If you strip away the Sega, Capcom and Namco Bandai character-dressing (this game pulls characters from a simply insane number of franchises across all of those companies), what you have is a pretty solid strategy game. It will probably get some comparisons to Fire Emblem Awakening since they are both 3DS titles with a focus on tactics, but Fire Emblem has deeper considerations at work when you are setting up your strategy.
That’s not to say Project X Zone fails to bring a lot to the table as well. Your units consist of two (and sometimes three) characters that move around a gridded map and engage with enemy units. When you are attacking, you have a few basic commands you can input that let you switch between types of attacks, and when other criteria are met (like having a third person in your unit, have a power bar over a certain amount or an allied unity in close proximity) you can pull off extra attacks. The super attacks in particular are visually entertaining and are always appropriate to the series from which the characters are pulled from. Ken and Ryu for instance launch into a flurry of Street Fighter-like attacks, while Dante from Devil May Cry whips out those pistols to excellent effect.
When on defense, you have a handful of options. You can sit there and simply take the full brunt of the attack, or you can use up some power points that are earned through combat to reduce damage or pull off counter attacks. It’s an interesting layer of strategic depth and something reasonably unique to this game.
Combat can earn you experience toward levels, which improve your stats. You can also find items after combat. The battlefield itself is a fairly flat experience, but you can interact with parts of it by destroying obstructions (and sometimes finding items this way).
The sprite artwork has a fun throwback feel to it, with lots of vibrant colors and a sort of pixelated charm that really worked for me. In combat, the animations are incredibly over-the-top, sort of reminding me of Capcom’s Marvel vs Capcom series. While the massive cast of characters (over 200 from nearly thirty titles ranging from the incredibly popular to the somewhat obscure) is fun to see in action, there is not a great deal of difference between them functionally. This can be both good and bad, as it does make the combat more shallow than you might have expected going in, but by the same token it guarantees that your favourite characters will not feel underpowered.
Near the beginning, I pointed out that the game itself would still feel strong, even without all of the fan service played up by the character cast. The thing is, even if their appearances can sometimes feel a bit shallow (really, the story is a bit of a mess, but how could it not be?), there is an undeniable thrill at seeing some of your favourite characters interact with one another. Early on when Jin from Tekken was talking to Akira from Virtua Fighter only to have Ken and Ryu of Street Fighter fame show up (sporting music from the game no less as they are introduced)… well, I have to admit that I was grinning from one ear to the other.
There is plenty to do here, and you can sink a lot of time into Project X Zone before beating it. Trying out lots of characters (and going out of your way to see their super moves – something I spent a good deal of time doing) gives you a reason to keep playing as well. If you are looking for a deep, moving story, you probably will not get much out of it. However if you are looking for a fun strategy title with a lot of fan service, then step right up, this one is for you (and me).