Mind Zero is a new role-playing game from Acquire and ZeroDiv, the developer of the RPG Class of Heroes for the PSP. In Mind Zero, they’ve tried to craft a memorable role-playing adventure in which high school students try to solve mysteries with the help of otherworldly beings while interacting with friends and diving into dungeons. Folks, welcome to “Persona Lite.”
If you make a game in which the main character is a slightly brooding teenage male who, all of the sudden, is whisked away to a space between realities and is gifted with the ability to summon an otherworldy creature, you should expect the comparisons to the Persona series to fly. And as much as I tried to dive into Mind Zero with a fresh perspective and no preconceived notions, I couldn’t help but be slapped with the “Hey! That’s just like in Persona!” flag a bunch of times.
In Mind Zero, you take on the role of Kei Takanashi, a high school student who happens upon an attempted murder. After he and his friends stop it, he finds himself whipped away into a strange weapons shop that exists between worlds. He’s told by the owner of the shop, a young woman who calls herself “The Undertaker,” that he can choose any weapon he likes, but to choose wisely. If he chooses the wrong weapon, he dies.
Luckily, they burden of choice does not fall to you, the player, and Kei chooses wisely, picking a weapon and then entering a contract with a MIND, otherwise known as a “Major Inner Node Displacement.” These guys are from the Inner Realm, which is a space removed from our own. When they find their counterpart in the Outer Realm, where we are, then they can fight together.
Mind Zero is primarily played out in two parts: dungeon crawling and advancing through the story via visual novel. You’ll see portraits of the many different characters interacting with other during scenes, all voice acted in English and Japanese, through story nodes on the map. You’ll also find shops, dungeons and train stations that will take you to other towns on the world map.
I found Mind Zero to be a little heavy on the visual novel side, but this wasn’t necessarily bad because I enjoy a good bit of character development and world-building. The problem here is that there’s so much time spent with exposition in the beginning and so many side quests that send you from one place to another only to view brief scenes, that I would have rather it stuck to a visual novel format complete with branching storylines and choices.
But when you’re not hearing your friends talk about their awesome new MINDs or fulfilling some kind of anime character archetype’s behaviors, you’ll be in dungeons, fighting other MINDs and completing quests. While the comparisons to Persona 3 and Persona 4 are plenty, thanks to Mind Zero’s premise, the dungeon portions are more in line with the classic Persona and Shin Megami Tensei titles, meaning that you stroll through maze-like dungeons in first-person perspective, moving from block to block. Once in a battle, you’ll be faced with your enemies and can take turns attacking, using skills, charging up to defend and restore MP, bursting to hasten your turn or trying to run away. At any point in time, so long as you have the MP, you can summon your MND, which attacks for a lot more damage and can absorb incoming damage for you. Just be mindful (no pun, I swear) of its HP, since you’ll get stunned and miss a turn in combat if it drops to zero.
The best thing about Mind Zero is the production value and the crisp, 2D art present in the visual novel scenes. Backgrounds might be a little uninspired, but they at least look pretty good. The 3D portions, however, like in dungeons and battles, aren’t very impressive. Animations aren’t very smooth, which is weird because every time you attack, it looks as if your character is sliding towards the enemy rather than running, with rudimentary attack animations. But at least the MIND designs are unique and creative, giving you something cool to look at anyway.
I had the most trouble deciding whether or not I liked the sound quality in the game. While the voice acting is decent (and a little hammy, but what else would you expect from something anime-esque), the actually quality of the sound was a bit fuzzy, almost like you were hearing them through light static. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but it was enough that I could notice it every time a character spoke. And the soundtrack... oh, the soundtrack. It wants so badly to be composed by Shoji Meguro; I’ll just leave it at that.
Mind Zero is a decent role-playing game that reminds me so much of the Persona series that it makes me want to dig out my copy of Persona 4. But to leave it at that would be doing the game a disservice, since it actually does present an interesting story, shallow but fun characters, and gameplay that can get addictive. It might not be a AAA title or have us humming its soundtrack all day the way Persona does, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series and RPGs in general.
This review is based on a digital version of Mind Zero for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review..