In a time where major game makers are announcing their mergers one after another and collaborative projects are becoming commonplace, a cross-company title like Namco x Capcom seems like a natural thing. The game has been one of the most anticipated Japanese titles of the year since it was first announced back in January. For Capcom, this will be the second time it has collaborated with another developer--a number of years ago the Japanese developer teamed up with SNK for the Capcom vs. SNK series, which turned into a pretty big hit. The game was so successful it was even used in an official national tournament in Japan. Given the level of success of that collaboration, the question is: will Namco x Capcom be as big a hit with gamers? We got hold of the quirky new RPG to find out.
When you turn on Namco x Capcom for the first time, you'll be greeted by a very high-quality opening animation produced by Production I.G., the well-known company that made the FLCL anime series and the theater release of Ghost in a Shell. In case you're not familiar with anime, an example of a movie is Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, in which the animation sequence was also done by the studio. While it's not rare for games to have an anime opening sequence, it's definitely unusual to see one as long as three minutes, which is a great way to get you hyped to play the game.
Namco x Capcom takes you to the empty streets of Shibuya in Tokyo in the year 20XX, which is one of the many locations that have been closed down for evacuation due to space-time distortions that have been happening all over the world. Agents Arisu Reiji and Xiaomu, the two main characters in the game, get dispatched to the city by a government organization named Shinra, which investigates supernatural occurrences that can't be handled by the police or other factions.
After taking on a few monsters, Reiji and Xiaomu realize that they're facing something more than the usual distortions. The pair of veteran agents barely has time to wonder if the current distortions are related to events that occurred 10 years ago--when the distortion phenomena began--when they find themselves fighting against a huge group of Gnosis from the Xenosaga series that have suddenly appeared. Thankfully, Shion Uzuki, M.O.M.O., and Kos-Mos appear to lend a hand, and they realize that they've been warped to an alternate dimension. The story gets even crazier when characters from the Street Fighter series, Cammy, Juni, and Juli, appear on the scene, chased by ICPO agent Chun-li. After beating all the enemies and advancing through the next few stages, you realize that the distortions are happening throughout the Namco and Capcom universes. Your quest is to learn the reasons behind the supernatural phenomena and bring everyone together.
Namco x Capcom plays like a standard strategy RPG, though it features a touch of action game elements, like when you're fighting against enemies on the battle screen. You move your character units around a field map that consists of square cells, and when you're in range for combat, you can select to attack an enemy unit. The game is stage-based, and you need to fulfill mission objectives--which is usually to beat all the enemies in the map--in order to advance.
Unlike typical strategy RPGs, which require you to move all your units in a single phase and then wait for your opponent to take all its actions, Namco x Capcom adopts a traditional RPG turn-based system where character units from both sides move one after another, with the units that have the highest agility and active points in the lead. Your AP are the main deciding factor for which character unit moves first and how much action they can perform.
The system is similar to the movement cost found in many strategy RPGs. All the character units start out in the beginning of the stage with the maximum of 10 AP. The points will be reduced whenever you take actions with them, such as moving them around the map and making them attack an enemy. The basic way of recovering your character unit's AP is by waiting through a number of turns. So if you use very little AP on a character unit's turn, the character will have a lot of AP remaining, and its next turn will come quickly. On the other hand, if you take too many actions with the character unit, it'll take longer for their turn to come up. But all in all, the game is set up in such a way that players won't have to worry too much about holding back on their moves, since some of the vital actions, such as the use of skills or items, don't require any AP at all.
As with most strategy games, the number of cells that each character unit can move in each level is different, and trying to walk over the ground will decrease the number of steps you can take. On the other hand, some character units will fly instead of walk, which frees them from these terrain issues. A few character units "warp" when they move around the field, which allows them to even pass through walls. This comes in handy in certain strategic situations.
Most character units, such as the Street Fighters, are limited to attacking enemies that are in close range on the field. But other units, such as Megaman's Tron and Kobun, specialize in ranged attacking instead. A few character units can conveniently do both, in which case they switch their attacking methods depending on their distance to the enemy. One example is Gil and Kai from the Tower of Druaga, who fight together as one unit. Gil attacks with his sword when they're in close range to the enemy, and Kai does all the attacking with her magic when the enemy's far away. It's worth noting that Namco x Capcom features two kinds of character units: single units and pair units. Single units, as you'd expect, feature one character that fights alone. Pair units consist of two characters, though the difference is mostly graphical, since they function basically the same as the single units.
