Project X Zone

The In Crowd

Project X Zone is a hilarious video game reunion party—if you’re in on the gag.

By Anthony John Agnello • July 9, 2013

Homer Simpson was right when he said, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true!” When Louis C.K. rants about how disgusting a body gets mid-coitus, we laugh because, yes, bodies get pretty gross. Truth isn’t a perfect word for describing the soul of comedy, though. Familiarity is better. Knowledge, whether about the human condition or just plain old facts, is required before we can laugh at something.

By that measure, Project X Zone is funny as hell, but it’s also bad comedy because the familiarity its laughs demand is both vast and specific. Squeezing the most juice out of this chimera of old games requires an almost shameful familiarity with Japanese video game characters popular over the last 25 years. I don’t mean recognizing them. I mean knowing who they are, their theme songs, what games they’ve popped up in together over the years, and all their signature moves. The type of person that knows Tron Bonne from Mega Man Legends hung out with Chun Li of Street Fighter in Marvel Vs. Capcom will get the joke, and they’ll laugh pretty damn hard.

Project X Zone

Project X Zone (pronounced “Cross Zone”) is the grand poobah in a loosely knit series of games co-developed by Monolith Soft and Banpresto on and off over the past decade. It started with Namco X Capcom and moved on to a game with a Dadaist title, Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: The Endless Frontier. All these games are about demons, aliens, or monsters messing with dimensional stability, causing people from all sorts of universes to collide. That’s why the dude from Ghosts & Goblins can hang out with the busty robots from Xenosaga.

Zone, a tactical role-playing game, goes a step further than past games, stuffing in dozens of characters from the archives of Capcom, Namco, and now Sega. The cast doesn’t just include the icons. Characters from famous games like Resident Evil appear alongside dudes from long lost footnotes like Fighting Vipers. It’s like an all-night college reunion party where everyone shows up. Half the fun is seeing who walks through the door next and watching all the characters make with the, “Hey it’s you! How the hell have you been?” Unless, of course, you don’t know who the hell just walked in, in which case you’ll probably feel left out, even if what’s happening can be hilarious.

Project X Zone

The game is funny not because of the cheesecake pandering (another trademark of this quasi-series) or over-the-top anime violence, but because of the little touches it throws into the mix. Take, for example, the odd appearance of John McClane from Sega’s old Die Hard Arcade (his name is changed to Bruno, but he’s clearly an anime rendition of Bruce Willis). When you call him in for an assist in a fight, he’ll wail on a giant zombie for a second and then hit them with a grandfather clock. When the clock inexplicably explodes, you’re treated to a painted closeup of McClane as his clothes shred off his body and he yells, “Oh noooo, I overdid it again!”

Zone is dense with these absurdist moments, celebratory in their abject silliness. It also avoids the chief failing of most referential humor. It’s not funny because it’s an anime version of a movie star ripped out of a 20-year-old game; it’s funny because of the inherent goofiness of the game in total.

Those fights are also entertaining in and of themselves. Outside of dialogue, fighting is the only action. Locales like the zombie-plagued mall of Dead Rising are broken down into a checkerboard grid, and you move characters, in pairs, into position near enemies. Those pairs are locked, but you can toss in a third support character, which is how you end up with some of the more amusing combinations of characters.

Project X Zone

When you actually pin an enemy down, the game plays more like paddleball then the fighting game it appears to be. The goal is to time your attacks to keep a foe airborne, juggling them and calling in your support fighter to help. Syncing up your hits properly will let you “Cross” attack, freezing the enemy in place. It can get repetitive at times, but there’s a deep well of contentment in just batting enemies in the air as long as possible, figuring out which characters work best together. It’s not enough on its own, though. If these aren’t personalities you enjoy already, the fights will feel empty all too soon.

This much is true: I love playing Project X Zone because I’m in that stupidly specific audience. My life has covered the 30-year period during which these characters came into being, and I’ve spent most of those years playing and replaying these games. It makes me laugh when the music from House Of The Dead starts playing inappropriately on a cruise ship, but only because I know it already. For anyone looking to play, stop if you haven’t heard this one before.

Project X Zone
Developer: Banpresto/Monolith Soft
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40
Rating: T

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19 Responses to “The In Crowd”

  1. I grabbed the demo on the 3DS and was pleasantly surprised. It took a little figuring out to get the battles down, but the characters were immediately recognizable to me and seeing Ken and Ryu arguing with Ulala and No. 7 and No. 13 (it was random chance that I happened to be familiar with these three sets of characters) really made the game work for me.

    A question to the author, is there a core group of characters that folks should be familiar with to really enjoy this game? Or is it such a scatter shot that if you have a good general knowledge it would be enough?

