Mind Zero Review
In between the Outer & Inner Realms
*Aksys Games provided the review copy to the reviewer*
For as long as I could remember, I've been playing RPG and JRPG titles. Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG, Grandia and Legend of Dragoon are just the tip of the iceberg. Growing up and seeing the genre grow as I did was a truly extraordinary thing. Some games of this genre are so advanced and frantic now, many people don't even go back to the retro titles. However, some titles in this day and age seek to remember the old school way and pay homage to the past. Mind Zero is a perfect example of how JRPG games used to feel back then but also brings the baggage as well.
A few minutes into Mind Zero, I was hit with a sudden and saddening realization. Elements from Persona 4 Golden or P4G are littered all over the place. High school students gifted with supernatural powers? Check. Having to save victims from an alternate world? Check. Mind Zero even nails the hard-boiled cop who is suspicious of the protagonists and the carefree assistant. Maybe if I hadn't just started to play P4G two months ago, I wouldn't have noticed the similarities between the two. However, this isn't the case and at one point, I had to take a step back and remind myself that this is a completely different game. Even though every once in awhile, the thought crept back still. Anyone who has played P4G will more than likely come to the same conclusion.
I also found that thinking of Mind Zero as a visual novel with combat sprinkled in helps ease into the transition. Personally, I'm not used to 1st person POVs in JRPGs and it bothered me a bit at first. The only time you see any character is in their 2D anime form during dialogue or when the player performs some kind of action in combat. Other than that, exploring dungeons is done through 1st person and exploring towns just has players clicking points on a map. These points either progress the story, are shops to buy items and accessories or side quest opportunities. Again, I slowly found myself slipping back into the P4G mindset, so I came up with a solution. Picturing this dungeon crawler as a visual novel helped me to stop comparing it so much to P4G and to focus more on what the title had to offer. In all honesty? If Mind Zero didn't have combat included, this would be strictly point and click. So in my opinion, I find this title to be more of the visual novel genre than JRPG.
The premise behind Mind Zero is that a drug called MIND has been hitting the streets, granting its users unnatural super strength. Having these so-called powers isn't so great when said person is hallucinating and ultimately becomes extremely violent. The government and police crack down on all MIND users but the truth is something completely different. Players take control of Kei Takanashi, a high school student who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of this, Kei is granted unusual powers thanks to an otherworldly creature known as a MIND and is now a Minder. A Minder is someone who can see other MINDs while the general populace cannot. Wanting to find out the actual truth behind what a MIND is, Kei must clear away the lies and see through the fog of confusion.
Of course, Kei won't be alone on this adventure. Throughout the story, unique Minders will join up with him to seek the truth. Right from the beginning, Sana Chikage and Leo Asahina are both minders and go to the same school as Kei. It's only natural for them to team up right? Recruiting fellow minders is as mandatory as it is important. Combat, in my opinion, is the meat and potatoes of the experience but for mostly wrong reasons. Battles can only take place while exploring dungeons and as I said before, it's in 1st person. I've gotten lost a number of times in dungeons and had to fight twice the amount of enemies because of it. The reason for this is because of the random encounters and while I tried to find my way, I continuously had to fight hordes of enemies.
Mind Zero features some very simple mechanics, leaving the learning curve to be quite shallow. Once the battle starts, players choose the action for each team member on the field. Each character has two phases they can enter at will. The first is just their regular state and the other is when the MIND helps participate in combat.
During the active MIND phase, Kei and his companions have access to three options. The first is a standard attack to inflict damage, skills (such as healing spells or devastating attacks) make up the second choice and a special feature called Burst is a third. The Burst feature is similar to the Bravely Second mechanic in Bravely Default. Whoever chooses this option not only gets an extra turn but also gets to act before anyone else. Burst also allows players to escape from battle and use items when in the MIND state. For some reason or another, players can't escape or use items unless Burst is activated when the MIND is turned on. Players won't be able to abuse the Burst feature repeatedly because doing so greatly drains that character's TP or Technical Points. TP is needed for performing skills and to activate Burst. In addition to TP, there's MP or Mind Points as it's referred to in-game. Besides the character's health, MP is the second most important gauge to watch for. It is what allows the player to call upon the MINDs to help in battle. If that gauge hits zero, MINDs can't be called back until the gauge replenishes itself and the character is stunned. Taking damage in the MIND state is what decreases MP, so it's crucial to switch in and out of the phrase when those points become dangerously low.
With MIND turned on, Kei and his allies won't lose health when taking damage but rather MP instead. To counteract, turning MIND off means HP will decrease when getting hit but allows for the MP gauge to recharge. To speed up the process and reduce the amount of damage taken, selecting Charge allows characters to defend and save up MP/TP quicker. With all of this being said, the combat has some depth to it all but after investing a few hours into Mind Zero; repetition starts to rear its ugly head. Thankfully, there's a fast-forward button to move things along quicker but dungeon crawling here gets boring quickly.
While I'm on the topic, I've already covered that exploring dungeons is done in 1st person. I'm not a big fan of the POV choice because it hinders exploration in my honest opinion and just feels awkward since I'm not used to it anyway. There have been times where I was stuck for the longest time, unable to find a way to progress forward. Almost every single time though, the way forward was right next to me...literally. Since you can only see what's directly in front of you, looking to the right or left is pretty hard because the camera moves so fast, you can barely see what just flashed by. The movements are grid-based, which means going straight, left, right or backwards is all done in the confines of a square. No diagonal movements, no jumping, just walking square by square. The map certainly helps out but I shouldn't have to constantly resort to a map in order for me to plot my way through a dungeon either.
As depicted in the screenshot above, the environments are completely bland and uninspiring. Hidden potentials are all over but none really tap into what could have been creative backdrops. I know Mind Zero went for an old school vibe but sprucing it up a bit would have been welcomed. Part of the reason I don't like the exploring bit in this title is because the environments are quite dull. On the other hand, the 2D anime models and story-based screenshots are of good quality at least. I also noticed Mind Zero has a lot of load times and particularly long ones at that. Every time you enter a floor or make a transition from dungeon to town, the game takes a long time to load up. I know long load times still exist in some games but I personally haven't experienced any in quite some time.
So basically what Mind Zero boils down to is this: it's an old school dungeon crawler with a visual novel flair and point & click features to explore towns. I came into this title with no expectations because I didn't want to spoil or taint myself with someone else's thoughts and I'm still on the fence about it all. Some days, I'm perfectly fine with the retro format and others; I wished more could have gone into this game. Mind Zero could have been truly great or at least good but instead it's just... alright.
+ Old school vibe catered to those interested
+ 2D anime models and screenshots look nice
- Long load times
- Repetitive combat
- 1st Person view hinders exploring dungeons
- "Exploring" towns barely counts as such.
Recommending Mind Zero comes a bit hard for me, even to fans of JRPGs, RPGs and Dungeon Crawlers. I feel like Acquire was onto something here but that idea got lost on the way or ideas didn't quite work out so well. In any case, Mind Zero is one of those games you approach with caution or play first before buying. Some will love it, other will hate it. As for myself? I'm currently stuck between realms.