Friday, September 6, 2013

On What a Good Crossover *Should* Do.

If you've been following our blog (first, thank you), then you've probably gleaned at some point from my previous posts on the Super Robot Taisen series, and Another Century's Episode that I'm a big fan of crossover games.  A previous post on Chaos Wars should also make it clear that I get particularly annoyed when such games squander their potential.  So it should really come as no surprise that when Project X Zone was released here that I snatched it up on day one.  I've been playing it off and on since purchase, and subjecting those close to me to the witty dialogue (such as Nick, who shares my enthusiasm, and yells "Mayyyyyyonaise" when Soma from Gods Eater Burst is mentioned), as well as some of the flashier attacks (such as the Enabler, who patted me on the head, said "that's nice dear", and went back to playing Class of Heroes 2).

It should also come as no surprise that the game has inched closer and closer to my backlog.  Now, in the past, David and I have offered various reasons on how a game ends up in the backlog.  Work, exhaustion, one's desire to preserve the enjoyment of a game like a fine wine, and a host of others.  However, Project X Zone ended up in the backlog because it succeeds in doing one of the most important things a good crossover should do:  Motivate you to explore the source material.

Although PxZ lacks a certain depth compared to other games in the SRPG genre, the gameplay is decent enough to keep one playing (at least in small stints), but the interaction between characters is strong enough that, even if you've never played the games before, you might be intrigued enough to want to try them.

Thus, thanks to PxZ:
  • I finally picked up Gods Eater Burst for more than a few minutes.
  • I ended up running through Super Street Fighter IV a few times.
  • Played through a few stages of Namco X Capcom.

And that says nothing of all the other games that it reminded me to get back to in due time.  How does this one manage it so well?  Well:

The Setting

As I noted in the Chaos Wars post, setting up the story for a crossover is a tricky thing.  The Super Robot Taisen series, and to an extent, Sunrise Eiyuutan simply combine all the characters from various worlds into one cohesive world and storyline.  Games like Chaos Wars and Cross Zone create a hub world, dump all the characters in there, then proceed to let hijinks ensue.

PxZ takes the middle road.  You have the parallel worlds thing going on here to explain characters that otherwise couldn't reasonably exist in the same world (such as bringing in characters from Sakura Taisen or Valkyria Chronicles), but in other cases, there are characters who exist in the same continuum (Tekken, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil characters, for example).  The list is much longer, but given the massive roster of the game, this should give you an idea.

So certainly, while much of the game is spent traveling across dimensions, at the very least, you'll usually have a set of characters familiar with the surroundings, rather than the entire group of unknowing people thrown into a locale far away from any sort of civilization they know:

Well, maybe not quite this extreme.


The big problem with a game like Chaos Wars is that there was a ton of squandered potential.   The characters interacted from those within their own series well enough, but barely with each other.  The Chaos Wars specific characters interacted with everyone to an extent, but they were so flat that it made trudging through the story even more of a pain.  See, a good crossover should help to answer the age long question of "what would happen if x, y, and z walked into a bar?"

Maybe not quite as predictable.

The other factor at play here, however, is that the character personalities are amusing enough that, even if you haven't played the games before, you're not left totally in the dark.  Even when you are with some of the game specific references, somehow, this entire cast of characters (at least in my playthrough thus far) manages to somehow be cohesive.

That, readers, is no small feat.

Concluding thoughts

In the end, Project X Zone comes in and out of the backlog because in a lot of ways, it's doing its job.  Really, companies who opt to do a joint venture like this, be it a fighting game, RPG, or SPRG stand to gain from it when they do it wisely:  After all, if you make the crossover appealing enough, most dedicated fans will likely seek out the source material, rather than avoid it altogether.

Never seek this one out.  Ever.

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