Mind Zero is all about battling between an alternate world and the ‘regular’ world and humans having MINDs; summonable creatures-come-guardians who can be called into aid you during battle or against whom you will be battling. You play as Kei Takanashi, a laid back high school student, drawn into the investigation of MINDS, the alternate world and the surrounding mysteries by his friends, and party members, and a mysterious detective.
Mind Zero is a narrative driven dungeon-crawler RPG which draws a little inspiration from the Persona series as well as Danganronpa, amongst other games. The core gameplay in Mind Zero is dungeon crawling RPG battling between text/voice heavy narrative scenes serving to pushing the story forward.
The characters are clearly inspired heavily by anime; for the most part they’re loud, brazen and magnified personalities, particularly in the case of Kei’s best friend Leo, a particularly humorous yet loveable class clown. Kei is the most subtly delivered character; he’s a man of few words and has no time for nonsense, but remains likeable as easily the most balanced and least caricatured character in the game.
Mind Zero takes place across a number of districts in Japan, each with their own area map containing a station to travel between the areas, convenience and weapon stores, and dungeons alongside other key locations. It’s a nice touch that the area which will progress the story is marked for you to see, enabling you to clear side quests, learn more about the characters or stock up on items and weapons before proceeding with the story. The narrative sections are delivered in a bright and colourful 2D comic-esque style not dissimilar style to Danganronpa or Virtue’s Last Reward.
As well as English text, the EU and US release of Mind Zero contains both the original Japanese voiceover and a new English version and the game allows you to switch between the two upon loading a save or starting a new game. It’s a nice touch and adds to the atmosphere overall, however I personally found it difficult to listen to the Japanese voices while trying to read in English, so I changed it back to the English voiceovers which, I’m happy to report, are well done and the voices match the characters and their personalities.
Without giving too much away, the story does a good job of explaining the predicament Kei finds himself in, the reasons it has happened and the background to MINDs and the alternate world. The background feels fleshed out enough to create a world which never feels too far-fetched or confusing.
The main gameplay in Mind Zero is the dungeon crawling RPG battling. Kei and his cast of friends form a party of three that sets out into the dungeons, often with a specific objective or enemy to battle to progress the story. Battling for the most part is standard turn-based RPG fare allowing you to choose what each character will do in the next round of moves before proceeding. You are able to call your MIND character at any time, providing you’ve built up the necessary gauge first, and the MINDs have their own move and health meters.
Mind Zero also adds the ability to Charge or Burst – the former allows you to skip a turn in favour of building up the battle meters more swiftly, while the latter allows you to instantly attack a target at the cost of depleting your move gauge more swiftly. It’s not too dissimilar to the battle system seen in 3DS title Bravely Default, and adds the need to carefully consider your approach tactically before committing to making your move.
Thankfully, when you consider elemental strengths and weaknesses, the battle system is interesting enough to keep coming back to and provides enough of a consistent challenge to constantly keep you mindful of your actions; the enemies can be particularly relentless if you choose the wrong move and a number of enemies can take a huge chunk of health gauges making you regret any mistakes. Sure, it’s possible to exploit the difficulty and continuously grind the same area until you are over-powered to smash through enemies like butter, but it’s a caveat that many RPGs can potentially suffer from.
There are a number of side quests in Mind Zero, all helpfully highlighted between story tasks on the area maps and documented within the games menu system. The side quests vary radically between simple conversations between characters, to hunting for a missing animal or fulfilling specific conditions within a dungeon – kill x amount of enemy y for example. If you wish, you can skip the side quests entirely and you wouldn’t miss much in doing so, but by completing them you discover more background on key characters including their emotions which enables you to feel closer to the characters and make the game more immersive overall.
Unfortunately, it’s when you’re in the dungeons that Mind Zero loses itself graphically. Rather than stick to the bright 2D art style laden with personality that the rest of the games utilises, the dungeons are exceptionally bland 3D environments with very little, if anything, to look at as you trudge along a seemingly repeating corridor until you find a place to turn, or a door. It’s a shame that the developers chose to make the dungeons like this, when they could have chosen to design them in a similar style and it would have made the dungeons considerably more interesting to play in.
Likewise, many of the enemy designs lack personality or interesting features, especially when compared to the beautifully detailed 2D representations of the MINDs that you will see repeatedly. Little is done to reduce the polarity between the two art styles and it does have a detrimental effect on the game – the 3D sections look particularly ugly following a detailed and interesting 2D story scene.
Another concern, again in the dungeons, is the games pacing. Some of the dungeons feel particularly long for the sake of it, adding extra floors seemingly just to flesh them out rather than including them for a considered reason. There are a number of instances where it feels like Mind Zero is deliberately slowing you down leading to frustration. For example one early side quest tasks you with finding a missing cat. This is done by speaking to shopkeepers to find information and track the cat down. The frustration comes with the fact that you have to visit the same handful of shops repeatedly until you discover the relevant information in a very specific order.
On the plus side, Mind Zero makes good use of the Vita and its control options. It’s obvious that the developer has spent some time getting the control scheme right, mapping useful orders to easily triggered buttons and it really does feel like the game was designed based on the Vita and its inputs as opposed to vice versa.
Mind Zero is a great game, hampered by some ominous design choices. The dungeons could have been much more interesting to explore and look at, which would have gone a long way in helping Mind Zero feel like a complete experience rather than two completely separate parts of the same game. The story does just about enough to keep you going, giving you some motivation, but issues with pacing and missions that feel like filler hold back an otherwise interesting game with a decent concept that has potential to be explored deeper in the future.