Mind Zero was originally a Playstation Vita exclusive released back in 2014. It was jointly developed by Acquire and ZeroDiv, and published by Aksys Games in North America. The game was also greenlit on Steam. Now, this Steam version is finally being released; nearly two years later.
Mind Zero is essentially a first-person dungeon crawler RPG wrapped in a visual novel. It often gets compared to Persona, and while it is obvious it was somewhat inspired by the series, it is not a fair comparison. Mind Zero has much more in common with Etrian Odyssey or SMT: Soul Hackers. However, Mind Zero’s dungeon crawling is much more bare-bones than these other games. Puzzles are limited to finding switches to open paths, or moving through series of straight-forward conveyer belts. The dungeon designs are long-winded, but simultaneously uninspired. Because of this, and a because of a rather high encounter rate, dungeon crawling eventually feels more like a chore than like satisfying exploration.
What’s worse, the game has quite a lot of balancing problems. Because encounters happen often, experience is plentiful. Level-ups are common. However, the stat growth gained from leveling up never feels significant. Similarly, you’re rewarded for exploring with treasure chests, but decent items are dropped so often from combat that these rewards lose their worth.
Mind Zero’s battle system has problems, too. Each player uses a “MIND” to fight in combat. The player is able to freely toggle between using the skills of the MIND and attacking as a human each turn. When using your MIND and their skills, your Life Points are used up. When doing this, you take damage to your Magic Points. When you are a human, you’re able to recharge your Magic Points and you take damage to your Life Points as normal. In addition, TP is used up by skills and slowly refills each turn. The initial concept is a good one, and I was having fun at first. However, they quickly introduce an elemental magic system. This is where problems begin.
The elemental system seems to break the damage calculations. The game doesn’t tell you this in any tutorial, but each “MIND” can damage well with only certain elements. You can see these by pressing a button on the status menu. I accidentally found this out while searching for information about the game. My question was: “Why do my base attacks do more damage than the magic attacks the enemies are weak to?” So, I re-equipped my skills to the correct characters. This slightly boosted damage, but never fixed the problem. Because damage output felt so out of my control and battles happened so often, I ended up switching from Normal to Easy difficulty. Only here did the elemental attacks seem to actual work correctly. However, enemies now did minuscule amounts of damage, effectively negating all strategy and challenge in the game.
Mind Zero also has problems with pacing. Dungeons vary between being reasonable and being tediously long-winded, with little warning. The first dungeon of the game had 4 floor. The second one had 9, with floors nearly twice the size. Two additional mechanics in the game are: the ability to fuse skills together to make stronger ones, and the ability to level-up skills. The problem is: I wasn’t able to do so for the first 9 hours I played. Only after unlocking a third new area was I finally able to use the skill points that I’d been earning from every single battle since the start of the game. Problems like these make the gameplay feel tedious. It’s a real shame, too. The gameplay had promise, but feels uninspired and half-finished.
Despite these flaws, the story is quite well-done. It plays out much like you would expect from a Shin Megami Tensei game, and it feels fresh and interesting. The characters are unique and interesting, and it’s fun to watch how they interact with each other. Even better, the game allows you to choose which language you hear them in. While the English is very hit-and-miss, the Japanese is very well-done. Voice tracks aren’t the only high quality portion of the audio, either. The soundtrack is fantastic. It sets the mood extremely well, whether in a dungeon or in town. I found myself stopping to listen quite a few times, just because I liked the songs.
As Mind Zero is a PC port of a PS Vita game, I should address how well it has been ported. The answer is: poorly. Easily the most glaring and obnoxious problem is how the developers have introduced key binding. There are 4 keys for the Vita D-pad and 4 keys for the left stick. This makes sense. The uses of these buttons, however, makes very little sense. You can use either the D-pad or the left stick to navigate through the battle menu, but the main menu requires the D-pad. You can use either to select whether to enter a dungeon or not, but you can only use the D-pad to change floors within one. This problem isn’t just with the directional buttons, either. For example, you generally select a menu option with the A button, however, when changing out skills, you use the X button. These problems are all compounded by the fact that, while you are able to look at the controls of game at any point by pressing the Back button, they only show the generic button icon. They don’t show how you’ve mapped them. Since these icons are used nowhere else in the game and don’t always make sense (X button doesn’t have an X icon), this feature is effectively useless. Finally, there is barely any mouse functionality. Some menus you can use it in, like the start menu, but most you can’t. You have a cursor on the map that you can control with the mouse, but the controls are entirely inverted. The mouse does seem to work fine when replacing the few leftover touch-screen style prompts found in dungeons, though.
Beyond control options, there are few other options. You can choose between playing in full-screen or in windowed mode. You can adjust volume of sound effects, music, and voices. You can change the game’s difficulty. But graphics options are non-existent. This is a real shame, because the game could really use some. While the visual novel sections look good, the dungeon crawling sections look rather poor in true HD resolution. Textures are obviously low resolution, aliasing is everywhere, screen tearing is common, and models are low-poly. These aren’t the end of the world, but don’t come in expecting to make the game look any better than it did originally.
In the end, Mind Zero on Steam is a rather poor port of an unpolished dungeon crawler. The initial game had promise, but ultimately fell flat with gameplay that is underwhelming and often tedious. But, even so, there is fun to be had if you’re a fan of dungeon crawlers, or even of RPG’s set in present-day Japan. The story is genuinely entertaining, with characters that are fun to interact with. The soundtrack is fantastic, and really sets the mood, too. However, I’d highly recommend anyone interested to buy the Playstation Vita version instead.
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