By Chris Melchin / June 7th, 2016
|Release Date||May 27, 2014 (Vita), March 8, 2016 (Steam)|
|Genre||RPG, Dungeon Crawler|
|Platform||PS Vita, Steam|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
In the past several months, Japanese developers and publishers have been paying increased attention to the PC and Steam, as more and more games previously exclusive to consoles have found their way onto the digital platform. Titles from the early-arriving Hyperdimension Neptunia series, to both Danganronpa games, even the new Senran Kagura: Estival Versus have found their way to Steam recently. It’s a wide assortment of games, and overall an exciting time for PC gamers, previously somewhat deprived of these niche Japanese console games. It’s not all amazing though, and for every well-executed port there are always a few sloppy ones. With the previously PS Vita-exclusive Mind Zero recently released on PC, which category do you think it falls into?
The latter, without a doubt. But I’ll get to that.
Mind Zero is a dungeon crawler disguised as a story-driven RPG, originally released on PS Vita in August 2013 in Japan, with North American and European releases coming the following May. It was developed by Acquire and ZeroDiv, before Acquire moved on to develop the Akiba’s Trip series and the recently-announced Akiba’s Beat. It was published in North America and Europe by Aksys Games. In September 2014, Aksys put up a page on Steam Greenlight for a PC version of Mind Zero. It was greenlit, and was eventually released in March 2016.
Before I look at the work Aksys did with porting the game over to PC, I’ll go over my thoughts on the game itself. There’s a fair amount to be said, so let’s get into it.
Right from the start, Mind Zero invites comparisons to the Persona series. The MINDs are remarkably similar to the Personas and Shadows present in that series, the character designs and concepts are similar, and the nature of the Inner and Outer Realms somewhat mirrors that of the real world and the TV world in Persona 4. Sana Chikage and Leo Asahina, the first two party members and close friends to protagonist Kei Takanashi, closely resemble Chie Satonaka and Yosuke Hanamura from Persona 4, even going so far as sharing English voice actors Erin Fitzgerald and Yuri Lowenthal. Big names, to be sure, but they don’t help keep the characters from being flat and uninteresting, with Fitzgerald in particular providing an uncharacteristically subpar performance. Nothing uttered by Sana seems like it’s enunciated correctly, providing a very different performance than she did for Chie in Persona 4 Golden despite Sana being the exact same archetype as Chie, the athletic tomboy. This performance stands out in comparison to the otherwise generally solid voice work.
However, while Persona 4 takes a somewhat long time with introduction, giving the player ample time to get to know the characters and get invested in them, Mind Zero starts with major story events involving the main characters right from the beginning, with barely any introductory dialogue to introduce the characters to the player. For the first six of twelve chapters, almost nothing significant to the story happens, with hardboiled detective Yoichi Ogata having the characters investigate strange happenings around the region serving as a limp excuse to send the player dungeon diving. Over and over again.
Make no mistake, Mind Zero is a dungeon crawler through and through, with the strangely-structured story serving as little more than a way to stitch the dungeons together. There are small side missions and optional interactions with the party characters, but these can be disregarded if you want to focus on the dungeons, or haven’t been given enough of a reason by the game to care about them. I only read the first few dialogues, before deciding it would be easier to just focus on the dungeons. The characters were simply not interesting enough to hold my interest. I never felt immersed in Mind Zero the way I did in Persona 4, and the lack of introduction and depth to the characters is a large part of why.
The way I see it, whether they be for games, movies, novels or any other medium, stories generally follow one of a few different formats. The most common that I’ve seen are three-act and five-act structures. The three-act story structure has the first act serving as set-up for the plot and introducing characters and settings; the second act has the main body of the plot; the third and final act has the main climax and aftermath, and some general conclusion. The five-act structure is similar, but with an extra prologue and epilogue. Meanwhile, Mind Zero has two distinct parts, with the first half obviously different from the second, with an abrupt, inconclusive ending after two underwhelming phases to the final boss. Mind Zero ends with a definite cliffhanger, as if Acquire and ZeroDiv were trying to set up a sequel that, in all likelihood, is never going to come.
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