By Video_Game_King 26 Comments
Well, this certainly is an....interesting game. Oh, that's not a backhanded compliment or an attempt on my part to insult the game. I mean, there's certainly something appealing in Project X Zone. The game looks absolutely goddamn amazing, and that whole "crossover" setup results in some entertaining antics among the enormous cast. But Project X Zone doesn't do a good enough job of justifying itself as a game. It's almost like Project X Zone forgets that it's a game and not a collection of flashy graphical effects, and while the game eventually realizes this, it may be too late for some players.
Still, that shouldn't disparage all the things that Project X Zone gets absolutely right. Like the graphics. Where do I even begin? Well, the best way I could describe it is "video game-y". All the characters are 2D sprites, and the camera's pulled in close enough that you can see every last pixel on Juri's assless chaps. (There are 3D backgrounds and special effects, but they only exist to accentuate the 2D visuals, really.) Project X Zone absolutely wants you to know that it's a video game.
Fortunately, this feels less like a crutch and more like a chance for the game to explore just how far it can take this art style. Who knew how much this art style was truly capable of? Everything's just so fluid and striking and rendered with the utmost detail that it just demands your attention. Even after 40 or so hours with the game, I can't take my eyes off it. The game just looks that amazing. True, the game sometimes looks less like a glorious spectacle and more like a confusing pixel art orgy of confusion, but for the most part, it strikes a satisfying balance between chaos and craft. Besides, when a game looks this amazing, I'm pretty sure it's earned the right to brag.
(The music's also pretty good, as it incorporates a wide selection of styles yet consistently keeps you pumped for what's to come, somehow. But what do you honestly think is worth mentioning more: this or that exact same link with your eyes closed?)
If only I could say the same for the plot. Oh, sure, the premise sounds interesting enough: a billion separate universes (including a universe of genitriloquists) begin crossing over, and it's up to some detective ninja clan or whatever to figure out why. Unfortunately, the reasons for this crossing over only even vaguely reveal themselves toward the end of the story. What happens until then? The story frantically jumps from plotline to plotline, desperately in search of purpose and direction. Characters enter the plot when they damn well please (as do a couple plot points), nobody can stay in any one place for longer than it takes to make a .hack reference, and I have no goddamn clue how the chronology of anything is supposed to work. You never really feel like you're making any meaningful progress. It's like the the game doesn't know what to do and is wasting your time until it figures something out. At least in terms of the plot. It feels disjointed, honestly. Maybe the game spread itself too thin to do anything other than simply jump from event to event with no real commitment. Maybe it's best to look at each chapter as its own event instead of as part of a greater whole.
Or maybe the focus is on the characters instead of the plot. That would explain why the game introduces so many characters apropos of nothing: it needs material for the wacky antics to come. With so many characters to work with, you get just as many personalities to manage. Where do I even start? Well, there's moe incarnate Neneko; the ever aloof Yuri Lowell; the scarily detached Ulala; something called a Deathsatan; and so much more! Naturally, these personalities lend themselves well to fun and entertaining situations, which probably explains why there are so many to find in Project X Zone. It also helps that the game is perfectly aware of its own idiocy. Granted, with a cast larger than a small nation, it's easy for a lot of them to fade into obscurity for much of the story, and that's certainly a problem with Project X Zone. Fortunately, it's not much of a problem. The game does the best it can to keep these characters relevant throughout, giving them a tiny role in conversations to remind you that they still exist. They might not be explored in any real depth, but the game's still remembering to use them.
Unfortunately, for some of the ladies, this means being used as sex objects. What? Don't give me that look; give the game that look. A good portion of the female characters are drawn in such a way that you're encouraged to view them as mere sexual objects. Their postures prominently stress the ass and titties, always at a perfectly lustful viewing angle. For some characters, this is perfectly fine. Morrigan's a succubus, so I've no qualms with the camera slowly glazing over her chest and ass whenever it gets the chance. Where that justification for a princess like Kaguya is, though, I have no goddamn idea. Tron Bonne's metal crotch plate probably doesn't help, either. The source material could have been to blame if not for the original female protagonist of this game looking like she specifically chose an outfit that looked like she just got out of bed. And the game designs her like this for....OK, it doesn't do this with all the ladies (but none of the men, as far as I can tell), but when it does, it's incredibly uncomfortable. Why does this game want to give me an erection? What possible function could this serve other than to put me on edge?
