Review: Mind=Zero (PSV)

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Title: Mind≓Zero
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.4 GB)
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Zero Div, Acquire
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Mind≓Zero is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Mysterious doors are popping up all over the city, people are disappearing, police are searching for people affected by MIND (Major Inner Node Displacement), which they say is a dangerous new drug. In Mind≓Zero, you play as a group of students, from Amamiya High School, who use MINDs to unlock the truth.

Gameplay:
Mind≓Zero begins with a black screen, where you overhear a conversation between two high school girls talking about a mysterious door that appears out of nowhere in the park and a rumor that a mysterious axe man will come out of the door if you open it. Then, you overhear a second conversation between two police detectives who are chasing a MIND user, which is a dangerous new drug that apparently causes people to go insane. As you listen to the detectives chase this dangerous person, the scene ends with a gun shot.

After the opening cinematic with two detectives, you are introduced to two of the main characters, Kei Takanashi and Sana Chikage. As the story progresses, Kei and Chikage find the infamous door and are pulled inside. Once he comes to, Kei sees that he’s in a shop with all sorts of weapons on the walls and on counters. Kei is greeted by the Undertaker, a mysterious hooded woman who instructs him to choose a weapon.

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If you choose the wrong weapon, you die, but if you choose the right weapon, you may live. Kei makes his choice, and once he does he finds that the weapon is a link to, or contract with, these mysterious MIND entities. It turns out that MIND is not a drug, but a mysterious life form. When Kei returns to school the next day, he finds that the weapon he chose is with him and apparently he is the only one who can see it. Also, his MIND is always standing behind him and no one else can see her either. Once he finds Chikage, Kei realizes that Chikage also has a weapon and a MIND behind her, and it turns out that they can see each others MINDs.

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As you progress through the beginning of the story, you are introduced to one of Kei an Chikagi’s classmates and good friend Leo Asahina. As you are in the park, all three of you are pulled into the Undertaker’s shop and Leo is forced to choose his weapon. Leo, being careless, picks up two weapons and asks which one is better for him. It turns out however that he was actually making a huge mistake because once you pick up a weapon it is the same as selecting it. Immediately, a large demon creature appears and bites off Leo’s arm which is then replaced with a devilish blue hand with large claws.

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The Undertaker then makes a comment that Leo was lucky that he wasn’t fully consumed by his MIND, or something to that effect, but also says that since they did not enter her shop at the same spot as last time they will have to find their own way out. As they open the door to leave, the group finds themselves in a bizarre dungeon-like labyrinth and they eventually are shown the way out of the dungeon by a Private Investigator, Yoichi Ogata.

Later in the game, Ogata explains that the dungeon areas are actually a sort of parallel dimension that’s connected to the real world. This parallel dimension is called the Inner Realm, and the real world, in which we live, is called the Outer Realm. It seems that the Inner Realm is where all of the MIND creatures originate from and something is causing portals, or Jungian Tunnels, to appear that link the two worlds. What causes these Jungian Tunnels to appear is a mystery, but it seems people are falling into the Inner Realm, MINDs are venturing out into the Outer Realm and people are being possessed by MINDs.

The first dungeon in the Inner Realm, in combination with the music, gave me a really eerie feeling. Knowing that I entered the dungeon from a door that appeared in the middle of the city, once inside the dungeon, it actually had windows that showed that this place was in the middle of a sunny field with these weird rock formations outside. The inside of the first dungeon had kind of industrial compound look with heavy metal doors, walls, and metal flooring.

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Several dungeons, later in the game, have doors to what look like houses or shops with items just outside on display. One dungeon has vending machines and looks like an abandoned subway. The game did a pretty good job of capturing the mood of a mysterious Inner Realm world that you don’t quite understand if it was abandoned or ever had anyone that actually lived there.

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This shows the weird vending machines—who uses these in the Inner Realm? Who restocks them?
Also, did you notice the upper part of the wall is made out of bike chains?

As you go through the dungeon, your mini-map at the top-left shows your position and all of the areas that you have explored. Unlike other games in this genre, the dungeons are not randomized and you’re allowed to go in and out as you choose at any time. Inside a dungeon, you can hit the Square button to pull up the full map which has the X and Y coordinates of where your cursor is. You can move the cursor around the screen and highlight doors that you have gone through and the entrance and exits that you have encountered on the current floor. When you move the cursor over an exit the map will display what floor the particular exit leads to (several floors in different dungeons have multiple exits that lead to different floors). Also, you can view other floors that you have visited by pressing the R and L buttons to cycle through the maps of each floor.

