For those of you that follow my ramblings on this site, you will have seen me talking about Visual Novels before and how my love for them is growing each time I get to review a new one. Zanki Zero is yet another title that I fell in love with the more I played of it, but for a different reason than just the lovely tale and graphics.
At its core, Zanki Zero by Spike Chunsoft is a dungeon crawler, but the technicalities involved are so much more than just that. With 8 main characters in the game, you start off in control of Harutu, a city worker who finds himself washed up on a strange island and no idea of how he even got there. The other 7 charcters that you meet very early on on the island are in the same boat (or lack of as they cant escape the island using a boat). The only clue as to what is going on, or what you need to do is through an old TV which shows an old cartoon on ‘Extend TV’ with the stars of the show talking direct to your team.
You find out the quite shocking news that each person thats on the island is a clone and they have a relatively short life span (just 13 days), but fear not.. once a member has died through old age, they can be respawned into the world once again. Now bare with me, it gets a little confusing. Each member has an X shaped button in the place of their belly button. Once a member dies, that button can be retrieved an plugged into an old arcade machine which then allows that person to be reborn; or extended as the game refers to it (spot the link to Extend TV).
Most visual novels the I have encountered always tell a wonderful story, but the actual engagement you take within it is extremely limited. Thankfully, Zanki Zero is totally different. The base of the game is a lot of text and conversations between the characters, but for once you get to move around and control things a hell of a lot more than any other visual novel I have come across before. With an RPGesq equipment section you can equip your team with weapons and other items to help them along their journey.
Starting off you are given a few small tasks from the TV show and then it is up to you to go looking around the island for items needed. There starts the dungeon crawler part of the game. To move around the map it is as simple as moving from one square on the map to the next, moving either forward, back, left or right, and also rotating through 90 degrees to be able to move forward all in first person. Its not a free roam by any means.
All of the characters are you typical cheesy stereotypes that you come to expect from an Japanese Visual Novel. The woman (all except one younger child) have breasts bursting the seams of their clothes, and one guy who is heavily muscled and loves himself. There’s the lines that you always cringe at when you read them, but thats what makes these things fun and unique to any other genre of games.
After the first couple of hours getting used to the backstory involved in the game, meeting the characters and setting out on some easy tasks to get used to the movement and combat involved in the game (which actually kinda feels a little disjointed) a neighbouring island appears on the horizon and you are allowed to leave the island that you are on to visit it. This is where the games core ideas come into play. On that island is an old tower block which you need to explore. Obviously within the tower block you need to move up to higher levels, when you do that all of the characters that you choose to take with you will age by a day. You need to take this into consideration when starting out on these missions which keep on coming. Send in a team that is full of people that are 10 days old or more and they will all die of old age stopping you from completing that mission.
Difficulty-wise, the game can be tricky. Play on any level above a beginner and you will die; a lot. The beginner level does offer a nice gameplay where you can concentrate on the story more, but there is no real challenge involved. My issue here is thats its either all or nothing as far as the difficulty is concerned. I would have liked to have seen a little more leeway to give me a slightly greater challenge without being killed every few minutes in the dungeon type levels.
I touched on the combat above saying that it felt kinda disjointed. Put it this way, 4 characters per team, each member can attack once before a cooldown kicks in (which is about 8 seconds). This can feel like a lifetime, especially when you are facing a boss. There is also no real feel of contact with your attacks. Perhaps this would have worked better incorporating a turn based attack scenario like the Final Fantasy games have used so well over the years, instead of attack (Hmm, did I even contact with the creature as it didn’t look or feel like I did) dodge out of the way, step back, step forward again and repeat.
The question is, did I love this game or hate it? Well..
I loved it. It offers so much more than any other visual novel that has come before. There were no issues that I found in the game other than the combat feeling somewhat lacking, but it’s not a dealbreaker as far as I’m concerned. The West needs more games like this to come over from Japan, although I know there will be issues with censorship and content as everyone in the west seem to be offended by the basis of the characters in these games, and yes, I was one of them at one point. There have been certain things that have actually offended me, but I am growing to accept them more and more.
Zanki Zero gets an 8/10 from me as it offers some great ideas and there are various types of gameplay all mixed into one and rather well.
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were supplied with a review copy of the game. This has in no way influenced my views on the game as per our Review Policy**