Developer: Acquire, ZeroDiv
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: May 27, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Ever wonder what happens when demon-like creatures begin to break into our world, and a handful of people who bond with them are the only ones that can prevent our world from being overrun? If I said â€œStop me if you heard this one beforeâ€¦â€ you might have stopped me already but you“d be wrong. Obvious comparisons to Persona aside, Mind Zero is a first-person dungeon-crawler RPG with a lot of personality of it“s own if you can get past a few of its initial similarities to other games.
I have to admit my very first impression wasn“t really a good one. The characters seemed typical. Same goes for the combat too. I really didn“t know what to think at first, but thankfully it started to get better. Characters started to become more interesting. Events started to stand out. Combat became more involved. I started to like the game. Unfortunately it did take a while to get there, an initial investment that might turn off many players. Broody hero, check. Supernatural powers manifested through an otherworldly counterpart, check. Lovable female you feel compelled to protect, check. So yeah, with the way Mind Zero begins I wouldn“t expect many to be impressed.
The constant that kept me interested were the designs. They“re dark, but not too dark. The characters themselves are drawn beautifully in the 2D character portraits that appear during dialogue scenes and various menus and input screens. They really stand out as one of the best aspects of the game, with a level of production value that simply doesn't prove consistent with the other visual elements of the game. The 3D models that are shown for the characters are poor representations of their 2D counterparts. This disconnect between the quality is not only noticeable, at times it's pretty staggering. The same character from the level up screen, dialogue scenes and 3D in-battle models look almost like completely different characters at times with the latter being downright sad in comparison. This lack of consistency carries over into most of the in-battle graphics as well, with roughly aliased 3D models for the same 10 or so palette-swapped enemies making up the entirety of non-boss type enemies throughout the game. So aside from dialogue and menu designs, the part of the game you'll be spending most of your time with, dungeons and battles, simply don't live up to what the Vita is capable of.
Ultimately, the dungeon and battle graphics are the games largest hurdle, but it's hardly the only one. While the story comes into its own, it definitely takes its time. The first three chapters create hardly any motivation to move forward other than for the sake of simply moving forward. The next few chapters begin adding some intrigue, but it really isn't until about halfway through that the game“s plot hits its stride. Even so, the game is filled with great character interaction that only gets better as time goes on. If the 3D models and graphics in Mind Zero is the worst part of the game, the characters and their journey are definitely the best. The American voice actors definitely do their part in bringing these characters to life too, most of which will definitely sound familiar to fans of similar games. Though I've managed to figure out a few of the voice actors, it's a shame the cast isn't billed in the credits.
And while the voice acting is pretty good (the game even features the original Japanese voice track) the rest of the game's audio leaves something to be desired. Sound effects and music during battles are downright offensive to the ears; they're unbalanced, screaming through the speakers and drowning out the occasional voice clip from the characters. Thankfully you can adjust the volume levels from the options menu, which I definitely suggest. Outside of battles though, the music at least is a huge improvement. There's a lot of variety to the tracks and most are good enough to listen to outside of the game.
We've covered pretty much everything else, so how's the combat? Well in a word, just a smidge above simple. Each character can attack or use items on their own. When a character has their MIND summoned, the battle changes a bit. Each character has access to a number of customizable skill cards to use in battle. Anything from typical physical and elemental based attacks, to passive bonuses to status resistances or stats. As your character levels up, more skill cards can be equipped to their MIND making each character a nearly blank slate (with only their stat progression giving them predisposed proficiency in certain aspects) allowing players to use the characters they like most throughout the game with little consequence. While a character's MIND is summoned it also takes damage in place of that character, with "MIND points" being their health. There's also a cost associated with keeping your MIND out each turn but that's minor.
Unfortunately, if an enemy attack brings your MP down to zero your MIND "breaks" which causes your character to be stunned next turn and unable to resummon your MIND for two turns. Because of this, watching your MP is definitely as important as watching your LP (Life Points), and unsummoning your MIND and "charging" (a defensive action that allows you to recover MP faster) becomes pretty important regularly in battles. The enemy types are also often mixed up, with plenty of monsters of varying elements and those resistant to MIND attacks being thrown together, causing players to adjust their strategy from battle to battle. On the hardest difficulty, Mind Zero gives you nearly no margin for error, but lesser difficulties (which can be selected from the menu at any time) can provide a more user friendly experience with no grinding required if that's more to your thing. But really the best part about the combat is that it isn't overly complicated or filled with mechanics that promise infinite cosmic power but instead provide an itty bitty living space.
Other little nagging details exist, sure. Stuff like the lack of comprehensive tutorials about enhancing and upgrading skill cards was certainly noticeable (with some reviewers even being downright wrong about how these systems work, but it's hard to blame them for the misunderstanding) but overall I had fun with Mind Zero. To be honest, if I had not been assigned this review I might not have made it past the first few chapters, but I'm very glad I did. The jarring visual gap between the impressive 2D art and 3D models became much less of an issue to me as time went on. I became more attached to the characters, each one blossoming into a stereotype-defying character as time went on. Even combat, though not the best and brightest RPGs currently have to offer, became more impressive with access to new and better skill and EX cards, and the balance of offense and defensive actions.
Mind Zero may not be an outright Cave of Wonders, but if good characters and a good story can help you past the game's flaws, you might just find yourself a diamond in the rough with this title. At the very least, paying less than the $40 MSRP should really help with the polishing!
+ Great character designs
+ Great character interactions & story
+ Simple yet rewarding combat
- Slow start may bore players
- Game's 3D models look cheap
- Terrible sound quality when in battles
Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10)
Mind Zero has plenty to offer players interested in a good story with solid gameplay, but the poor graphics and sound quality might prevent them from ever seeing it.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.