Some may say that the Vita isn’t getting any games, which may be true from the perspective of the traditional American gamer that is looking for the next great AAA game from Sony themselves. Behind the curtain however, the Vita is being inundated with release after release of JRPG localizations that may elude most gamers’ awareness. They range from horrible to something a little closer to perfect. Perhaps the most agonizing trend is the lack of any real change or update in the genre at all. Mind Zero (stylized MIND≒0) actually manages to break free from a couple JRPG tropes, while full embracing a few others and exuding mediocrity the whole way.
Mind Zero tells the story of some high school teens that come into knowledge of an alternate world adjacent to their own, a world home to creatures known as MINDs. One by one, each student is granted a weapon and paired with a MIND of their own to defend the human world. The story is actually pretty intriguing and finds itself full of twists and turns once you get to the meat of it. The problem is that it starts off very slowly, and exposition takes far longer than it ought to with pointless dialogue that makes waiting for the next story beat agonizing. This is one of the JRPG tropes that Mind Zero embraces, much to my chagrin. When your dialogue makes me just want to skip it so that I can actually get to gameplay, you’re doing something wrong.
As with most JRPGs, the story is told through character stills that have text beneath them. The art looks great and the character stills are wonderfully drawn, but come on now… I’ve seen anime. I know what kind of animation you could be getting out of these characters and these stories. How hard would it be to have the exposition and story scenes played out in actual anime? It might make me want to actually sit through the pointless dialogue if I could actually watch something other than motionless character art and text scrolling across a screen. This is an aspect found in a lot of JRPGs that desperately needs to evolve, and Mind Zero is no exception.
Mind Zero’s gameplay is that of a first person dungeon crawler. Working your way through dungeons will land you in a variety of battles that follow a traditional turn based system. The thing that sets this game apart is the power of the MINDs. Summoning a MIND to battle offers an extra level to your strategy apart from the typical turn based fare, which means that battles cannot be won by simply grinding up levels and setting the game to auto battle, at least on the higher difficulties. Each battle required me to strategize my moves, my summoning of MINDs, and my healing in order to reach the optimum outcome, which I think is victory to most people.
Graphically, the game is unimpressive outside of the wonderful character art. Dungeon walls look like they were peeled directly from an old PS2 or PSP release, and the character and enemy models in battle are so full of sharp edges that I was lucky not to have poked an eye out. Sure, graphics aren’t everything in a game, but let’s take a moment to smooth out that goat-man’s jaggy shoulders. A cleaner look means that I spend more time focusing on the good aspects of your game, like the highly strategic combat that I mentioned above, and the customization that I am about to mention below.
There is a decent amount of customization to give your characters and their MINDs. Characters can be given three different pieces of armor that can radically change their stats and MINDs can be equipped with skill cards that offer them certain abilities in battle. These abilities can only be used when the MIND is active though and can have detrimental effects on your human character, which means you have to plan ahead in battle to ensure that both human and MIND are working in tandem to defeat the enemy. Eventually you get the ability to combine and level up skill cards for additional battle strategies. This level of deep customization was very welcome in what could be seen as a standard issue, exposition laden dungeon crawler.
No matter how deep the story goes, how strategic the battle system gets, or how much customization there is, the gameplay can and does get repetitive. There is a lot of dungeon crawling, and sidequests either send you dungeon crawling a little bit more, or they fill you with a ton of that unnecessary dialogue such as the side quest where you go shopping for socks with one of the female characters. You don’t actually get to do any sock shopping, you simply listen to the main character tell her that she’s not ready for fishnets, and that blue socks would look good on her, etc. Something lost in translation or perhaps a cultural shift? That’s the only explanation that I can think of.
Fortunately Mind Zero doesn’t follow the same sad, misogynistic tropes of many other JRPGs. The dialogue is much less focused on innuendo, and females appear to be more covered up with less attention paid to rendering out massive chest for no apparent reason. While I’m no prude at all, this trope has been more than over done and I am happy that it lacks a constant and significant presence here. Perhaps it can help to show that these games don’t need to have a focus on breasts in order to be a decent game. In fact, I’d argue that the lack of focus on the female anatomy makes this an inherently better game for it.
Mind Zero has the makings of what could be a decent dungeon crawler while tripping all over tropes that could be avoided. Poor graphics aside, story segments get boring while watching text boxes spew pointless dialogue, and the dungeon crawling and battling is the only actual bit of gameplay that there is. The surprisingly strategic combat system and customization options help to round out what could otherwise make for a pretty dull adventure. Mind Zero is not about to win any awards and it isn’t doing much to change the scene, but in a sea of the same old JRPGs and dungeon crawlers, it at least shows a tiny glimmer of hope for the future of the genre.
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