From the perspective of the average American gamer who wants the next triple-A title on their PlayStation Vita, it's warranted to say the handheld hasn't delivered on that promise. But for Japanese RPG fans, the handheld has paid off in spades. Some of them come from the bottom of the barrel but a decent number are worthwhile purchases for the system. The central issue with those, however, is the over-reliance on overused and tired cliches. Aksys Games's Mind Zero attempts to change, but how it's executed is a bit of a mixed bag.
For those who've played Atlus's Persona series, you'll find this game's story strikingly familiar. Some high school teenagers encounter a world parallel to their own inhabited by creatures called MINDs. One by one each student obtains their own MIND and uses it to defend their world that's being attacked by seemingly random rampages, the result of MINDs that have went out of control.
While it's a familiar setup, Mind Zero's story does get interesting as the player progresses and the true meat of the story is revealed. The issue the game has is that getting there requires going through essentially irrelevant dialogue that acts only as padding. Other Japanese RPGs have fallen into this trap many of times before and it's sad that Mind Zero falls into it as well. That said, the game does have a more adult story than most other Japanese RPGs and doesn't fall into the typical innuendo-laden story conventions.
Mind Zero eschews the polygonal characters for the story scenes and animated on-screen characters in favor of character stills similar to that of a visual novel. It's probably for the best, as a decent amount of the budget likely went towards these animations as the graphics are easily PS2-to-PSP level, with jaggy textures that are a bit noticeable on some of the character renders. There's no horrendous clipping or frame rate drops, but there is nothing here that would require the Vita's graphical prowess to run the game.
For fans of the original two Persona games, you'll enjoy the gameplay direction as it is first-person dungeon based. The battles are turn-based with a defining feature: MINDs. The human characters in your party are essentially sitting ducks without them as they act as a buffer for enemy attacks. Your HP in this game is known as "LP", where losing all of it ends up with the character dying in battle. MINDs when summoned take damage in the form of "MP" when attacked and change the actions you can choose from.
An example of this are skills which are only available with a summoned MIND, but actions such as items and escaping are only available when a MIND isn't on the field. Characters become stunned when their MIND loses all of its MP, so the system stops the usual "auto-battle to win" mechanics most JRPGs end up falling into. This becomes paramount in the higher difficulty settings as even basic enemies will easily defeat you if you go in guns blazing.
Along with equipping your characters, you can also use skill cards on your MINDs. The developers implemented this in an odd way though, as there is no way to see how it affects them without comparing the damage before and after applying it in battle. Even with its flawed implementation, it's still a nice twist on the usual dungeon RPG format and is a welcome addition.
One aspect of the dungeon mechanics that became a bit annoying later in the game were the frequent difficulty surges upon entering a new dungeon, instead of gradually bracing the player with scaled enemy groups. It becomes a pattern of going back to the nearest save point every so often until you power level enough to beat the enemies senseless throughout the rest of the dungeon. It's sad when compared with the rest of the mechanics as it's clear parts of the game were rushed and weren't what they could have been.
As far as the musical score goes, it's mixed like the rest of the game. The overworld and dungeon themes are composed well, but the battle theme in particular is especially grating on the ears which is bad considering the levelling issue mentioned earlier. With that theme being heard more often than anything else it's easily a disappointment.
Mind Zero feels like a younger siblings' attempt to emulate its older sibling, but not quite getting there in execution. There's a fair bit to like about the game, but the various smaller issues detract from the overall experience. If you prefer gameplay over narrative you'll find a bit to enjoy here. A second outing from the developer could result in something interesting, but outside of the fans of the genre there isn't much here to keep your interest.
|Story doesn't rely on innuendo or other common genre tropes.|
|Battle mechanics require strategy instead of auto-battling.|
|Skill system for the MINDs is interesting.|
|Skill system for the MINDs doesn't make the upgrades easily apparent.|
|Too much dull padding between the good parts of the narrative.|
|Graphics feel like they're from the PS2/PSP era.|