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The dungeon exploration areas of the game are populated with random, turn-based encounters with unaccompanied MINDs that attack your group. Once a random battle occurs you are faced with the evil MINDs and must battle them with either your weapons or with the help of your MIND. One unique feature of this game is that upon each character’s turn, you can either do an attack with your character or press the L button to toggle the use of that character’s MIND which triggers a short animation. You can also deactivate your MIND by pressing L a second time. If you play the game long enough, this animation becomes very tiresome to see over and over but fortunately, there’s a way to turn it off via the settings menu. There is also a setting that will switch to your MIND automatically at the beginning of every battle.

The battle menu is split into two different menus, one for your character and one for your MIND. On the character’s battle menu, you can attack, charge (defend), use an item, escape or use a burst attack. When you bring up your MIND, you only have three possible choices which are attack, skill, or burst. Each character has three gauges, Purple, Blue, and Yellow, that correspond to Technical Points (TP), Life Points (LP), and Mind Points (MP) respectively. TP is used when your MIND uses a skill, LP is used when either your MINDs skill is used or if you are attacked when your MIND is not activated and MP is consumed for every action you take with your MIND or if you are attacked when your MIND is active.

As you enter battle you are probably going to want to activate your MIND immediately (or set the menu option to activate it automatically). When your MIND attacks it does more damage and your LP is shielded from attacks. As you take damage with your MIND activated, your MP is depleted. Once fully depleted, your MIND will go into a broken state and you will not be able to use it for several turns. If you keep an eye on your MP, you can deactivate your MIND just before all of your MP is depleted and from there you can either attack as your character or go into Charge Mode. Charge Mode is used to both defend your character, as well as regenerate large amounts of TP and MP. As you make regular attacks with either your MIND activated or deactivated, your TP will regenerate a small amount at the end of each turn.

You can also equip your character with skill cards that allow your MINDs to use various magic powers. Each time you use a skill in battle it consumes both TP and LP, the amounts of which are noted for each card using the inventory or skill screen in the menu. Item and escape options are self-explanatory; they allow you to use items and attempt an escape from the battle. Finally, Burst Mode consumes a larger amount of TP and allows you to do two battle options in one turn. For either option in Burst Mode you can alternate between any options under your character and/or MIND battle menu. After you have selected both options, you will immediately do the first option and then wait for your regular turn to perform the second option. Burst Mode is really good for using buffs for your party and de-buffs on your enemies, to start out the battle.

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Since you play through the entire game with only one MIND per player, skill cards are used interchangeably between the various MINDs in your party. Each MIND in the game, including the enemies, has their own individual elemental type and certain skill cards will have a better effect than others with certain party members. Each character has a number of skill card slots that expand at different intervals as you level up your characters. The skill cards each have an individual power that includes elemental magic attacks, special melee attacks, strength/defense buffs or enemy de-buff attacks and health regeneration. As you defeat enemies you will randomly receive different skill cards, experience, items, armor and money. Your party has a maximum number of skill cards that you can carry and you will get a lot of duplicate cards. Later on in the game you will gain access to a shop that allows you to combine skill cards to level them up or to upgrade them using other skill cards and items.

As far as items go, each of your party members has three slots for which to equip armor and two accessories. The game does not allow you to switch weapons since a main part of the story is choosing your special weapon, so that’s one less thing to have to worry about I suppose. I do kind of wish that there was a shop that could upgrade or forge your weapon into a stronger one because for the most part, attacking without your MIND equipped is useless. There are several really annoying enemies in the game that actually are strong against MIND attacks, so you’ll have to unequip your MIND to do any significant amount of damage to them. The only problem with these MIND-resistant enemies is that once you unequip your MIND, your LP is vulnerable to attack, so you’ll want to dispatch regular enemies first, then unequip your MINDs to finish them off.

