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Mind Zero (PC) artwork

Mind Zero (PC) review

"Budget Persona"

Some people get a little upset should you call Mind Zero bootleg Persona, so letís judge it on its own merits. Zero, then, is a game about a collection of school-aged teenagers who are brought together when a second world dimensionally linked with theirs starts bleeding into their lives. This second world forces them to co-exist with a copy of themselves Ė an inter-dimensional persona, if you will Ė who inhabit their mind and can be summoned to aid them in battle. This almost exclusively takes part in the other world Ė known as the Inner Realm Ė which the gang explore via first-person-viewed dungeon crawls. When theyíre not doing that, you can trigger social interactions between the party in the real world where you can build bonds and eventually have each cast member confess his or her fears and hopes. Thereís the option to evolve or upgrade cards, and this couldnít be more like Persona, could it?

The problem with aping someone elseís formula of success is that youíre already courting obsoleteness. Is it better than its source material? Does it do enough differently to justify its existence? Mind Zero is always going to struggle against direct comparisons, because the answer to both questions is no. Not really. Itís too keen on taking shortcuts; on being a shallower experience. There are twelve chapters to play through, and I saw my first case of palette-swapped enemies as early as stage three. Progression is based on power levelling, in exploring non-randomised dungeons that often lose their lustre long before completion, and on grinding levels and skill cards to stand a chance against boss fights that range between insultingly easy and genuinely challenging. Even then, the challenge to most bosses is in their overly-burdened health bars which make these fights gruelling wars of attrition.

Mind Zero (PC) image

Skill cards work as the greatest equaliser. The buff and debuff skills are especially helpful, while direct attack magic seems lacking unless you have the means via equipment or other spells to bolster them. This is more or less irrelevant outside of boss battles unless youíre looking to invest in a few shades of overkill; returning to battle mere random encounters labels since-defeated foe types with their elemental weakness. But youíll rarely need to reach into that particular skillset to see victory. As such, I gravitated away from traditional elemental spells and equipped several font cards, instead. Rather than give you special attacks in battle, these directly bolster statistics such as attack power, speed and evade.

I found them part of a more reliable build thanks to how Mind Zero regulates its battles. Summoning your Persona MIND not only offers you a hardier means of attack, but a window of invulnerability. Attacks made against you with your alter summoned deal damage directly to them, affecting how long they can stay active until dispelled. Though MIND defences can be circumvented with things like poison attacks, it means so long as theyíre active, the human is untouchable. Random encounters rarely last long enough to undo a MIND summon, but bosses certainly do. These fights are an interesting clash between whittling away at their magnificent health bars and juggling exhausted MINDs. If they are dispel through enemy attacks then their summoner spends a turn stun-locked out of battle, their once safe HP now vulnerable. Sometimes, itís safer to recall your MIND and to spend a few turns in human form while the summon bar refills; youíre just as susceptible to attacks, but you have options to defend, to use items or to sneak an attack in.

Special skills such as spells and buffs are regulated through technique points, which donít exist as a finite points pool but are instead constantly collected through combat. It means a few extra rounds of combat in sticky situations are often needed before you have enough TP to execute a heal or a debuff. But players who regulate this resource especially well are able to ride the waves of Burst options. A full TP bar tops off at ten; spend five of these to execute a Burst and youíre able to slide an extra turn in before battle even starts. You can use this to get in an extra slice of damage or to heal some derogatory status ailments. Mind Zero has the potential to be a very tactical affair. Sometimes it is.

Mind Zero (PC) image

For the most part, though, itís not. The two options that bought me the most joy were an auto-attack button, and a fast forward key to speed your way through the mindless random battles. These have the distinction of falling foul to a particularly aggressive spawn ratio and a level of mindless ease made uniform by the MINDs' protective summon. A lot of the times I found myself up against a decent sized group of extra-dimensional monsters, I would just hit auto and wander off for a few minutes. On the other hand, Iíve had that fast forward button depressed for such long periods, I think the bumper on my gamepad has a seized spring. Thereís a real struggle at times to retain interest in Mind Zero, one not helped by a slow-burn plot that doesnít really get going until Chapter Five, after youíve already invested ten or so hours. Thereís little incentive to see it through to the end, either; as this game was planned as part of a series, thereís a cliffhanger ending put in place that the next game was supposed to address. Itís been a couple of years now since the initial VITA release, and thereís absolutely no word of that happening.

That itís a VITA port is also made shockingly clear. Resolution is set at 960x544; going into full screen only drags this out, making everything look awful. Your only real option is to play it in a small envelope sitting in the middle of your screen. It also suffers from atrocious load times that a PC game has no real right to suffer from. Sometimes youíre asked to carry out commands that are clearly supposed to be mapped to a touch screen with no obvious instruction on how youíre supposed to proceed. In too many ways, itís an atrocious port that isnít saved by appreciated options, like being able to pick from (a surprisingly good) English or Japanese dub, and is left to flounder in its own inadequacies.

Thereís no reason to pick this port over the original, but there are almost as few reasons to snap it up on the VITA, too. It has a likeable cast and a vibrant art style that sometimes doesnít immediately scream Diet Persona, but itís also sluggish, uninvolving and ultimately incomplete.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 11, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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