Project X Zone Review

Ryu, Dante and Vashyron should be the ultimate team. So what went wrong in this tactical RPG crammed to bursting with theoretically excellent character cameos?

Review by Kat Bailey, .

At its best, Project X Zone was that game that had me saying on more than one occasion, "Oh hey, those those guys are in here too?"

Those guys could refer to Vashyron from Resonance of Fate, or maybe Kurt Irving from the tragically unreleased (in America) Valkyria Chronicles 3. Some 60 of these playable characters come together for Namco Bandai's latest crossover strategy romp, some of them known, a lot of them not. It's charming to see these forgotten characters in one place, rendered into attractive sprites; a respite from oblivion for some of them.

Now if only Project X Zone were a better game.

It's attractive, no doubt about that. Every attack is faithful to what is seen in the original games; and while the elaborate supers aren't a huge step above what's possible on the Nintendo DS, they have an appropriate amount of visual punch. But soon enough, it becomes clear that there's nothing to be found behind all of the pyrotechnics; no depth, no strategy, and very little game to speak of. And that's something that even a handful of fan-pleasing cameos can't fix.

Turn-based button mashing?

What Project X Zone boils down to is a fairly typical turn-based strategy game with a combo system bolted onto it. Pressing one of a handful of button combinations will get Ryu and Ken to start launching Hadoukens and Shoryukens; hitting one of the shoulder buttons will cause a support character to jump in to help; then it's off to the races. The only goal is to attack as many times as possible.

It's simple, it's interesting to the eye, and it makes for good trailers. At times, it almost feels as if you're playing a sort of RPG Street Fighter. But then you find yourself using the same set of combos again. And then again. And then some more.

Project X Zone has two problems right off the bat. First, as you probably gathered, it's incredibly repetitive. Every pair of characters has a different set of attack animations; but you, the player, are inevitably pushing the same buttons. Second, it's time-consuming. Unlike most strategy games, once the animations get boring, they can't really be switched off or skipped. You're in it for the long haul.

Pretty soon, what was once kind of a charming little strategy game becomes a complete bear to play. Seeing two dozen enemies sprout up on the field along with a couple bosses, a common occurance by Project X Zone's midpoint, inevitably results in a sigh of resignation, rather than a burst of excitement. That's because as early as Chapter 10, maps can take an hour or more to clear, and it's really just you doing the same attacks over and over again, with very little variation.

Now, to be fair, map attacks help to take the edge off a tiny bit in the later going. But it takes quite a long time for those attacks to become available in quantity; and by that point, most people are apt to have had their fill of dialing up combos.

A strategy game without the strategy

What bugs me out about Project X Zone is the way that it takes a lot of the joy of party-building out of the experience. Crossover games are supposed to be about mixing and matching my favorite characters, right? So why do I have to keep Frank West and Hsien-Ko together forever?

The obvious answer, that the pre-cooked combos would be impossible to create otherwise, isn't a particularly satisfying one. Even being able to drop in detached solo units like Vashyron and Sanger Zonvolt doesn't help that much, since most of them are just shy of interchangeable. An additional skill here and a few attacks there isn't going to make a world of difference.

And so we come to Project X Zone's biggest problem: It just doesn't have a lot of strategy. Certainly not to the extent of Namco Bandai's other famed crossover series, Super Robot Taisen, where it's possible to swap pilots, put points into various robot attributes, and pick from a litany of passive and active skills. The only really meaningful decision to make in this game is whether to use some energy from the XP bar to cast a healing spell and launch a map attack, or to save it for a combo-finishing super attack.

With so little customization or strategy, Project X Zone quickly becomes rote, and not long after that, boring. And sadly, almost no amount of attractive sprite work and fun animation can save a dull game. The story isn't much of a help either, since it's not much more than a bumbling roadtrip through time and space that's designed to justify the use of, say, a tile set from Valkyria Chronicles. But hey, one of the villains is a catgirl in hotpants, if you're into that kind of thing.

