Mind Zero / マインドゼロ

Today, I'm going to be talking about a JRPG about a group of Japanese high schoolers that each bond with a unique magical being, allowing them to fight alongside said being, prompting them to venture into an alternate, twisted version of our own world to fight other magical beings and get to the bottom of what's going on. And if the title of this post and image right above this paragraph didn't give it away, I'm not talking about Persona. No, I'm talking about the Persona knock-off, Mind Zero!

Calling it a "Persona knock-off" is a bit rude though, since while the basic premise of the plot is the same and it's also a JRPG, Mind Zero does then go off and do its own thing. It may not be as good a thing as Persona's, but it's still its own thing.

The game starts off with our protagonist, Takanashi Kei, a cool and detached kid, getting attacked by a mysterious monster. The next thing he knows, he's in a shop filled with weapons and a woman called Undertaker. Undertaker says that there's one weapon that will give Kei the power to fight the creature, but every other one will kill him. Kei chooses the right weapon (otherwise we wouldn't have a game) and forms a contract with a MIND, allowing him to fight off the monster that had attacked him, another MIND.

Kei discovers that another one of his classmates, Chikage Sana, a tomboyish action girl, has also formed a contract with a MIND, and a third friend, Asahina Leo, a hyper chuunibyou, soon forms a contract himself. Kei's friend Shizuku also discovers that she can see MINDs even though she doesn't have a contract, which should be impossible. They join together with Ogata Yoichi, a mysterious older detective, Shiragiku Kotone, a shy and reserved girl from another school, and Lina Albertine, a girl whose family has been fighting MINDs for generations, to discover what's going on with all the portals to the MIND world and Shizuku's powers.

The plot is interesting enough and the characters are fun. I wouldn't really call this a plot-based game, but the plot does a good enough reason of stringing the events together and making you want to continue. Considering it's a dungeon crawler about exploration and fighting, that's all the plot needs to do. The biggest problems are that the plot basically stalls out for the last part of the game, where you just go from dungeon to dungeon without much happening, and the game ends on a massive cliffhanger, with several explicit sequel hooks. Which is a shame, since it seems pretty unlikely there's going to be a sequel; while we aren't left with a satisfying resolution in this game, it does seem like it could've gotten pretty interesting if things had been allowed to progress further.

The characters have good chemistry and interesting designs (especially the person/MIND pair aspect), which makes it fun to watch them interact. You can only have three of them in your active party, but the other three will call out things during battle, and they balance screen time for the six of them in cutscenes, which does make them feel like a team. There are quests you can take to learn more about the characters. I actually wish there were more, but I suppose it means that the characters don't wear out their welcome.

The graphics are pleasing, for the most part. The sprites are pretty, and occasionally there will be a very pretty CG. One small problem was that all the cutscenes were done with sprites and very minimal vfx, which made "action-y" cutscenes underwhelming. But that's the nature of the beast with VN-style cutscenes. Monster designs were fine (even if there were a lot of palette swaps); the biggest complaint is probably the models for the humans in battle. They just... don't fit with the aesthetic of the game well. I loved the visual design of the dungeons, though. Each one was themed on a different kind of place, and walking around looking at the scenery was fun.

The design of the dungeons themselves, however... was not that inspired. It takes place on a grid and a map gets filled out as you walk around, which ensures you never get lost, but there's never anything particularly interesting or exciting in terms of navigating. For the most part, the most interesting things get is flipping a switch to open a door in another area. While it will sometimes do things slightly differently, it never gets that varied or deep. But I really loved the way the dungeons looked.

The battle system is a turn-based system where you control three of the six characters in battle. You have three main gauges, and each character can have their MIND engaged or disengaged each turn. Your first gauge is LP, which is your life. When your MIND is disengaged, you gain some MP every turn, you can attack, charge (which defends and recovers more MP), use an item or escape. Your second gauge is MP, which is your MIND's life. When your MIND is engaged, your MIND will take damage for you (to its MP), you lose a little MP every turn, and your stats are powered up, and you can attack and use skills. The final gauge is TP, which recharges 1 point per round and is used for skills and burst. Skills are what they sound like, and burst lets you take an immediate action outside the turn order. TP is there to prevent you from just spamming super-powerful spells/burst all the time. Also, if an enemy attacks and reduces your MP to 0, you enter a "MIND break," where you're stunned for one turn, and can't generate any MP for a turn after that.

So the general flow of combat is to attack with your MIND-empowered stats until you run low on MP, charge your MP up while taking some LP damage, reengaging your MIND and using a healing spell, and starting over again. Except there's one final important aspect of the battle system: only LP and TP carries over from battle to battle; you start every battle at full MP. So against regular enemies, you just go on an all-out offensive, since you can usually beat them before they touch your LP (even if you use all your MP). So this creates a weird dynamic in the difficulty for most of the game, since regular battles are easy--you can beat most of them by just setting the game to "auto," which simply forces every character to attack every round--but boss battles are intense. The game alternates between empowered regular enemies and actual boss monsters as bosses, but the boss monsters are difficult. So you run through the dungeon like a cakewake, but then have a super-tough battle at the end. Which I actually liked! A lot of times I find that RPG battle systems get tedious as you get through the game, so I actually appreciated not having to micromanage every single fight, and being able to multitask while playing. For the last part of the game, however, this dynamic switches, where the regular enemies get tough enough that you do need to pay attention a little bit, but the bosses become massive pushovers.

Skills are done through skill cards, which are dropped by enemies. Each character starts with only one skill slot, but it increases to eight over the course of the game. Skills can evolved into other skills or strengthened to be more potent, both of which cost other skill cards. This gives a fair bit of customization to build the characters as you want them (or at least their skills). One complaint is that you can only hold 256 cards. While this is might sound like a lot, considering how many skill cards you want to have on-hand for each situation, it adds up fast. (There are four elements, and you want three of each card since you can have three characters in battle... so when you think of offensive, defensive, single-target, multi-target, strong, medium, weak, etc, variations on the cards, it all multiplies very fast.) Each character also has two slots for armor and one slot for an accessory (they have a weapon slot... but you can't change it), but you usually just slap on the stuff with the highest defense rating. The customization is mostly in the skills, since you can't affect the stats outside of equipment, but all characters want defense. Speaking of stats, you'd probably think that they'd give each character different stat distributions but comparable stat totals, so they'd function slightly differently in battle but be about equal in power. And you'd be wrong! Four of the characters have similar stat totals, but there's one character who is miles ahead and one character who is miles behind the others. Which especially sucks, because the character who had the worst stats was the one I wanted to use the most, but the game wasn't quite interesting enough for me to be willing to handicap myself like that. Argh.

I think the only thing left to mention is the music, which I thought was pretty good. It helped contribute to the eerie vibe, and it meant there was a bright side to every surprise attack.

So yeah, Mind Zero is a game. It doesn't do anything particularly great, but there also isn't any glaring flaws. Except for the ending, which is only really a "flaw" because the rest of the series never got made. The fact that the battle system and dungeon isn't that deep when it's the core of the gameplay also makes things feel even more lukewarm.

Not "bad," but I'd only recommend that you pick it up if you like DRPGs, want a low-brainpower game to pass the time, and don't care about closure.

Based on the Japanese Vita version.

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