories frequently overlap.
Just...what exactly happened, here? At what point did Project X Zone go wrong? How? Why? This is the Capcom vs. SNK of RPGs (it’s even canonically tied to the Capcom vs. line of games); how do you mess that up? How do you create a cast out of Street Fighter, Tales of, Sakura Wars, .hack, Resident Evil, and a whole gaggle of other franchises, and make it boring and repetitive? This is an RPG whose cast includes Dante from Devil May Cry, Megaman X and Zero, KOS-MOS from Xenosaga, and freakin’ Ulala from Space Channel 5...and it’s boring.
Well I’ll tell you how. Because that’s what I do. I complain.
I’ll tell you how you manage to fuck up the most interesting gaming crossover concept this side of Super Smash Brothers. You give it the worst pacing of all time. No, no, don’t roll your eyes--I actually think I mean that. I can’t think of an RPG with worse pacing. I mean, I’ve had to deal with some doozies, but nothing compares to Project X Zone 1. This is a game whose pacing manages to be agonizingly slow and accomplish nothing, while at the same time, a frenzied whirlwind of nonsense events that no sane person could possibly keep track of. It’s basically like the United States senate. For half the game’s 40+ chapters, all that happens is that the growing group of heroes get thrown from one game world to another with no control of where they’re going, and no idea of why this is happening, solely for the reason that this crossover is so damn bloated with characters that it takes half the game to recruit them. There’s no advancement of what passes for a plot for half the damn game, just a repeated flurry of changing scenery and exchanges that basically go down as,
“Who are you?”
“We’re heroes from different worlds! Look, a bad guy you know, and some you don’t! Let’s join forces!”
“I QUESTION VERY LITTLE ABOUT THIS AND CONSENT”
For over 20 damn chapters! And yet, even though this is a narrative dragging of heels that makes Dragon Ball Z’s pace look brisk and logical by comparison, it still manages to come with all the downsides of a jumbled plot clusterfuck, because even though nothing actually substantial is happening, the game playing musical chairs with dozens’ of franchises’ settings, terminology, and mentions of lore quickly makes you feel as discombobulated as the heroes themselves do, even though you, presumably, actually should have some familiarity with all these new worlds they’re being dropped in.
And the second half isn’t any better, either. It takes ages before the cast is given any sort of actual clue to what’s going on, and any time they make a plan to deal with all the nonsense happening around them, they inevitably get sidetracked, lost, and split up multiple times before getting where they’re going, at which point they just discover that they need to go somewhere else anyway. Villains just keep stringing you along with non-information and promises that they’ll eventually tell you what’s happening. Only at the finale do you learn anything, ANYTHING, of what’s going on and why. And all it is is that the bad guys of this game are parts of a magical plot thingy called the Portal Stone, and want to merge all universes into 1, which is something that the magical cheerleading girl that’s sort of the protagonist--I guess?--can stop from happening because of her family’s history with the thing. Jesus Christ, over 40 chapters of aimless dimension-hopping and ominous, non-specific villain mutterings for THAT? Reed Richards couldn’t fucking stretch as far as Project X Zone 1 stretches this bare rough draft of a plot
And yeah, that kind of takes care of my next point about this game already: the plot, if you’re the kind of saint who can even call this half-formed idea a ‘plot’, is boring and pointless. Just like the people who made this game, you will not care about the plot in the slightest. And yeah, I know it’s a giant crossover game, but that doesn’t mean you can just not give a rat’s ass about it. It’s still an RPG, not some fighting game; you still need to provide a story that has a basic appeal. In fact, it’s not even fair of me to rag on fighting games’ stories, because even crossover fighting games like Super Smash Brothers (the 3rd installment, that is) and that DC/Mortal Kombat thing had more coherent, engaging plots than this crap. And that’s saying something, considering that the SSB story mode was told entirely without words, and like 30% of the major characters of Mortal Kombat are palette swaps.
