I would be deluding myself if I didn't admit what drew me to Project X Zone – prominently featured behind Namco-Bandai's 'please no, video/photography' sign just outside its booth at Tokyo Game Show 2012 (what, and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 aren't photo-op worthy?) – was Capcom's character contribution to the turn-based tactical RPG. Tekken and .hack, and Virtua Fighter and Space Channel 5 while memorable franchises in their own right, are simply nowhere near as iconic as Street Fighter and Mega Man.
Now that that is out of the way, let me go ahead and say the following: Localize this.
Seriously, Namco-Bandai. I don't know who's leg I have to hump to get this over here (Atlus, I guess), but Project X Zone is a game that shouldn't be limited to a Japanese audience. I'll loop back around to this point again but for now, onto the demo.
The 10-minute tease of PXZ starts off with a face I haven't seen in a while: Bastu Ichimonji. Oh, Batsu. Just when is Capcom going to wise up and give us another Rival Schools game? I miss you and Akira way too much. After being warped into the topsy-turvy, mash-up world of Namco-Bandai, Sega, and Capcom IPs, Batsu crosses paths with Tekken superstars Xiaoyu and Jin in a place that was apparently torn right out of Ghosts & Goblins. Worlds collide, much? The narrative isn't a big selling point here – not that I understood much of what was going on – but seeing these characters interact with each other never ceased to put a smile on my face. I mean, what's not to love? It also helps that the game looks incredibly retro.
As someone who fell in love with gaming at a very young age, pixel art is a style that just makes me go all soft and gooey inside. Aside from characters that evolved out of sprites such as Ryu and Ken, and X and Zero, de-makes of DMC's Dante, .hack personality Kite, and KOS-MOS of Xenosaga are a visual treat. The graphics are a nostalgia trip to say the least and I commend Namco-Bandai for keeping this design despite the new 3D platform; everything just pops off the screen. The animation is equally fantastic, each unit moving with just as smooth as their graphically-intense counterparts.
Gameplay wise, Project X Zone behaves differently from Namco-Bandai's wildly popular Super Robot Taisen series. While the two share a similar aesthetic and layout, PXZ is more about involving the player in the on-screen action rather than having them play audience member and watching attacks unfold. Battles begin on an isometric playing field – a hell of a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics. Once you move your units in place, the screen shifts focus to the actual combat. You are in charge of the action as you'll need to continuously string attacks together to chain combos and juggle your opponent (or in the demo's case, teeny tiny Mets) into submission. Controls are as simple as mashing 'A' and moving the circle-pad to change-up the attack. If this sounds anything like Valkyrie Profile, just you wait.
The most important part of going into battle is keeping a closely-knit team. If your units remain close together on the map, they act as support, allowing you to extend your combo and deal even more damage on a single turn. Combos apparently build up your trusty super meter. Once maxed out, pressing 'Y' unleashes a super attack, a flashy display that should come as no surprise to fans of these game developers…told you it was like Valkyrie Profile. So you are going to want to juggle hard, and juggle frequently (that did not come out right…at all).
Up to five characters can get in on the throw-down at once: two main, two neighboring support, and a solo unit, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to spank your enemy if planned out just right. It's easy to be distracted by all the awesome character selections, Demitri from Darkstalkers for example, but don't forget that there is a battle that needs to be won. When defending your units you can counter or block enemy attacks. But unlike being on the offensive, defense takes place entirely on the isometric battlefield – no super-fancy cutaway. I get that it speeds the fighting along, but that doesn't mean it isn't dull.
My time with Project X Zone while short, convinced me that Namco-Bandai needs to be bugged more about bringing this game overseas. As a 3DS owner who thought Mirror of Fate would keep me warm during the fast approaching winter season, I realize how little I have to look forward to in my portable. Yes, there is that Paper Mario Sticker jammy. But honestly, the 3DS needs titles like Project X Zone. There is going to be enough first-party support to convince even the biggest doubters to pick up a 3DS. When a developer comes a long to deliver a fun title, keeping it out of North America/Europe is not doing anyone any good.