Meeting of the Minds
The battle screen in Namco x Capcom looks a bit like a 2D fighting game, but the controls are easy enough that you don't need to be an expert in playing one. You can pull off different attacks by holding on to one of the four directions on your D pad and pressing the circle button, or just pressing the circle button alone. Attacking your enemies will raise your power meter located on the bottom right-hand side of the screen, and when it's full, you can execute a powerful attack with the triangle button. Attacking the enemies will also raise their stun meter, located right under their power meter. When it becomes full, they won't be able to move for a certain amount of time. The number of attacks that the character can do during a single battle is indicated on the top right-hand side, so it's up to you to figure out the most effective combinations to damage the enemy. Like in most games, some enemies have weaknesses or resistance to certain attacks. For example, slimes are weak against fire. The attacks that will do more damage are conveniently indicated in the moves list that appears prior to each fight, so you won't have to take your time to discover their weaknesses by yourself.
As you'd expect, the characters in Namco x Capcom have their trademark attacks from their original games. For example, holding left on the direction pad and pressing circle with Darkstalker's Morrigan will make her shoot a soul fist at the enemy, while pressing triangle will let her execute a darkness illusion. If you can juggle the opponent in the air by effectively using your attacks, you'll be given bonuses such as additional damage to the enemy, additional experience points, and items.
In addition to going into the standard battle mode, Namco x Capcom also lets you execute a special attack called a "multiple assault" by selecting an option from the field menu. The multiple assault requires special conditions, which usually revolve around having a corresponding character unit nearby on the map and having enough MP to execute it. The characters will then team up and attack, inflicting more damage than usual. You can't control the characters during the multiple assault attack, but you'll get to see a special battle sequence. In the case of Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken, it's a series of combination attacks followed by a pair of dragon punches. Some of the multiple assaults let you damage multiple enemies at once, which comes in handy when you're surrounded.
The enemies will just take your attacks without fighting back when you engage them, but that also goes for your character when it's the enemy's turn to move around. You'll be thrown around like a rag doll when the enemy's attacking, but fortunately, the game gives you a number of options to control your damage: defend, which consumes one AP but reduces your damage to half; run away, which consumes one AP and 10 points from the character's power meter; protect, which lets another character nearby absorb all the damage; and no guard, which makes you get hit by all the attacks, but doesn't consume any AP and also makes your power meter build up faster.
When the enemy is hitting you with its attacks in the battle screen, a large icon in the shape of the D pad appears on the screen, and you can reduce your damage by hitting the direction that glows whenever the enemy makes a move. If you succeed in doing so enough times, you'll be awarded by having your AP recovered. A 50 percent success rate recovers your AP by one, and an 80 percent success rate recovers it by two.
From the few hours that we've played Namco x Capcom, its gameplay seems to be pretty straightforward and doesn't take much time to learn. You move around your characters on the field, choose an enemy you want to fight, and then input commands and enjoy the character's 2D battle animation sequences. Namco x Capcom has been pretty hassle-free so far, which is probably a good thing for a game like this, since it's obviously meant to attract a wide range of players with its characters.
And yes, the game puts in a lot of effort to make these characters shine. Namco x Capcom has a huge amount of dialogue between characters from different games, which must've taken the scriptwriters an abundance of effort to produce, considering the volume of characters and how much research had to be put into making their lines fit their personalities from the original games. What's more, a lot of the conversations feature full voice acting. Another nice touch is that the game's music switches to the main theme song of whichever character's turn it is. So you'll be hearing the music from Klonoa when the furry hero is moving around, and the music from Demitri's stage in Darkstalkers will play when it's his turn.
On the other hand, Namco x Capcom would probably not be of much interest if you aren't a fan of the two company's games--you really need to know the characters to enjoy them. What's also interesting is that gamers in Japan so far are split between those who love the game and those who find it less attractive, which seems to have a bit to do with their age. The game brings back a lot of the old characters from Namco and Capcom's classic titles, such as Burning Force, Captain Commando, Strider, Genpei Toumaden, Berabou-man, and Wonder Momo. Namco x Capcom so far seems to be a particular hit with older Japanese gamers around their late 20s to mid-30s because of the return of these long-forgotten characters. But it's drawing some criticism from the younger gamers in their teens that can't recognize many of the characters from before the PlayStation era.
Whether Namco x Capcom will make its way overseas to the American market is a pretty tough question. It has many game characters that are known in America, but also as many characters from games that have never been released outside of Japan. Once you factor in the volume of text that needs to be translated and the massive volume of voices that need to be redubbed, the chance of an American release seems slimmer and slimmer. But then again, if you're an old-time gamer who's played classic Namco and Capcom games from the '80s, and you can recognize many of the minor characters from the promotional movies released on the game's official site, then chances are that you may just be interested enough to enjoy an import.