Another way you screw up a giant crossover RPG like this: half-ass the writing for the dialogue. Yeah, there are admittedly a few clever quips here and there in the game (mostly thanks to Xiaomu), and I’ll even give PXZ1 credit for opening a new angle to Ulala’s character by giving her a much stronger (and amusing) reporter gimmick than in the actual games she’s from. But past an early point in the game, the writing just gets stale and straightforward. Which, of course, is naturally going to happen when you’re trying to juggle literal dozens of characters from different games and give them all a say in talking about how little they know of what’s going on. Everyone becomes a 1-note character, if even that, and they all feel completely unnatural in their interactions with one another. Every straightman character sounds like the next, and every gag character only knows 1 joke, and feels like an awkward interruption every time they say something rather than a part of the group’s conversation.
That leads me into the cast, which is another major strike against this game--and that’s a really big problem, since the whole point of a crossover is the cast. Like I said, there’s not enough differentiation between many characters’ personality, and the humorous characters rarely feel like they’re actually involved in dialogue, instead just coming off as side punchlines that no one else pays attention to. This feels less like a bunch of heroes teaming up, than a bunch of heroes just repeatedly put into the same room and told to cooperate. But an additional problem here is that even by the game’s bland standards, some of these characters aren’t portrayed well. Toma and Cyrille, for example. Now, I’m pleasantly surprised to see the protagonists of Shining Force EXA here, since I was half convinced I was the only person who ever actually played that game, and I actually quite like Cyrille’s character and personality. Sadly, that’s missing here, and all we get is a vaguely unpleasant, standoffish duplicate of the real Cyrille.* And why the hell does KOS-MOS keep making cat noises? Right, no, I suppose that a perfect battle android struggling to awaken the soul dormant within her whose humanity shines as her creator’s impossibly dedicated guardian angel just isn’t quite enough on her own--she needs to make cute cat noises for no reason, too!
And I’m sorry, but some of the choices for who did and didn’t make this game’s roster seem idiotic. Why the hell Heihachi from Tekken, for example? I can understand including Juri from Street Fighter and Tron Bonne from Megaman Legends as party members even though they’re villains, because they’ve got personality, and large fanbases (relatively). Who the hell is it that has got such a massive boner for Heihachi’s Overwrought Martial Arts Villain Mastermind schtick that they just HAD to have him included in the heroes’ team? I admit, very happily, that I have very little knowledge of Tekken, but what little I’ve seen from people’s reviews of horrible anime adaptations have not painted Heihachi as the kind of villain that would grab any audience’s attention It’s not like he contributes to this game’s story, or helps Jin develop at all as a character, or anything like that. Even compared to the rest of the cast, Heihachi’s remarkably superfluous; all he ever does is occasionally chuckle about how interesting all the crap they run into is and how he could potentially use it for his own purposes. Uh-huh whatever nobody cares Heihachi.
For that matter, Project X Zone...You want to represent Sakura Wars 5, and you pick fucking Gemini, of all people? The sappy, dull-witted dipshit who can’t decide whether she wants to be a complete failure of a samurai or a complete failure of a cowboy? Instead of picking someone from Sakura Wars 5 who’s actually likeable--or even just picking the actual protagonist of the game--you picked Gemini. The only character to make me legitimately regret giving up the word “retard” as a pejorative! That’s who you pick.
And why the hell is T-ELOS the other representative of Xenosaga!? At least Gemini and Heihachi are actually significant, dynamic parts of their games’ plots and lore. T-ELOS has, what, an hour of screentime in the entire Xenosaga trilogy, tops? You can barely even call her a villain character; she’s more like a villain plot device! Instead of Shion, who’s the actual main character of the series, or anyone else in the series who has an actual fucking personality and was present for the entire trilogy, we get this loser? For fuck’s sake, I think THIS game actually gave T-ELOS more lines than Xenosaga 3 did!**
Oh, and the villains. The VILLAINS. Possibly the most tiresome part of this whole damn game! They’re all so goddamn boring! None of them are doing anything interesting! They’re either all just flitting about, figuring out what they can do to take advantage of this whole dimensions-merging thing, or they just plain don’t even have any damn motivation (I’m sure Skeith is supposed to be very intimidating, but if I ever watch .hack after playing this game, I’m never going to be impressed with this silent, boring hunk of stone that just wanders around purposelessly). And the same odd choices of casting I just went into seem have been applied to the bad guy roster, for that matter--unless the most intimidating, powerful villain of whatever Sakura Wars Erica’s from really is an overweight mean rabbit in a top hat who laughs strangely and pilots a large bunny robot.
