During E3 2015, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kensuke Tsukanaka, Production 2 Chief at Bandai Namco, about the upcoming release of Project X Zone 2 for the 3DS. Mr. Tsukanaka, who fielded my questions through a translator, gave me the scoop on the crossover game that combines a cast of characters from three separate companies: Bandai Namco, SEGA and Capcom, and the difficulties that can arise from such an undertaking.
Project X Zone 2, like the original game released in the US in 2012, is described by its creator as a “crossover traditional RPG.” Battles are executed with a “paired combo focus” where teammates juggle opponents with their signature techniques and call in assistance from nearby allies. Characters move across a grid during their turns, and I found that the process has been streamlined in the bit of hands-on time I had with the game afterward.
I asked how difficult it is to make a game with so wide a reach as Project X Zone 2. Mr. Tsukanaka explained that drawing from so many different games, different systems, and different engines, the big question was how to do it. He had to make sure the game would meet fans’ demands. With so many beloved characters, as he described them, they had to be visualized properly, because having any one character act inappropriately for how they had been previously established would result in fan outcry and backlash. Then there was the matter of finding a way to work them all into one system, one story. But having dealt with all of these considerations during production of the first game, he felt that the development of Project X Zone 2 could focus instead on feedback from the first game and making improvements to its system.
What were those improvements that they made in Project X Zone 2? Mr. Tsukanaka felt that the story of the first game was too simple. The first thing he wanted to do for the sequel was to craft a story with greater depth, better flow and more complexity. He also revealed that the battle system will see some improvements that veteran players will notice immediately, but the new system has yet to be announced and implemented. Additionally, he promised that the sequel will feature more and improved graphics for battle cutscenes that will be more fluid than what we’ve seen before.
Mr. Tsukanaka declared that the cast of Project X Zone 2 features about 50% new characters compared to the prior game. I was curious about characters who had been dropped from the roster between games and the reasons behind them, but it was all to make room for more varied characters overall. In fact, he would have liked to use many more individual characters than those they settled upon, but doing so would have made it much more difficult to give every cast member their due within the story.
I asked whether Project X Zone 2 is a direct sequel to the first, a retelling, or something entirely separate. Mr. Tsukanaka explained that the game is its own independent story, but that characters will recall the events of the first game. This will be reflected in their conversations. As he put it, it is a plus for returning players, but anyone starting with the sequel will not be missing anything.
I wanted to know whether there was any difficulty seeking approval from SEGA and Capcom in the use of their characters in Project X Zone 2. Mr. Tsukanaka replied that their three companies had a rapport that began before the first Project X Zone was even conceived, so approvals were not difficult at all, and everyone was very understanding of the concept. Both companies were provided ideas and scripts early on and all throughout development, so there was never a point where his staff were asked to redo, remove, or drastically alter anything that had been in place at the request of a character’s owner. Reportedly, there were no cases of him being denied the use of a character for the projects.
I asked whether there was any difficulty specific to bringing Project X Zone 2 to the US market, noting the myriad licensing problems with other crossover games such as Super Robot Wars. Mr. Tsukanaka laughed at that mention. No, as Bandai Namco, SEGA and Capcom are the owners of all of the properties in both Japan and the US, this was not a barrier to them. Further, the first game was brought to the US a half a year after the Japan release and met with good sales. For Project X Zone 2, it was his plan to localize the game for the US market at the beginning of development.
For my final question, I motioned to a banner next to the table that showcased the vast cast of Project X Zone 2. I asked Mr. Tsukanaka which of all of the characters was his favorite. He smiled, chose his words carefully and said that this was one of the most difficult questions. As the producer, he couldn’t designate just one. He loves each equally.