The battles in this game are really tough from the beginning all the way through to later levels. In fact, at about the sixth chapter (called Phases in this game) there is a significant difficulty spike. Fighting against the Phase 6 boss, I had to lower the difficulty, because no matter what I did, I could not beat it. Also, at the risk of revealing spoilers, I do have to note that it is at this section that half of your party is taken away and you are forced to use your original three characters for the remainder of Phase 6. Once I had gained two characters in particular who have a much, much higher attack rate using magic than any of the original characters, I had switched to using them almost exclusively after they joined my party. Then, when I hit Phase 6, the stronger characters were taken away and I had three weak original characters that had weak skills and no armor (when the game takes the three characters away, the armor and skill cards that they had equipped stay with them). You might want to take my advice and unequip all armor and items from characters that you are not using at the time, so when this happens to you, you’re not completely left with inadequate characters. Also, characters that are not in your active party do gain experience as you fight, but the experience is not as much as characters that are in your active party, so you might want to fight with your main characters now and again to keep them leveled up.

Also, on the topic of difficulty, even coming back to earlier dungeons, the enemies take quite a long time to take down. There is an auto-attack feature that can kind of speed up the battles but not by much. There is one item that will make random encounters not happen for a period of time but unfortunately, it’s an item that must be found and cannot be bought at the shops until later in the game (for a large amount of money) so this makes going through dungeons a very long process. Also, grinding is possible to beef up your characters but it takes an exorbitant amount of time to level a character up enough to get past the difficulty spikes. For example, there was one sub-quest where you fight a specific MIND and even with lowering the difficulty I was not able to beat it. At this particular point in the game, my character was Level 33 and I was dying even on the easiest difficulty (after trying several times). Normally, in other RPGs, I would then grind a little and then re-attempt the battle. However, at Level 33 it requires over 150,000 experience points to get to Level 34. Each battle at the time only yielded between 7,000 and 9,000 experience points, so it could take up to twenty-one battles or more just to go up one measly level.

Other than the difficulty in the battles, they are quite enjoyable at times. Each enemy you face has its own elemental attribute that can be countered with the opposite elemental skill. For example, fire-based enemies are weak to water, and wind-based enemies are weak to earth (and vice-versa). Since the battles and enemies are slightly over-powered, you will need to make use of buffs and de-buffs. I noticed that the battle system seems to prioritize buffs, even when one of your slower party members casts it, which is a really good thing. I tended to equip my MINDs, do several elemental attacks with my first two party members, then use an attack buff on my entire party using the last remaining party member’s attack. With my two powerful magic casters, I found that I could do a great deal of damage against some particularly annoying enemies, which was especially gratifying.

One small trick that I figured out is to take down all but one relatively weak enemy and spend several turns just charging your characters back up. Since each attack uses TP, once you’re out, you cannot use any more skills until it’s recharged. So I would charge my character up, then do a round of healing skills and then do melee attacks with my MINDs equipped for the remainder of the battle. This technique of charging my characters at the end of battles allowed me to conserve health regenerative items, as well as go into the next battle with my TP and health fully charged (which is really crucial in some dungeons).

Slogging through these dungeons with the long battles is an arduous affair but thankfully, dungeons usually have warp points on certain floors. The warp points not only allow you to warp to any other warp point that you found in the same dungeon, but they also allow you to warp back to town. I have not found a skill card or item yet that will allow you to warp out of a dungeon at any time, which is also pretty unfortunate.

Another main problem with the game is the long loading times. Once you hit the various difficulty spikes and you are dying quite frequently, you do not get a chance to reload your last Save if your party dies. This is very frustrating to have to go from the titles screen, load up your Save file, and wait a long time just to get back to try the boss again (and perhaps fail over and over). Another major oversight is that there is no menu option to load a Save at all. So if you want to go back to a previous Save, you will need to completely close the game and reload it.

As far as the story goes, the plot is pretty interesting and I’m curious how the game is going to turn out. Unfortunately, I was not able to complete the game in time for this review but the story is pretty unique and I want to know more about it. At the time of this writing, I have not read any other reviews but I happened to read that the game ends in a cliff hanger which is rather unfortunate since there may not be a sequel to the game. Other than the story, I didn’t quite get attached to the characters as I have with other games. I am interested in what becomes of all of them, but I didn’t get that deep attachment to them individually. Perhaps this is because you don’t play the role of one of the characters, but you control the party and watch as the story unfolds and they make their own choices.

In addition to the main story line, there are also optional side quests that are actually all numbered beforehand, fifty-one in total. I don’t know if explicitly spelling out how many side-quests there are in the game is a good thing or bad thing, but it does help remind you to keep your eye out for them. The side quests are actually a nice diversion from the main story line, and are usually found by seeing character icons on the main world map (not inside a dungeon) or by talking to shop owners.