But the real problem with the villains of the game is that the real, actual main villains are a trio of random bozos invented specifically for this game, who have no personality whatsoever. And on top of that, they’re completely unnecessary, as there’s already a trio of random bozos specifically invented for these crossovers, Ouma, who are in this game already! Oh, I’m sorry, not a trio, because there’s also the shadowy evil leader to the main villain trio who only reveals himself at the end of the game. He is also a random bozo invented specifically for this game, which makes the revelation of his involvement to the heroes somewhat anticlimactic. “Oh my GOD! The shadowy mastermind behind all of it was actually...SOMEONE WE DON’T KNOW! Gasp! I never saw it coming!”
I guess the game’s trying to do what Kingdom Hearts does, in having all the villains you’re familiar with be secondary to this new, original threat, but...well, frankly, Organization 13 and Xehanort are the worst parts of the KH series, the only aspects of it that are just flat-out bad. Definitely not the right part of the KH model to copy. The problem with having original villains be the ones ultimately responsible for all the trouble of the game is that you’re having to focus on characters who the player has no understanding of, meaning that they really need time and effort put into characterizing them, but have to split narrative attention between them and so many other villains that these original newcomers never end up having a damn personality to begin with. And then you’ve got these evil blocks of wood in direct competition with villains that the player IS familiar with, who have had entire games’ worth of time to cement their personalities and motivations, so the new original villains look flat by comparison, and the player is just left wondering why these idiots were given the spotlight instead of the villains who actually seem to deserve it. Like how Maleficent winds up being a second-rate foe whose contributions to the plot end halfway through Kingdom Hearts 2, yet has a more compelling personality than every member of Organization 13 put together.
And finally, what is the last thing you can do to make the ultimate crossover RPG totally unenjoyable? Well, the answer to that comes back to how I started this rant: just make everything repeat over and over and over again! Every damn chapter of the first half of the game is completely formulaic--heroes show up, wonder where they are, meet new people, deal with enemies, leave. Then it gets even MORE formulaic after that, since the “meet new people” part is taken out. It invariably goes as such: beat a few enemies, suddenly a ton more enemies show up along with 1 - 4 bosses, you beat them and the chapter ends. The bosses are all the same ones over and over again--even though you fight boss units like 90 times during the game’s course, they’re only taken from a pool of, I dunno, 15 villains or so. Those villains just happen to escape again, and again, and again, and AGAIN. You just keep slogging along, having to fight them over and over again, accomplishing nothing as each villain escapes yet again For 40 chapters. Even the way you play the game is oppressively repetitive. The battle system ain’t exactly nuanced, so it doesn’t take long for you to identify the simple, straightforward strategies that work, and the battle screen mechanics of juggling enemies look flashy and impressive, but the polish on them doesn’t last long, and you soon realize that every damn unit you control is almost indistinguishable from the next--and that is a HUGE problem since, again, the draw of a game like this is the hugely diverse cast of characters with different styles and strategies--and the actual act of playing is just a monotonous timed button-hitting minigame that you have to put up with for literal thousands of times.
Look. This is an RPG in which Street Fighter, Xenosaga, Space Channel 5, Ghosts’n’Goblins, Valkyria Chronicles, Megaman X, Resident Evil, Marvel Land, and a metric buttload of other games all come crashing together. I knew this going in. I wasn’t expecting some stirring epic of storytelling. I wasn't expecting some moving treatise on the nature and nuance of humanity. But I was expecting something that was actually FUN, and that wasn't an unreasonable expectation, and it is not something that I got. Fun is about the exact polar damn opposite of what Project X Zone 1 is. Boo on you, Bandai Namco! Boo on you, sir!
* Okay, Cyrille IS standoffish in SFEXA, but that’s not ALL she is, the way it is here.
** Lines which are actually coherent and generally straightforward, I might note. As unremarkable as Project X Zone 1’s writing is, I’ll give it credit as still being a step up from Xenosaga 3’s hot mess.