What disappoints me the most about Project X Zone is that it could actually be really great if done properly. Look at the aforementioned Super Robot Taisen, which is practically an institution among mecha fans and creators alike. Or heck, consider Super Smash Bros., which is one big loving tribute to Nintendo history.

Project X Zone, by comparison, feels hurried, thrown together, and above all, shallow. For that reason, I can't really recommend it to anyone, even that odd cross-section of anime, gaming, and furry fandom that ought to be Project X Zone's target demographic. True, it's nice to see Valkyria Chronicles and Resonance of Fate get their time in the sun; but if you really want to see what Vashyron looks like in sprite form, you're better off heading to YouTube.

The Nitty Gritty

Visuals: Project X Zone's battle sprites have a solid Neo-Geo-like quality to them (though the map sprites are pretty bland), and many of the super attacks are energetic and faithful to their respective series. The visuals can be beguiling at times; and, at least initially, they help to obscure the disappointing gameplay. 

Music: High energy remixes from Street Fighter are probably the most recognizable tunes in Project X Zone, but there's some good anime-inspired electronica as well. For the most part, they match well with the frenetic action on the screen, though it can be a little jarring when a new song starts each time it's a different character's turn.

Controls: The controls seem complex at first; but look a little closer, and it quickly becomes clear that the same button presses produce the same results for every character. Thus, combos are something of a rote exercise in pressing Left + A, waiting for a moment, then pressing Down+A. That said, they are reasonably responsive, which makes the timing easy to nail even, for action gaming illiterates.

Lasting Appeal: Project X Zone is actually a pretty long game, with more than 40 chapters, all told. Chances are, however, most people won't get that far. That's because Project X Zone becomes extremely repetitive well before the chapters hit double digits, an issue compounded by the fact that useful skills and map attacks don't really become available in bulk until the latter half of the game. 

Project X Zone is apt to suck in a lot of people with the promise of its large roster and entertaining 2D graphics. But it takes only a few chapters to realize that the battles are repetitive, the mechanics are shallow, the story is terrible, and the pacing is egregiously slow. Even determined fans will have a hard time sticking with this one. For all the charm of seeing Valkyria Chronicles in sprite form, the gameplay doesn't even rise to the level of mediocre. Avoid this one.

1.5 /5

Project X Zone Review Kat Bailey Ryu, Dante and Vashyron should be the ultimate team. So what went wrong in this tactical RPG crammed to bursting with theoretically excellent character cameos? 2013-07-06T00:45:00-04:00 1.5 5

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Comments 39

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  • Avatar for TPaulBuzan #1 TPaulBuzan 5 years ago

    The way you've described the game -- a fun foundation marred by repetitive gameplay and lack of character variety -- make it sound like this one might be perfect for pick up and play sessions over many months -- or longer.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #2 Shinta 5 years ago
    I wasn't expecting a fantastic game, but even then, this seems unusually harsh.

    I guess I'll know for sure when I get to try it someday. I don't doubt that some of the complaints are valid though, as that's mostly what I expected. Even then, it looks like it could be more entertaining for some people more than it was for you.Edited July 2013 by Shinta
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  • Avatar for orient #3 orient 5 years ago
    After putting 40 hours into the excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening, I went looking on the eShop for another tactical RPG and came across the Project X Zone demo. Not even Ryu and Ken could keep me playing till the end of the level.

    If you want another tactical RPG, you're better off dropping $5 (or whatever it is) on the Game Gear Shining Force on Virtual Console.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #4 renatocosta90 5 years ago
    I'm about chapter 11 and The blandness os just setting in. It's definetely quirky and crazy, but lets see if it'll keep my 3ds moving in between hard iron man fire emblem and 16th's smt IV. Also,really nice to read Kat again!
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #5 Stealth20k 5 years ago
    Welcome back kat. I loved the game. So I disagree entirely :P
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  • Avatar for a_random_hobo #6 a_random_hobo 5 years ago
    Tangent: Was delighted to see a Kat Bailey byline; I've missed your work. Hope you get to move beyond traditional reviews.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #7 pjedavison 5 years ago
    This game has been interestingly polarizing among those I've talked to about it. Some people really like it; others hate it. There doesn't seem to be a lot of "meh" middle ground.

