Crazy things happen when video game worlds collide. Mario and Sonic compete alongside each other at the Olympics. Claptrap plays poker with canine cop Sam while GLaDOS looks on. And in Project X Zone, Mega Man, Ulala, Jill Valentine, Dante, Jin Kazama, Sanger Zonvolt, and many, many more find themselves thrown together by fate to take a stand against the forces of evil. Though many of these characters hail from action games and fighting games, these battlefields force them to take a more tactical approach to combat than they may be used to. Unfortunately, Project X Zone's strategic gameplay is too one-dimensional to captivate, leaving the game's huge cast and its spirited presentation to keep it afloat.
Project X Zone is too strategically straightforward to stand with (or even near) the best games in the genre. There aren't different classes to consider the tactical implications of, nor is there anything akin to Disgaea's wonderfully exploitable battle system, or any other wrinkles to make you stop and carefully consider how to approach a situation. You can typically just move your units within attack range of enemy units, ideally with another friendly unit nearby that you can call on for support during the attack, and steadily wipe out your opponents.
Sometimes objectives change things up a bit--you may need to catch certain enemies before they reach an exit, for instance, giving you an incentive to use skills that increase the range of your units--but these are minor variations that don't demand much tactical consideration. Emerging victorious time and time again and leveling up your units is pleasantly satisfying, but by the 25th hour or so of battles that mostly play out the same way, this predictable pleasure starts to wear thin, and you start wishing for more-stimulating scenarios.
So Project X Zone's appeal lies not so much in its thin strategic gameplay, but in its zany concept and its flashy attack animations. The tale it tells is a gleefully nonsensical one that has the worlds of numerous video game franchises colliding--there's some talk of dimensional gates and vortexes and whatnot, but really, the worlds are colliding as an excuse to have such unlikely allies as Arthur from Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Pai from Virtua Fighter, and Kite from .hack fight alongside each other. It's not just the heroes from these varied universes who come together in Project X Zone. You fight recognizable enemies, hear plenty of classic tunes, and visit many famous and not-so-famous locations. (If you've been waiting for the elaborate battle simulator setting of Sega's 1988 arcade game Gain Ground to get some love, Project X Zone has got you covered.)
Unfortunately, the characters also bring with them some tired attitudes. There are lots of amusing statements about things like how the double jump has become a ubiquitous game mechanic in recent years or how Arthur's armor can protect him from exactly one blow of any strength before it goes flying off. But in addition, there's no shortage of patronizing comments made by male characters to their female counterparts and of women responding to such attitudes as if they're to be accepted rather than challenged. When a villain tells the smiling, scantily clad Kaguya that she's attractive but stupid and she says she doesn't know whether to be pleased or insulted, it's all you can do not to roll your eyes.
Many characters come as inseparable duos called pair units, including longtime friends and rivals Ryu and Ken, and the newly acquainted Frank West and Hsien-Ko. These units move and attack as one. Other characters, including Tron Bonne and Heihachi Mishima, are solo units that can be attached to any pair to lend them a hand in battle. And when you attack with one pair unit, you can call on another nearby pair unit to perform a support attack. This means that when you attack an enemy, you can have as many as five allies onscreen at once, assaulting your foe with their elaborate attacks that recall the games those characters came from. Arthur briefly dons his golden armor and calls down lightning; Ryu lets loose with metsu hadokens; and the John McClane-esque Bruno Delinger of Dynamite Cop grabs a grandfather clock out of nowhere to use as a weapon.
The flurry of activity your units unleash in battle is fun to watch, at least the first few hundred times. Attacks are viewed from a 2D perspective that's reminiscent of fighting games, and the energetic fighting game vibe is enhanced by the announcer who shouts "Ready? Fight!" at the start of each attack and "KO!" when you defeat an enemy. Your attacks typically launch enemies into the air, and there's a bit of strategy involved in timing when you unleash your assaults. Hitting a falling enemy just before it strikes the ground results in a critical hit, for instance, and having your pair unit hit an enemy while it's also being hit by a solo unit or support attack lets you build up your "cross point" gauge (which lets you perform special attacks and attacks that target multiple enemies at once) beyond the typical limit of 100 percent. It's not long, however, before you have a handle on these concepts, and defeating enemies and building up your gauge so that you can perform special attacks on powerful boss enemies becomes routine.
Still, the gameplay provides a decent, if unremarkable, framework to support bringing these disparate characters together to clobber countless denizens of the underworld and other nefarious creatures from varied pasts and futures. If you have a fondness for a fair number of the 50-plus game characters featured in Project X Zone (and there's a good chance you do), then those appealing characters, their sometimes-humorous interactions, and the locations, music, and attack animations they bring with them can make Project X Zone a worthwhile nostalgic endeavor. But it's primarily the strength of its cast and its presentation, not the strength of its gameplay, that sustains you through the many long hours of this quest.