Mind Zero is a title we have been following for some time, and I am happy to report that it not only met but surpassed my expectations. Mind Zero follows high school students who seem typical enough at first, but soon discover that they are involved in something much bigger than they ever would have imagined. Kei serves as our primary lead here, though there is a decently sized cast of characters who are all very well illustrated and voice acted. There is an option to listen to the dialog in either Japaneses or English. Both seemed well-done, though I opted for the English.
These are quirky, generally likeable characters and the stellar art design for them combined with the voice acting only adds to their charm. On top of the voice acting, the audio presentation benefits from excellent music throughout the game. A bit more variety in the music would have been nice, but what is there is enjoyable and always seems to fit the mood of the current scene or situation.
The presentation tops out in these areas, but leaves a little to be desired in both the often repetitive sound effects and the lacking appearance of the monsters in combat. The models for opponents in the first-person view feel almost fuzzy and lower in resolution than they deserve, especially when contrasted to the crisp cutscene and character portraits. There is not a lot of animation to be had here, as is somewhat the norm with titles like this where character portraits are placed on screen next to text boxes.
Mind Zero feels as though it has been inspired by several different games. The map system to move about from one point to another replaces a true overworld map and has been showing up in portable RPGs more and more of late. The high school characters and their MIND counterparts have a distinctly Persona feel to them. In combat your characters can summon their MIND counterparts to not just overpower your enemies, but actually lend some strategic depth to what is otherwise a fairly standard turn-based combat system.
Summoning an extra 'power' like the MINDs in many RPG titles would be all about the offense - doing loads of damage to bosses or even groups of enemy characters. Here the MIND companions are more intelligently integrated as they also serve as damage sponges that act as defensive stalwarts as well. They are fueled by MP that drain instead of your character's health when the MIND is summoned. Should the MIND be broken in combat, they are rendered unavailable for several turns, often leading to some interesting, challenging boss battles.
Once you pick up the best way to utilize the MIND component of combat, Mind Zero does become a good deal easier. Between this and the somewhat forgiving random encounter rate, Mind Zero does feel a little bit easier than other dungeon crawling games, but I appreciated the fact I could drive the story forward without hours upon hours of needless grinding. I actually am a gamer who does not mind grinding most of the time, because I do derive a sense of enjoyment from leveling up characters and unlocking new abilities, but not having to was also a nice option.
While the combat is obviously an important part of what Mind Zero has to bring to the table, it does all come with a lot of text. Early on, Mind Zero can almost feel a bit more like a visual novel than a game, because you are not making decisions that alter the storyline, but paging through a lot of dialogue between characters. Your attachment to said characters will likely affect how willing you are to read through it all, but because I enjoyed them so much myself, I was quite content to read through several minutes of text between my combat-filled journeys.
The combat system, character artwork and the characters themselves feel as though they deserved a slightly better story. Investigating this sort of spirit world makes for an interesting premise, but I realized about halfway through the game that I was far more invested in the characters and their interactions with one another than I was in the upcoming plot point. This is a completely original property however, and there are hints of more at play in the world than everything Mind Zero serves up throughout the course of the adventure. This makes me hopeful that Mind Zero will receive enough support to warrant further games from the studio.
Mind Zero is absolutely worth playing for fans of dungeon crawling RPGs. It may feel somewhat similar, or a little too familiar to some other titles, but does enough to create some distinction for itself as well. This is a title that gets a lot of things right, but still feels like it has room to grow and improve if given the chance.
Review by Nick
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