Turn based RPGs have a long and prestigious history, making up some of the very best games to ever be released. Series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest captured the imaginations of players throughout the world with their fantastic environments, deep exploration, and great character rosters. And though the genre has dwindled in recent years, it’s fun to remember the old days, and exciting to see a new game hearken back to them. Mind Zero attempts to do just that, taking much inspiration from the acclaimed Persona series.
Mind Zero is a Japanese RPG featuring dungeon exploration and traditional, turn based combat. With an anime aesthetic and a heavy emphasis on storytelling, the game tasks players with exploring the mysterious inner-realm, home of the violent and dangerous creatures known as MINDs.
Early in the story, each of your party members enters a contract with a MIND, forging a relationship with these mysterious beings. This partnership provides a unique battle system for the party, as they may freely transition between summoning their MIND and fighting on their own.
While MINDS are stronger combatants and have access to skills, human party members may defend, use items, and charge the skill meter. Additionally, party members and their MINDs have separate life bars, so managing health, offense, and defense takes a fair amount of thought and planning. All aspects combine to create a unique battle system that occasionally works as well as advertised.
Away from battle, players may travel to the various districts of Tokyo by using a point-and-click interface. Here, they may participate in story events, take missions, shop at the various stores, and enter any number of unlocked dungeons. The interface works well enough, but is minimalist and forgoes any direct exploration by providing players with a static image of a map. Many locations trigger cutscenes, helping to progress the story.
The story itself is told in the style of an anime visual novel, with static character images overlaid over still backgrounds. The voice acting is standard anime fare and will prove serviceable to fans of the genre. Unfortunately, this storytelling format is often lacking, as spectacular events are described to the player without ever being seen. Instead, terrible sound effects play, while the characters on screen shake and make faces. These scenes would be tolerable if not for their mediocre writing and sometimes overwhelming length. The game opens with about fifty minutes of cutscenes and tutorials before the player enters their first dungeon.
Dungeon exploration should be the bread and butter of a game like Mind Zero, but it is one of the game’s largest weaknesses. Players explore dungeons by moving around in the first person, walking from tile to tile amid long, barren hallways which are punctuated by random encounters. The dungeons lack any visual style and are assembled in such a haphazard way as to feel randomly generated, even though they are not. The first such dungeon consists of nothing but metal corridors, vaguely resembling an underground tunnel system, while later dungeons include an equally barren market district, a subway system, and an empty movie theater. One dungeon failed to load its texture at all until I was nearly finished, and when it did, it was every bit as bland as the white nothingness that had preceded it.
Battles take place randomly, and are interesting at first, as you gauge enemy weaknesses and work up a strategy for handling different situations. Sadly, as unique as the MIND summoning system is, it does not alleviate the highly repetitive battles or the highly repetitive enemies. Monster designs are bland, and pallet swaps are epidemic. Worse, pallet swapped enemies behave similarly to those that came before, with the same attacks and weaknesses.
To fight these battles, players have access to skills, which can be won during fights and equipped from the menu. These skills include elemental attacks, buffs, debuffs, and so on. The majority of them are useless, as they have niche applications or simply don’t affect the battle enough to make them worthwhile. I tested several of the buffs, and their enhancements were so minimal that they barely made up for the turn that was used to cast them.
In the end, strategy can only get you so far. Grinding tends to work better, as bosses on Normal difficulty become so strong by the mid-game that leveling becomes a necessity. Optional missions encourage even more grinding, instructing you to kill 10 of this creature or travel to the fifth floor of this already-explored dungeon.
On the technical side, Mind Zero simply isn’t up to par. Items don’t work as advertised, PS Vita instructions are given on the PC version of the game, frost spells feature animations that show bubbles and splashing water, and terrible lag creeps up during open areas. Status ailments are poorly explained, and there are bugs, oversights with the menu, and some of the most laughable sound effects you will ever hear.
In the end, Mind Zero is a game that few will enjoy. Its battle system is novel, and the rarity of 2016 turn-based RPGs may encourage some folks to give this game a look. However, due to its plentiful issues and boring gameplay, most players should steer clear. Instead, go dust off the ol’ SNES and fire up Chrono Trigger. After pushing through Mind Zero, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Developer: Acquire, Zerodiv
Publisher: Aksys Games
Original Release Date: March 8, 2016
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation Vita
ESRB Rating: T — Teen
*A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.
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