    Given there's a demo available, you can make up your own mind before spending the money, though, which is nice.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #8 jeremy.parish 5 years ago
    @pjedavison True, but based on the review I kind of feel like the demo wouldn't give you a sense of the slog Kat referred to. It sounds like all the cool stuff is front-loaded (and thus would make a very exciting demo) but the other 30-40 hours of the game are just endless iterations on the demo's content.
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  • Avatar for Shingro #9 Shingro 5 years ago
    I'm guessing Kat just never found the critical hit timing system. I was lucky to be following the neogaf thread which mentioned it, and I still played the first 8 chapters without knowing it was there. the gameplay kinda hinges on it and you're expected to read the manual to figure it out.

    If you don't land any crits, basic enemies survive with a sliver of life. If you're too early you keep your juggle and exp modifier, if you're too late, enemy shields refresh, and you lose your juggle to boot. Between that and the way you're encouraged to use every attack to get the bonus attack I think they figured the "timing for criticals" stuff to be what keeps the gameplay from getting routine.

    The fact you gotta dig in the manual to figure some of this out is probably partly responsible for why some people seems plenty happy and some people are aghast. I mean, the main thrust of the article stands, it's mostly an excuse for all these different groups to get together, light story, light combat (even if it's not as light as presented here) Is the main thrust of the game. A thing very much not for everyone.Edited July 2013 by Shingro
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #10 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    I might be the only person excited to see an honest to goodness Kat Bailey review. I've missed your voice on RPGs. You're one of my authorities on the genre.

    Anyways, it's sad to read about Project X because it's a nice package. They crammed in a ton of fan service an most of it seems like its well done, with all the character portraits and the voice acting. The game seemed to have interesting ideas in the demo too; what I played, I liked, but part of me wondered if the combo driven gameplay would be sustainable for dozens of hours. Looks like it didn't in your case.

    I guess it's Shin Megami Tensei 4 or bust this summer.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #11 Mad-Mage 5 years ago
    I'm very happy to see Kat writing for this site. She reviews RPGs with exceptional skill, giving a well worded impression on what the game is like. A voice I can trust and an entertaining read.

    I hope US Gamer can manage to review most the games I'm interested in, because they seem to understand reviews should be about the experience of playing a game, not just a list of features and a rating.

    Too bad this game seems to be a dud, though it's not very surprising given these are the exact same criticisms of Namco X Capcom for PS2.
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  • Avatar for JimmyDanger #12 JimmyDanger 5 years ago
    I'll admit. Turn based strategy games are kind of my favorite thing on handhelds. When I was bored 15 minutes into the demo, I knew there probably wasn't much hope for this. Still, maybe for young kids just discovering the genre, who want some familiar characters - who haven't discovered PokemonConquest? I'll get it someday regardless, but when it hits budget price - and even then - mainly for the character gallery. And also to give them some indication there's a market for this kind of thing, just a little bit deeper. Don't know how they'd get that message, but it's definitely one worth sending.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #13 kidgorilla 5 years ago
    Thank you, Kat Bailey. Let's just leave it at thatEdited July 2013 by kidgorilla
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #14 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    Hey, have you played a game for fun and nice to see your favourite characters and listen to good music whilst watching those characters beat up the enemies because it looks cool? Please stop talking about this game just because it doesn't require "try hard skill". I bet you couldn't even land critical hits. Pathetic review.Edited July 2013 by pjedavison
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  • Avatar for Shingro #15 Shingro 5 years ago
    @mishtabrown65 Wooooow relax lad/lady. Kat's been gaming for ages, websites have risen and fallen in that time. In technical skill she's got plenty from far far more complicated games. It's probably more a measure of digging in databases and lack of inclination.

