E3 2013 Preview: Project X Zone is more than just a crossover

Project X Zone is due out for the 3DS next week, but I decided I'd check it out just prior to launch at this year's E3. I spent a few minutes with the game, and I quickly realized that my curiosity of this title wasn't for naught. Not only is Project X Zone an interesting fusion of brands — it's also a fun combination of gameplay styles. Additionaly, it gives you exactly what you'd expect out of a handheld game, delivering an experience that can be played in short bursts on the go or in long stretches if you so desire.

The main hook of Project X Zone is its combination of characters from all over the Namco Bandai, Capcom, and Sega universes. The game features 200 heroes and villains from several franchises, 50 of which are playable characters. You've got appearances by protagonists such as Dante from Devil May Cry (the original white-haired version, in case any purists were wondering), Ryu from Street Fighter, and Chris Redfield from Resident Evil. These are just a few of the characters you can get your hands on, though; there are many, many more, and they all have their own unique abilities.

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The meshing of styles in Project X Zone is actually a lot of fun, mixing fighting game elements with strategy RPG mechanics. When you actually dig deep into the game, however, it's easy to see that this is no fighter. While battles are fast-paced affairs, you ultimately have to deliver calculated attacks as opposed to simply mashing on the buttons. Characters perform a number of moves on a 2D plane, and dishing out these moves requires you to input different button and D-pad combinations. You've got standard moves and special moves, and dealing the latter results in your characters flying all over the screen in cool anime-esque fashion.

In order to effectively come out on top, you need to string together different moves in rapid succession. It's a system that's fairly fast-paced but still requires a bit of thought. Depending on how you use your available abilities, positioning on the field, support characters, and defensive techniques, you can unleash varying degrees of pain on your foes. While I engaged in some quick battles, I was informed by a Namco Bandai representative that longer, more challenging encounters would await players later in the game. That's something that's definitely expected, and I'm really interested in seeing how much more complex and more challenging battles will play out.

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When you're not engaged in encounters with enemies, you're walking around an isometric grid map reminiscent of titles such as Fire Emblem and Disgaea. Project X Zone isn't as tactical as those games, but it still requires you to plan out your moves, and it's always better to do a bit of plotting as opposed to mindlessly moving around the map. These sequences are turn-based, and you move your characters around the grid, taking a limited number of steps and battling or defending against any enemies you land in front of.

Something that really stands out about Project X Zone is its pixelated art style. The game has this old school appeal to it that's really easy on the eyes. The maps themselves are decent enough, but it's the character sprites that really stand out. It's cool seeing tiny versions of Jill Valentine and Frank West moving around stages, but it's even more awesome seeing those sprites get blown up to a much larger size when you're successfully performing special attacks.

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There's something inherently rad about Project X Zone. Aside from the sheer novelty of its crossover appeal, the game is just fun to play. Its quick save option will allow you to pick up where you left off if you're constantly on the go with your 3DS, but the RPG elements of the game are also ideal for longer play sessions. Project X Zone will hit the 3DS next week on June 25, and if you own Nintendo's handheld, this title should most certainly be on your radar.

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