It's lazy to describe an unusual game as being "on crack" or "on steroids," or otherwise suggest the game somehow smoked/snorted/injected some manner of illicit substance. But as far as Bandai Namco's Project X Zone 2 is concerned, there's no way around the cliché. This action-strategy hybrid is on drugs.
Thankfully, it's a good trip for the most part. You'll bust heads, you'll initiate crazy counter-attacks, you'll laugh at the script -- uproariously at times -- and when your favorite game characters lend each other a hand in battle, you'll feel as jazzed as a nine-year-old watching their cartoon heroes team up to take down evil.
But even a good high can wear out its welcome. Project X Zone 2 is massive, and while the content explosion means you're definitely getting your money's worth, it also means a single battle can seriously wind up dragging its butt.
If you've not played the previous Project X Zone, fear not: Jumping in with Project X Zone 2 is easy, thanks to some (admittedly slow) story recaps and the game's extensive "Crosspedia." Moreover, the overarching story is pretty shallow. The important thing is, demons are up to cross-dimensional shenanigans (as are the classic video game baddies they ally with), and it's up to our heroes -- dozens of them! -- to fix what's going down.
Project X Zone 2 is primarily a turn-based strategy game, but when it's time to fight, you don't ponder over a menu full of choices. Instead, you're whisked to a 2D battleground, where you input button combinations to perform attacks. Some attacks dish out pure damage, whereas others sacrifice a bit of power for secondary effects, like the chance to poison a unit, stun it, or knock it over. There are also "bunker-buster"-style moves that are ideal for ripping through shielded enemies.
Each fighting unit in Project X Zone 2 contains two fighters, and they're usually linked via an established relationship (Mega Man X fights alongside his Maverick Hunting pal, Zero), though many new friendships are formed, too (Xenosaga's KOS-MOS and Xenoblade Chronicles' Fiora have a lot in common, as it turns out).
There are also "Solo Units" that are assigned to each team of two, and these loners can pop in on a battle to dish out extra damage, and / or afflict a foe with a negative status effect.
While you can easily overwhelm enemies early on by button-mashing, it definitely pays to learn how to use each team's abilities to deliver as much damage as possible. Stunning a boss can literally save your hide, for instance, as can scoring critical hits by juggling enemies. Besides, making a foe bounce off the side of the screen and then ripping into them again is simply a good time.
If you find yourself confused and overwhelmed, Project X Zone 2 grants you access to a Practice Arena early on that lets you get a feel for its battle system. The practice arena is also a great way to observe the chemistry between your fighters, and frankly, just watching them all bounce quips off each other in and out of battle is almost reason enough alone to pick the game up.
In fact, Project X Zone 2 tosses out reams of humorous dialogue that ranges from groan-worthy to laugh-out-loud hilarious. Of course, not everyone will appreciate the game's references to Action 52, Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, or the near-constant stream of snark that pours from the mouth of sexy fox girl Xiamou, but neither can you begrudge Project X Zone 2's willingness to wallow in its own ridiculousness. After all, we're talking about a game wherein Nintendo's Chrom and Lucina team up with Capcom lawyer Phoenix Wright and Sega starlet Ulala to fight demons in Darkstalkers' Fetus of God backdrop. There is no point in taking this journey seriously.
Project X Zone 2's localizers actually deserve praise for keeping the game's humor cranked all the way up while simultaneously remembering to keep everyone in-character. The more meme-based jokes come from Xiamou, one of the series' original characters, whereas everyone else gets laughs via the friction generated by their clashing personalities.
The members of Tekken's warring Mishima family don't hold hands and sing show tunes. Strider doesn't make jokes or crack wise, aside from a few dry remarks. However, Yakuza's twisted mobster Majima does ask Streets of Rage's justice-loving Axel Stone if all the cops are like him "over in Canada or wherever." It's funny, and the joke fits the characters.
If you can't bring yourself to laugh at Project X Zone 2, you'll wind up missing out on a significant chunk of its fun. Because while the game is satisfying, challenging, and does a good job mixing up genres to weave its own legacy, it's also slow. I couldn't finish the main storyline before it was time to write this review; before you get very far in the game, it gets to the point where a single chapter easily sucks up an hour of your time.
That's because a single stage can contain three or four bosses you need to wipe out before you're allowed to proceed. Regardless of how well you equip yourself or build up your teams, the majority of these bosses must be engaged repeatedly before they go down. And if you die in battle, or if you fail to meet the special requirements that are set in some stages (e.g. diffuse bombs, or rescue a certain character), it's tough nuts and back to start.
Project X Zone 2 is, like its name suggests, a project. Its sluggishness is offset by its satisfying battle system, crazy roster, and twisted sense of humor, but the game is still slow-going. If you don't mind sitting in on a funny story that goes on forever, though, Project X Zone 2 will see to it that you're entertained.
Don't worry. Project X Zone 2 will keep you company for ages. Its main quest goes on for hours, and you can spend lots of time simply tweaking your characters and observing how teams interact with their solo back-up characters.
Project X Zone 2 features tons and tons of voice acting. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook), it's all in Japanese.
The character sprites look great, and feature tons of vibrant animation. Things get blurry when the action zooms in, but it definitely seems to be a stylistic choice. That said, tiny overworld sprites can make it difficult to navigate a crowded battlefield.
A single battle in Project X Zone 2 can drag on forever, and its overarching story doesn't make much sense. Still, its hilarious character interactions and chaotic fights embody what a video game should be: Fun.