    There's a good million ways to disagree without being disagree-able. Sure the review's really low and incorrect in some ways but there's absolutely no reason to get nasty over it.Edited July 2013 by Shingro
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  • Avatar for GunFlame #16 GunFlame 5 years ago
    Any more info regarding the leveling and character progression system? That's often as critical a component to an SRPG as party building and battle.
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #17 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    @Shingro She's clueless, she doesn't know what she's talking about, why does every game have to be a challenge? I am enjoying myself whilst playing my favourite characters in their prime with Japanese voices and beating the crap out of the enemy, it looks cool, what does it matter? Kat reminds me of female players from League of Legends which is skilless game and those players think it does.
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  • @mishtabrown65 Doesn't know what she's talking about? She's clearly played the game and gave logical reasons for why it's no good, what's the issue? In fact, It's one of the most valid reviews I've read for this game; I literally couldn't even play the demos all the way though.

    And you can like it for the characters and the spectacle, absolutely. But to be so defensive about a game that's nearly devoid of strategy and involves mashing the A button endlessly seems wrongheaded to me. You can admit it's not well designed but like it anyway. Nothing wrong with that.
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #19 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    @Alexfist You do not mash the buttons, it's all about timing, why does this game have to be based on skill? It's a game for the fans, a character from each games from three different companies have formed together to make an awesome game to play to see the funny side of things and the cool battle scenes, it's based on a strategy RPG because it IS an RPG, you can lose at the game but yes, it's not hard to play the game. All I am saying, who cares? It's not some sweaty try hard game, it's for FUN.
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #20 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    @Alexfist It's also about style, just like DMC, you mash the buttons but you NEED style, for a game priced around £20-30, it's fine.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #21 pjedavison 5 years ago
    @mishtabrown65 Hello; we've edited your comment to remove the abusive language. Please refrain from this in the future.

    While you're more than welcome to disagree with our writers' opinions and to debate your points with the other commenters -- in fact, we encourage that! -- please do so without resorting to personal attacks and/or insults. USgamer should be a safe community for everyone.

    Thank you for your co-operation.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #22 Mad-Mage 5 years ago
    @mishtabrown65 I don't think you understand how reviews work on this site. The reviewer gave her opinion about a game. It was a well reasoned, well written opinion that described her experience. If you want a review that lists of features and rates them with numbers, there are plenty of other sites out there that do that. And plenty of reviews of this game that agree with you. Go read those, don't insult someone for liking different things about games than you do.

    As you can see from the other replies here, a lot of people DO agree with the reviewer. Just because you don't doesn't mean those of us who do feel the same way about games as the reviewer don't deserve reviews that cater to our taste in video games.
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  • @mishtabrown65 You hit the nail on the head: Project X Zone is a game that doesn't try. Couldn't have put it better myself.

    But in all seriousness, fun is a such a subjective thing. The reviewer didn't find doing/watching literally the same things for dozens of hours fun, and most people seem to agree. No need to get so angry about it, you're free to read the many other reviews that gave it a good score all the same.
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  • Avatar for justinleighton10 #24 justinleighton10 5 years ago
    I'm about 25 hours into this game and yes it does have some flaws, but overall it's just a fun and simple game. I'm not even sure how much I have left, but the levels get more intense and your tactics come into play the farther you get. After about the 15 hour mark the button mashing stops and the skills and critical hits become substantially more important.
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  • Avatar for Seaphron #25 Seaphron 5 years ago
    I went into this game with high expectations. Love tactical RPGs. Love most of the franchises in this game. I can't say I disagree with Kat at all. This is one of my biggest gaming disappointments this year for all of the same reasons. The sprites are great and the music is fun however.
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #26 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    Deleted July 2013 by jeremy.parish
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  • Avatar for justinleighton10 #27 justinleighton10 5 years ago
    Deleted July 2013 by justinleighton10
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  • Avatar for justinleighton10 #28 justinleighton10 5 years ago
    @mishtabrown65 Are you kidding me? This is the type of comment that makes me not want to contribute to this community.
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  • @mishtabrown65 And what makes you think she fancies herself a "gaming fan" rather than actually being one? She played the game to completion, analysed it, and gave an honest opinion. How does that in any way devalue her "gaming cred"?