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Side quests aren’t that involved and usually entail going to X floor or a dungeon to find some item for a shop owner, or killing X number of a certain type of enemy. There are some side quests that tell you more about a character and while it didn’t really make me any more or less attached to any of them, it was nice to see a bit more of each character’s individual background.

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I did find a couple of bugs in the side quests. One said that I was rewarded with a certain item but my actual inventory showed a different item and another where it said that I was awarded ¥250,000 but only actually got ¥25,000 of it when the money was added to my funds. While not a big problem, it is a little disappointing when you don’t end up with what you thought you were getting (especially the money, because some armor is super expensive).

All in all, even with some of the technical problems, I do enjoy the game. I think the high points are the dungeons being odd and capturing the mood, the story/plot, and the battle system is fun, albeit slow.

Visuals:
The game is a basic anime-style Japanese RPG. When you’re outside the dungeons, the story and cutscenes are presented to you in hand-drawn art. The characters on the screen don’t move like in some games, where their mouths will move or they’ll blink. Each time a character speaks, the character is highlighted to denote that they are the one speaking while the other characters are slightly dimmer, kind of like a spotlight.

As for the battle portion of the game, the monsters are 3D models and are also animated. I did like how when you are fighting and a monster attacks you, some will actually move in and attack the screen; it’s a pretty neat effect.

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The monsters themselves are reused quite a bit with a color palette swap. Alternating colors and reusing monsters isn’t too out of the ordinary for this type of game either, but for the first dungeon you fight the same monsters over and over and it becomes a little monotonous. Even at later levels, there’s not a whole lot of variety of enemies that you face (with the exception of the boss characters).

Another high point of the game would be the dungeons which are full 3D and are in first person perspective. The graphics in this portion of the game are good, but not very detailed or textured; however, this is not unusual for this type of game. I really enjoyed the different aesthetics of the various dungeons. The designers of the game did a particularly good job of crafting some very interesting and imaginative visual details for the dungeons. Some dungeons even change dramatically once you explore 100% of them, which is slightly confusing, but also made me want to learn more about the environment itself.

All in all, the art of the hand-drawn portions are pretty decent while the graphical quality of the 3D sections was nothing ground-breaking, but still pretty good.

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Audio:
The audio is generally good, but not a soundtrack that I would want to purchase and re-listen to. The game soundtrack went from electric guitars to your standard instrumental type of music and never seemed too repetitive. The opening song was a type of J-pop but had a very odd portion of the song that, if you listen to it all the way through, sounds like a person hyperventilating.

The voice acting of the characters was also generally good; the voices matched the image of the characters on the screen, and none of them were annoying at all. The game also has the option of choosing either the English or Japanese voice tracks each time you load your game. If you wish to switch back and fourth, you will need to exit the game and reload to switch the voice track option, as there is no menu option to get back to the title screen.

One issue I have has to do with certain cutscenes. Not all of the cutscenes are voice acted, which is fine, but instead of leaving those sections as text-only, the developers decided to use small snippets of dialog in lieu of voicing the whole conversation. This became extremely annoying when the voice snippet was the same grunt, sigh, “I can’t!”, or “Let me think…”, over and over again. Also, the actual text had little to do with the audio played in many these situations. I would prefer to not have any sound at all during those scenes rather than have unrelated snippets of dialog just thrown in.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only.

Conclusion:
Overall, this is a pretty good game. The story and plot are engaging, and worth the trouble that you have to go through with the long battles, difficulty spikes and technical issues. The key to liking this game is managing your own expectations. I took a great deal of care not to compare this game to another popular title that has similar concepts, because the game and the story really are their own (even though the screen shots seem to portray something different).

After playing the game for almost sixty hours, I’m about 63% done with the Main quest, and I still have about ten side-quests left to do out of the fifty-one. The game does offer quite a bit of content and I think the asking price is justified. If some of the issues discussed in this review would bother you, I would recommend possibly waiting for a price drop. Either way, I think if you like games in this genre, the story is well worth experiencing.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the built-in screen capture feature on the PlayStation Vita.

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Written by Jason Honaker

Jason Honaker

A software developer for over 15 years, originally from St. Louis, MO and currently living in Seattle, WA. Started gaming in 1979 on the Atari 800 8-bit PC. I play all sorts of games, but am partial to RPGs and 3rd person brawlers and shooters.

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  • Jon Dotson

    The visuals look better than Demon Gaze and I loved that. I will give this a try