And why have I spent so long talking about things that weren't the gameplay? Oh....I can actually answer that one. Like I mentioned before, there's something strange about the gameplay in Project X Zone. Not so much in the set-up; that part's easy to understand. It's a strategy RPG from the Tactics Ogre school of that thing: one character acts, then another, then another, and this is repeated until somebody yells "Turn End" with a thick Japanese accent. When it's one of your characters acting, you can use items or "kill a bunch of guys" attacks, but you're gonna find the real meat of the game once you use a normal attack. Now things are looking a bit more fighting-game-y. Instead of worrying about troop placement and ranges of attack, now you have to deal with building up combos and learning the timings on all your moves. So far, so good. We've got some complex systems with reasonable depth, and the game's demanding a wide range of skill sets on your p-
And there's the problem with the game: it doesn't actually test your skills. There's no real challenge to speak of. But the strange thing is that when I try to explain why, it's hard to find any good reasons for this lack of challenge. The conditions for a challenging game are certainly there. A lot of the maps are heavily populated with enemies (especially toward the end of the game), so there's something to fight against. In theory. In practice, the odds are weighed overwhelmingly in your favor. You can wipe out many enemies in a single move with one pair of characters, whereas they have to take potshots at you over several moves. Numbers might be on their side if not for that "cast larger than a small nation" thing from before. Nothing is ever a threat, and it's harder to lose than it is to win. In fact, I only ever failed a chapter two times in the game. The first time was because I simply forgot one of the fail states the game had presented me with; had I remembered, I probably would've beaten that chapter. The second instance, though, I did remember, but still made a stupid decision and lost because of it. So out of two failures, only one of them could possibly be because of the game's challenge.
That's probably why I shouldn't be looking at this game in terms of challenge. Instead, it's best to look at Project X Zone through the magic of 機能美. Now for those of you who were utterly confused when I used it in my Darwinia blog, that was the whole point. I'm an asshole. Anyway, 機能美* is pretty much beauty in efficiency. It's that good feeling you get from knowing that nothing's going to waste and all components of a system are being put to maximum use. For a 機能美 game, the fun's all in accomplishing goals with as few resources used or effort exerted as possible. Hell, you don't even really need challenge; just the threat of doing things in the least efficient manner. To ground all this in some sort of reality, Darwinia and Final Fantasy XII could be considered 機能美 games.
That, and Project X Zone. With this new idea, Project X Zone is given life once more. Before 機能美, there was little real motivation to try and become better at the game. Why bother when the game's not gonna put up a fight? Now, there's a reason: because you'll waste so much if you don't know what you're doing. You'll waste moves if you don't know what timings max out damage, items as you heal damage you could've avoided, your special meter if you don't know when to use it for what, etc. Your fun and your level of skill are directly tied to one another, is what I'm getting at. Finally, Project X Zone has justified itself as a game.
But is this justification on time? It took me a good portion of the game to discover the 機能美, and I'm pretty sure it would take you guys about as long. Does that make this a bad game? I honestly have no clue. If you want a gorgeous looking game with funny (if disjointed) scenarios, then yea, I'd recommend Project X Zone. I'd recommend the hell out of it. But as a game where you push buttons and things happen? That's....harder to recommend. If you're pati-wait, Sega was involved with this, right? Does that mean Sonic's in it? No? What the fuck!? OK, screw everything I just said: it isn't worth it.
- FUCKING LOOK AT THIS.
- Surprisingly, Project X Zone is a better Family Guy game than most Family Guy games.