    Not even gonna comment on the twat part. But good god, don't take things so personally. It makes life a lot easier.
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  • Avatar for futurememory #30 futurememory 5 years ago
    @mishtabrown65 Did you literally just sign up to troll this thread? Looks like it. Let's stop feeding "it."

    Kat, thanks for the awesome review - I'm an RPG fan, but games like this usually aren't appealing to me - they usually are more interested with catering to obsessive fans than providing a meaty gameplay experience.Edited July 2013 by futurememory
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #31 Mad-Mage 5 years ago
    If there's anything to take away from this comments thread it's that most the people who read (or at least who comment) on USG make insightful, interesting comments. Don't let one bad apple discourage you from posting positive, contributing comments in the future.

    On any other game site this would have become a flame war. If the majority of commenters stay this constructive, future trolls will become discouraged from posting here. Especially if personal attacks continue to be modded.
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  • Avatar for smintboy #32 smintboy 5 years ago
    I thought this was a fairly good, informative review overall, and basically confirmed my (limited) impressions based on the demo considering my personal tastes in video games. As such, my purchasing decisions have been influenced in a manner by which I am satisfied.
    For all the trolls- there are plenty of glowing reviews for this game on the internet. I was worried that I was about to pass on something that I might really love based on those other impressions, however, I've found that my tastes in this type of game align closely to Jeremy Parish, so I came here to get "my" definitive review. I was thrilled to see a new review by Kat Bailey, whose tastes tend to be even closer to of my own. Since niche video games are largely subjective, take the reviewer's
    P.S. I'm obviously glad to see Kat back reviewing jRPGS- I was worried those days were over when she found her new gig, after her Joystiq column ended. Everyone has their own tastes in games and a reviewer's opinion doesn't mean crap if you can't empathize with the author. Their review isn't wrong, it just wrong review FOR YOU.

    PS - Glad to see Kat back in the game. I was worried that her reviewing days were over when she took her new gig post-Joystiq.
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  • Avatar for n00bsauce #33 n00bsauce 5 years ago
    This is my first comment and the website is really nice. I love it. Anywho to the review from a person who is currently playing it, I have to offer my opinion as well.

    I agree it is very repetitive with the wave of enemies. But I guess after you play long enough, you tend to become more efficient with the weakling mobs. I can make short work of them as opposed to taking them down one by one.

    I rather enjoyed the animations and I didn't even go through all the super finish animations yet. Also, you shouldn't need to take an hour to clear the earlier chapters, especially if it's by your admission a lack of strategy. What is your strategy clearing a board? I hope you aren't moving the wave of characters all in the same block because it would take long trying to travel the whole board.

    While there is lack of variation of the main duo, it's pre-programmed so let's not hold it against them. The attacks are supposed to work like they are apart of a team. Frank and Hsien-Ko is a bit unfair to mention as opposed to Ryu and Ken. You wouldn't wan't them to break up. Furthermore, there is no other Strategy RPG that does this, so what you may call mundane, I see it as something original to the genre.

    The solo units are important because it gives skills to groups they wouldn't necessarily have otherwise from their own. Also, those "few attacks" aren't the same so you just can't place them on any duo, it wouldn't work. For example, you wouldn't put Bahn (a CQC unit) with Hakan and Kaguya who can use the whole screen for their attack animation. Also other solo's like Hehaichi and break guards for the duo. So you wouldn't pair him with a group that could do that with one of their XP skills.

