An In-Depth Look At Project X Zone’s Battle System
Welcome to Awesome Games’ new weekly feature, Nihon Zone! Our resident import expert Kerry ‘Kimimi’ Brunskill brings you an exciting look at the wonderful world of Japanese video games.
Let Battle Commence
On the surface Project X Zone is yet another strategy RPG – little people moving around conveniently square-ish locations whacking other little people until all their numbers have gone away and the enemy vanishes in a puff of smoke (or if you’re playing Vandal Hearts, a massive jet of arterial spray). While this sort of thing sets my personal gaming heart on fire, the initial impression Project X Zone gives isn’t a particularly positive one for most; 30+ units on a map in a game that was created to be a big multi-company love-in would rightly raise concerns that this would be a shallow and cynical cash grab. Thankfully, Project X Zone (that’s CROSS Zone by the way, not “EKS” Zone as I keep saying to myself) is actually a fast paced and involving game, and I’m going to take a bit of time to tell you why.
As with virtually all SRPGs, combat is divided into field (movement) and battle (hurt the bad people) phases. The field screen is relatively uncluttered, small numbers above player and enemy character heads show turn order but everything else is tucked away from view unless required; the lower screen doesn’t show much more than a fancier version of the turn order so eye-flitting between screens is kept to a minimum.
The field icons show just one party member, but in practise they always consist of two characters (logically referred to as pairs by the game). These are fixed pairings decided by a mixture of branding and plot device and can never be changed. Solo characters join as you play through the game and must be attached to an existing pair on the pre-battle setup screen to see use in battle. Solo characters can be assigned to any pair without restriction so if you ever wondered how Bahn (Fighting Vipers) would fare when teamed up with Dante and Dimitri (one of several mixed-series pairings in the game) then this is your chance!
Movement is the obvious and primary option before combat, and as expected you get a neat little blue grid showing where you can move, overlaid with a similar yellow grid showing your current pair’s attack range. One slight difference to the norm is that not only can you move freely, but any action other than initiating battle won’t end your turn. This means you can open a treasure chest, destroy a boulder and use an item on an ally (as many as you like, on any ally on the field for most items) – and then move to attack an opponent. It sounds somewhat “broken”, but with fields being as large as they are in reality it’s more of a convenience than anything.
The other main map action is activating skills. Both pairs and solo characters bring their own unique skills to the table covering everything from the standard emergency heal to a boost in attack range. All skills cost XP (cross points, not to be confused with EXP, experience points), with the exact amount varying depending on the skill.
The win/lose conditions are shown at the start of each map and can be checked at any time if needed; they’re generally variations of standard “Destroy all enemies!” “Protect <pair that just showed up>!” or “Kill the boss!” requirements, although more unique conditions do crop up from time to time and events often occur that mean objectives can change mid-battle.
After all that, we finally get to the bit where we hurt enemies with fists/guns/swords/claws/grandfather clocks/Servbots! In most SRPGs the battle animation is so insignificant to the outcome that you can simply turn them off and never bother looking at them, but these sections are an absolutely crucial pillar of Project X Zone’s Cross Active Battle system.
This system relies on (simple) button+direction commands to perform a series of moves, you start out with just three possible actions per turn but this rises to five over the course of the game. Which moves you perform are up to you, although if you make sure you do one of every move available to you then you get an additional bonus attack. There is no time limit placed on performing these moves; you’re free to either unleash everything as soon as possible and send your opponent flying or wait as long as you like between attacks so long as you’ve still got some stock left.
There is one attack that automatically closes a fight regardless, and that’s using a special attack. These super-powerful blows with their unique combos and fancy cut-in graphics cause far more damage than any other individual attack, although to be used the pairing must have a minimum of 100% of their XP gauge filled. The most effective way to use these attacks is at the very end of a battle when all other resources have been exhausted, especially as you get an added boost to XP for finishing an enemy with a special move.
The visual feedback you receive from these fights is more than just window dressing – it’s vital to success. Did your opening attack just launch your enemy into the air? Follow up with a ground attack and every hit will miss, simple as that. The opposite is also true; leaping through the air looks cool but if the enemy has both feet on the floor then you’ll do no damage because you’re attacking thin air! Critical hits also rely on personal skill rather than stats, attacking an enemy just before they hit the floor seems to be the way to go about it although the timing is rather tight.
Solo and support characters (supports are other pairs standing nearby on the field) can be called in to assist at any time, however, as with your standard pair, timing is everything to getting the most out of them. Using either or both of these will bring up the “Cross Hit” meter if they land a hit at the same time as the main fighting pair – this gauge doesn’t bring in any extra damage, but it does give a boost to the XP awarded at the end of the battle.
To make matters even more tricky some enemies have a block gauge, a feature that acts in very much the same way it does in modern beat ‘em ups. This short gauge just below the HP bar needs to be depleted before any attacks do damage, and the enemy needs to be juggled. If the enemy gets to put both feet on the ground then the block gauge is fully restored.
Beats In My Head
Even when it’s the enemies turn to attack you’re far from defenceless – so long as a pair has at least 20% XP they can perform either a counterattack or defend and reduce damage received, with a full defence available at the cost of a whopping 60% XP. Counterattacking works like a truncated version of player-initiated battles, solo/support and super attacks can be used, but the pair is limited to just one normal attack. With a bit of luck and some help “popcorn” enemies can often be K.O’d just from a single counterattack, quickly thinning out what looked like an overwhelming force into a more manageable lot.
We Await Your Return, Warrior!
I’ve gone on for quite a while now and yet I still haven’t covered absolutely everything ; pre-battle you can equip handy accessories on pairs, certain attacks cause status effects and you’ll want to watch out for bosses with “map attacks” – powerful moves that can damage a whole cluster of party members.
So there you have it – built on the already solid foundations of their previous crossover titles (Namco Super Wars and Namco X Capcom, if you were wondering) Namco have somehow crafted a relatively fast paced and involving game from something that could easily have been an endless succession of tedious micromanagement. Great!
Project X Zone is coming to Europe and North America on the 3DS in Aug-Jun 2013.