    • Chalkdust says:

       It is absolutely all over the place.  I’m about 8 hours in, and every map so far has introduced new heroes and villains, splitting my team apart and bringing back together in different configurations.  Aside from a few original characters specifically for PXZ, I’ve spent the longest time with Chun-Li/Morrigan, Akira Yuiki & Pai Chan (Virtua Fighter) and, inexplicably, the tag team of Frank West (photojournalist!) & Hsien-ko from Darkstalkers.  Though, my team also includes Ken & Ryu, plus characters from Sakura Wars, .hack, Devil May Cry, Gods Eater Burst, Tekken and Resonance of Fate.

      As was stated in the review, a big part of the fun is seeing just who they are going to cram into this thing next.

  2. Jason Reich says:

    What do you mean his name is “changed” to Bruno?

    • Chalkdust says:

       It’s even more complicated than that.  To Japanese audiences, the character is Bruno Delinger, star of the two Dynamite Deka games (a pretty clear homage to Bruce Willis and John McClane to start with, but is–how they say–a legally distinct entity).  Outside of Japan, the first Dynamite Deka game was licensed as Die Hard Arcade (the second was not, and exists in the US as Dynamite Cop).

      So, returning to the theme of the review, if you knew all that already, his inclusion and dialogue, and other characters’ reaction to him, is even funnier.

  3. Merve says:

    I have no intention of ever playing Project X Zone, but it warms my heart that a game so gloriously nuts can exist.

  4. rvb1023 says:

    I love the idea behind this game (Chapter 8) but I am missing most of the jokes, only being intimately familiar with 1/3 of the characters.  The writing is pretty good, at least concerning in-jokes and easter eggs.

    The combat is also horribly repetitive and the game itself is paper thin. Its not really that great outside seeing a bunch of characters interacting with each other, but since the only time they really do is in giant exposition dumps I miss those sometimes too.

    Really I just want characters I like to start showing up. I do already have Frank West, The Resonance of Fate people, the Gods Eater Burst people, and Morrigan, but I would like my KOS-MOS, Jill Valentine, and Chris Redfield.

  5. vinnybushes says:

    I have to say the approach that works best with this game is the same one you use when watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Both contain references not everyone is going to get but the jokes are at a rapid fire pace so you just move on to the next one with the understanding that it could be about absolutely anything. You just have to roll with punches and understand that a bunch of the characters are from games that have never been localized, and if you can’t handle that just remember that the combat is a stupid amount of fun.

    • vinnybushes says:

       3d sprite work might also be my new favorite thing. It really does look quite snazzy.

  6. caspiancomic says:

    Every time one of these super cool crossover games comes out I’m always reminded of how few of these characters I actually know, and how apparently unpopular my favourite characters from these companies are. You’re telling me that in a game featuring the casts of Capcom and Sega we still can’t get a Power Stone character to show up? Break my heart again why don’t you?

    • Boonehams says:

      I know a lot of people have been saying recently that Capcom doesn’t care about MegaMan, but Power Stone gets no love from that company anymore.  They made two games in that franchise and now they act like it never existed.  The only other Capcom title to get less recognition would probably be Gotcha Force.

      By the way, if anyone knows where I can get Gotcha Force without having to sell a kidney, I’d appreciate it.

      • NakedSnake says:

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      • Girard says:

        Well, to be fair, Capcom ignoring MegaMan is like Nintendo ignoring Mario. Conversely, Capcom ignoring PowerStone is more like Nintendo ignoring Chibi Robo. It’s still sad, but somewhat more understandable.

  7. Boonehams says:

    Hey, does Morrigan have nipples?  Based on her wardrobe, you’d think we would’ve seen them by now, assuming they’re there.

  8. Mike Wolf says:

    My list of Reasons To Get A Goddamn 3DS Already is approaching critical mass with this release. The fact that this is a strat-RPG, a long-time favourite genre of mine, is the awesome icing on a delicious cake that seems to be baked specifically for a small audience including myself.

    I was going to say I’m not sure that KOS-MOS is, strictly, a robot, and the footnote that for some bizarre reason, only Xenosaga II came out in Europe, because releasing the middle part of a trilogy and not the rest totally makes sense, but I realised that just makes it even more clear that for once, I am the target audience.

    • sloth09 says:

      If you like sRPGs then Fire Emblem is an entirely sufficient reason to own a 3DS (250 hours and still only on my second play through, going to have to do at least one more as I’ve not created a third generation Morgan yet). Hadn’t been planning to get this as I know it will disappoint me in comparison to FE but now I know the Resonance of Fate Characters are in it I think I’ll have to reconsider…

      • sloth09 says:

        And I did. And it’s great (although probably not for everyone – I really like the utterly deranged story, but fully understand that others will hate it).

        Damn 3DS. Just moved house and was hoping the Summer games drought – seemingly worse than ever this year while devs presumably build up to the new consoles – would free me up to spend time on buying furniture and generally getting stuff sorted. But no… After 18 months of using it irregularly to play old DS games suddenly there’s FE, Animal Crossing (which I’ve barely touched yet in fear that it will eat my life in the same way the DS version did) and now this. Kind of lucky Shin Megami Tensei IV isn’t getting an EU release for a couple of months. I still have a whole roomful of boxes to unpack.