    Their strategy lies on the field and unit placement like other strategy RPGS which you fail to mention. This game does a lot of great things with their maps so if you don't plan ahead, you will pay for it. That being said, unlike other strategy RPGS like the one you referenced Super Robot Taisen, this game is way to easy. I'm on Chapter 29 or 30 and I've only died once and only one of my units died. That Game Over came from me being stupid and forgetting that this particular unit can't die and I let them. Other than that, it's a cakewalk. I think it's because Japanese developers think their games are too hard for Americans, so they give it to us easy. The harder games are never localized.

    Also, no to Super Smash Bros strategy RPG. Nintendo's target audience won't have the patience for it. The hardest and most involved they'll get is the Legend of the Seven Stars from the SNES.

    Overall, I think you said it through your review that you never finished the game (although not explicitly). It shouldn't be seen as a choir to play this game. It's a pick up and play RPG. You don't need to find tune the specs, it's kind of arcade-y in a sense. You never feel compelled to do like 5 missions in one setting. And to be fair to the audience, it's not like the SRW (Super Robot Wars) games and clones of the past had nothing but 5 minute missions. In it's genre, you are faced with impossible odds through a ridiculous amount of enemies and bosses.
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  • Avatar for n00bsauce #34 n00bsauce 5 years ago
    @Mad Mage I never knew there was a "spiritual" prequel. I looked it up and it looks like there is a fan translation to the game. Gonna get that. And it looks like the reviews on it are 8.5 and up searching through Google. I guess it can't be that bad right?
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  • Avatar for n00bsauce #35 n00bsauce 5 years ago
    @Shingro Yeah I had to find out by chance. You can continue the combo if the enemy hits the ground. I believe if you make a button press before they land, it'll register as part of the combo but you won't land a critical hit. A lot of hand/eye coordination going on. Also, not paying attention will have you end up with a lot of misses of said combo. Sometimes I select an attack to early right after I launch an enemy to the wall, so I miss some attacks. I get mad at myself when I do. It feels like a rookie mistake to me
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  • Avatar for daysofstatic65 #36 daysofstatic65 5 years ago
    @n00bsauce "In it's genre, you are faced with impossible odds through a ridiculous amount of enemies and bosses."

    I'm interested to hear 1) how far along you are; and 2) if the game become's any more difficult.

    I've just recently finished chapter 10 (To Scatter Evil, to Exemplify Justice) and felt that the overall difficulty has been severely lacking. I worry that the game will become more of a grind than a genuine challenge.
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  • Avatar for mishtabrown65 #37 mishtabrown65 5 years ago
    @futurememory First of all, I don't find trolling a satisfactory, maybe you should quit browsing reddit and 9fag to stop your mind thinking that every little part of the internet has something to do with trolling. I am being serious and I do not agree with this review.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #38 Mad-Mage 5 years ago
    @n00bsauce I bet you will like Namco x Capcom if you like this game. I personally like tough tactical decisions which I feel are lacking in both games. It's too bad because the music and animated sprites are indeed great in both!
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  • Avatar for Alocide #39 Alocide 5 years ago
    I agree wholeheartedly with this review, BUT I got my enjoyment out of it. Luckily my nostalgia and fan glasses didn't fog up until the last third of the game so I was able to finish and shelf it.Edited July 2013 by Alocide
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  • Avatar for tanookitoad979 #40 tanookitoad979 3 years ago
    the thing that deters me from even buying this game is that instead of putting in characters like harrier, opa-opa, sonic, alex kidd, pac-man, klonoa, joe musashi, amaterasu, or even tom-tom from wonder boy. my point is they could've had a smash bros. tier roster but instead they wasted it on b-lister anime looking nobodies, the best we get is megaman, ryu, or arthur from ghosts n goblins.
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  • Avatar for semsendionow #41 semsendionow A year ago
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