- Should you play this game? I don't know.
Not safe for work. Probably.
You ever play a game for your blog, only to find out it's completely irrelevant to what you're writing? No? Well, it's happening here, alright? I thought Valkyrie's appearance in this game would tie it to Project X Zone, but alas, cameos don't count.
Anyway, Marvel Land. It's a game of absolutely no significance to anything, probably because it's exactly like every platformer released in the early 90s. By that, I mean it's merely OK. Not outstanding or terrible, but simply OK. Marvel Land gives you some wide open spaces to explore, and that's really all you need to feel relatively engaged for the length of this tiny game. Not much to complain about, really. Marvel Land's only real flaw is that it doesn't know what works and what doesn't, so it just throws a bunch of ancillary shit on top in the hopes it all works out.
Like the story! Now I'm not gonna go into too much detail about the story, simply because it's all ad-libbed and makes no sense. The rat king's captured the fairies of the amusement park kingdom, and the dragon prince must rescue them all? What does that even mean? And how is that relevant to the actual game? As best as I can figure it out, only the amusement park aspect really improves the quality of the game. Many of the levels are simply amusement park rides that you jump through, and the ends up working in the game's favor. Amusement parks are supposed to connote fun and excitement, and that's exactly what these levels deliver on. It's a lot of fun to zip around on a roller coaster, collecting everything in sight, or to swing from a grappling point and into a giant target. (Disney Land does that, right?)
Of course, that might have more to do with what you're doing rather than where you're doing it. I mean, yea, exploring an amusement park is certainly enjoyable, but Marvel Land's fun mostly for the exploration. The levels are little more than winding obstacle courses, but that's OK. They offer enough fun thrills to keep you engaged for a while. Do you want to speed through a level on slippery controls? Because you can do that. How about glide about on dragon wings for some reason? Because that's in here, too. Want to hop all about a level in search of a warp zone? That one happens a lot. I'm surprised all those warps didn't break spacetime itself. And the game continues on like this, offering you decent enough reasons to push on and excavate every last nook and cranny, for about four more worlds. True, those worlds are plain, but that doesn't get in the way of what makes Marvel Land as good as it is.
The boss battles do, though, largely because they're such a departure from what the rest of the game is. Instead of pure platforming pfun, you get some random-mini-game-boss-battles whatever. That's right: to save the princess and the fairies, you're gonna have to play rock/paper/scissors! Or a matching game! Or musical chairs? Are you seeing a pattern between any of these? Because I'm not. These boss battles just feel abrupt and random, like the scraps of some other game Namco might've been developing. That probably explains why these moments don't mesh well with the rest of the game. When I'm up against one of these guys, I don't feel like the game's engaging my time; I feel like it's wasting it.
It doesn't help that the game never explains the rules all that well. For instance, should you win a round of rock/paper/scissors, your opponent screams that you've cheated. At least that's what I determined after the fact. In-game, everybody shares the same word bubble, so I thought that the person explaining the rules was chastising me for some unexplained rule. Now I was left with absolutely no idea how to progress through the game. That's not exactly conducive to an enjoyable game. Then again, not much about the boss battles is. Why was any of this included? What does it any of it add to the game? In the game's defense, this could have been the only feasible option. The story demands boss battles, and designing bosses around particular levels would be wildly impractical. Marvel Land could claim this if the final level didn't prove otherwise. Look at how exciting and fun that level is! Why couldn't the rest of the game be like that?
Wait a minute....it is like that. This makes things more complicated. Do I say that the game's good because you can jump through amusement park rides for some mild platforming fun? Or do I say that it sucks because the boss battles feel rushed and don't fit in with the rest of the game?.....How about both? I mean, the game's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad, either. Hooray for compromise!
- Wow! These levels are sort-of fun!
- But these boss battles absolutely aren't!
- Also, something about rats taking over Disney Land? I don't know.
*I will always write 機能美 in kanji instead of Latin letters. THERE'S NO CHANGING ME.