Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mind Zero (PS Vita) Review

Mind Zero follows the story of a high school student named Kei as he tries to figure out what Minds are and why they are able to cross over into our world.  To do so, he will meet other "Minders" (those that have met Minds and not been possessed by them) and go dungeon diving.  The dungeons and maps are very much like the old Wizardry games.  Navigation is in first-person perspective and the grid-like map is filled in as you explore it.  There are a few locked doors that sometimes require a switch, and other times use the touch screen to open them.  My biggest problem with the dungeons is how non-sequential they can be.  Sometimes, they flow from floor 1 to 2 to 3, but most times they start diverting.  The stairs for floor 8 might be on floor 3, and floor 4 might go to 6.  It gets pretty confusing, and is really strange.  Thankfully, there are teleporters in the dungeons that can ease some of the travel to the various depths.

While a lot of the game is reminiscent of the Wizardry series, you don't make your own characters.  Instead, you get actual story, dialogue and plot.  As much as I do like making my own characters, I liked the characters they made.  It was refreshing to play a dungeon crawler that had characters with personality and dialogue that was sometimes funny.  To appeal to both sets of fans, you can choose English or Japanese spoken lines every time you load a save file.  The game is separated into "Phases", basically story chapters, which start with some plot, then open up a dungeon for you to conquer before moving on to the next phase.  There's also requests (side quests) to do if you want extra money or insight into the characters.

Battles are where the game really stands out from its competition.  First, battles appear to be first-person, like the dungeons, but that's only for the enemies' attacks.  When your character attacks, you see them or their Mind perform it.  To me, it's a nice evolution of the fights in first-person RPGs.  Second are the Minds, which are partner creatures from the other realm.  While you Mind is active, you deal more damage (to most enemies), can use skills, and any damage you take is deducted from you MP, not HP.  You also lose some MP every turn your Mind is out.  If you run out of MP this way, your Mind will go away until re-summoned.  If you lose the remained of your MP when being attacked, you will suffer a "Mind Break" and will be stunned for a turn, leaving you very vulnerable.

I quickly learned that having your Mind up as much as possible is key to battling effectively.  MP is an easier resource to control in this game, it just took adjusting my mind to think of it that way.  Since skills can only be used when the Mind is active, and take HP and or TP, it seems more logical to treat HP and MP and MP as HP.  The characters die pretty quickly when taking HP damage, and since they deal more when the Mind is active, there's little reason to put them away.  There are a few enemies that take less damage from the Mind, and you don't want to run out of MP or worse, get Mind broken, so you don't want to throw them on every turn of every fight.  There's some strategy involved in using them, and I think the combat is good in the game.

Equipping skills is not as intuitive as it should be.  Abilities, like heal skills, are cast from the same menu as equipping them.  So one button will use it, and another button will bring up the list to equip them to a slot.  Still another will let you swap them with ones already on the list.  While that function is useful, remembering which button does what is an issue.  Also, partway through the game you gain the ability to use extra skill cards to power up skills.  It's a good thing that the limit of cards you can hold is so high, since I had close to the max before I gained this ability.  It will say on the card what leveling it up will do, but without hard numbers, I'm not sure how effective it is.  My powered up skills seem marginally better than the base ones, but I'd like to see just how much better they are.  Besides the healing ones, most skills didn't seem worth using very often.

There are over 10 phases in the game, and each takes several hours to complete.  I had to do some grinding for most dungeons, which will of course increase the playtime.  I can easily see spending 50 or so hours to complete the main game.  While progressing through the story, you'll get some trophies, of course.  Most of the trophies come with normal play, but there area few you'll have to work toward.  Doing all the side quests, getting every skill card and uncovering every square of every floor of every map would be ones most likely to be missed.  There is one for beating the game on the hardest setting, so make sure to do that if you want to get them all.

Overall, I had fun playing Mind Zero.  I didn't expect to like it, since I don't really like the Wizardry games and similar titles, but it didn't have many of the really frustrating aspects of those games (no fighting more than 6 guys, no formation nonsense).  I enjoyed the characters and dialogue, and combat was fresh and entertaining.  The biggest problems I had were the strange dungeon designs and the long, long load times.  While not the best RPG on the Vita, I'd recommend the game for fans of Wizardry-style games and people who like old-school turn based RPGs.

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