Very few games become a series, and very few series become fan favorite, instant sellers. So it is always tough for every new IP to live up to games in the genre before them, especially when you look like a Persona clone. Welcome to the world of Mind Zero on the PlayStation Vita. A walking, talking clone of Persona, but does it hold the same swagger and greatness as its inspiration?
This is a game I saw last year when I was living in Nagoya, Japan, and immediately I knew this was a Persona type of game. From the artwork on the cover, to the screenshots on the back of the box, and the cool looking display advertising it, there was no doubt where the inspiration came from. Flash forward ten months and now I’m starting up the game, only to be bombarded by one of the most psychedelic and unique intros of any video game. Sadly, this is the high point of the comparison to Persona.
Once in the game you’re given a narrative involving your “Persona’s”, called MINDs. Each person gets one and that is it. Each character also gets one weapon and that is it. What you get instead is a focus on your skills, which can be given to anyone. After battles you will sometimes get skill cards as rewards, and once you make it to a certain point in the game you can spend skill points to enhance their level or use other cards to upgrade them into something completely different. The drawback is when enhancing them you won’t know how much more powerful they will get. You have to memorize the damage from battle and compare it to a new battle to figure out if the spell or ability is worth it.
Even on easy the game is a grind, and up there with old NES-style games. Skills require a mixture of tech points and/or health, with health coming in short supply later on during boss fights and new dungeons. Your MIND is unique for an RPG mechanic as their first function is to act as a shield. When they are activated, at no cost, they take the damage for you and you lose MIND points. Once they are defeated you’re stunned for a turn or two, but then you and the MIND recover, and it can be called again to battle. When a MIND is defeated it becomes quite evident how weak the characters are without their shield, which is nice intertwining symbolism between story and game mechanic.
The story takes the form of a mystery, with a group of high school kids and other random people like a private detective and police detectives, trying to figure out the mystery behind MINDs. While the main story by itself is fine, there is not much else going on in the rest of the game. The side quests are simple fetch and carry, if there is any fetching and carrying at all as some are just reading text and that’s it. There is also a distinct lack of a world to explore. The idea of the overhead map made it feel like a page out of the Persona 2 playbook but there is nothing to populate it but the main characters of the game. No random people speaking random stuff to give the world purpose.
Mind Zero is a bit of a conundrum in the music department because of how backwards the music is. The opening theme is awesome and energetic, fitting the theme of the game perfectly. The overview map and inside shops has that Persona 4 feel. Inside battle, though, the tunes take a nose dive of sad proportions, as I immediately was reaching for my MP3 player. The musical director did a great job with everything non-combat, but the battle music was so shrill and grating on the nerves that it was a massive disappointment. In boss battles this was alleviated to a degree, but when you have to do a lot of grinding in normal battles, a good tune is key for longevity and replayability.
What makes up for the music is the triple-A quality voice acting. The game comes with the original Japanese voices and with an English cast. It quickly became apparent that the cast gelled together and had a great working chemistry, as there was a flow to the humorous and awkward scenes. Sometimes those moments fall a bit dead because of how they are synced together in-game. The characters also felt like they had unique personalities, even though some of the girls did sound the same vocally. One odd problem in the sound department was the doors. Sometimes during conversations there would be a ‘door’ sound, which is linked to the story. The first time I heard it, it sounded like a cat. To say the least, for the first chapter I was confused trying to figure out why they were talking about a door, when I heard a cat. I’ve never had that experience before, thus why it stood out enough to warn about.
This is a dungeon crawler so graphics are not on the top of the list. The character models in combat look from the PS2-era, while in the outside world they are represented by slick anime models. NIS sets the standard for anime characters but Mind Zero put in an A+ effort to make a varied cast, and to show off their personalities with their looks. The dungeons do their best to look varied and original. They won’t push the Vita’s power in the slightest, but at least an effort was made to make them weird to fit the theme of the game. Whether or not you like that weirdness will determine how much you care about the dungeons.
Mind Zero has an interesting narrative, taking the Persona model and going in a different direction. RPG gamers and Persona fans will enjoy the game, but those wanting an experience laden with side quests and little grinding are going to be disappointed. The foundation is there for another great RPG franchise, as long as the flaws like the battle music, side quests, and overworld are ironed out in a potential sequel.