MIND your own business.
In 2014, the PlayStation Vita found itself swarmed with a plethora of first person dungeon crawling RPGs. To me, it seemed like every other month popped out a new one. Of couse, I dabbled in most of the titles, as my Vita was suffering from neglect (not my own, mind you; from Sony). After enjoying and keeping Demon Gaze from GameFly, I rented Mind Zero when it released – and it’s one of my favorite Aksys titles.
Mind Zero follows the life of one Kei Takanashi and his friends. Kei’s close friend, Shizuku, has the paranormal ability of seeing what she and Kei believe are ghosts. Soon after the opening scene, Kei is drawn into the Undertaker’s store, a mysterious location where he must choose a weapon in order to leave. Picking up a scythe, Kei finds himself in a contract with a MIND, a sort of demonlike entity that follows him around – and he has officially become a minder. Once the dust settles after their first battle, Kei and his friends meet up with the secretive detective Ogata, a man who is investigating these recent portals to the Inner Realm.
Mind Zero does a lot of things well while missing the mark on a few others. Firstly, while the story of Mind Zero isn’t anything special, the game does an exemplary job with its characters. Mind Zero spends an ample amount of time developing its characters. Between every major story segment, Kei has the option to meet with several of the characters several times before advancing the story; each conversation either furthered a character’s lore or opened up a side quest, which subsequently furthered characterization. And while, yes, the many dialogue boxes (as the presentation of the game was just two anime characters on screen with a dialogue box below) can become tedious, but many are fully voiced by an excellent cast of actors and don’t require too much time to read through.
Exploration in Mind Zero is enjoyable, too. As with most first person dungeon crawling games, you explore each expansive dungeon and fill in your minimap as you do so. For some reason, I’ve always loved this part of these RPGs. The completionist in me will explore every inch of every dungeon, and in Mind Zero, that is an important task. You could easily miss a segment of the map that unlocks a doorway or holds an event tile if you choose to speed through each dungeon. Luckily, each dungeon is aesthetically very different from the last, making each new visit a fresh experience. The worst part of exploring dungeons is the high, random battle encounter rate.
Combat in Mind Zero is very standard of turn based RPGs and slightly unique to first person dungeon crawling RPGs. The battle view is typical; you see your enemies straightaway from the view of your characters. When the enemy attacks, it swings in your direction. When you attack, however, the game changes views to show your character or MIND rushing in to attack. Combat is also fairly similar to Persona in that you can summon your MIND mid battle to engage your foes. This slowly drains MP (mind points), which can be regained by dismissing your MIND and defending/charging. Strategy is slightly involved in battling, as each enemy has an element type, and you can swing the tide of battle into your favor by exploiting their weaknesses. Not all enemies, however, can be defeated by a MIND; a few enemy types are resistant to MIND attacks, so you must dismiss your MIND before attempting to take them on.
Dismissing your MIND opens you up to losing your LP (life points). Each character has a set of LP and MP, and depending on whether they have a MIND summoned will decide which bar loses points when attacked. Should your MIND be at the forefront of battle, you will lose MP when attacked (and at the end of each round). Be careful, though, because if you drop to below 0 MP when your MIND is out, your character becomes stunned for a round. In other words, you must battle strategically in order to maximize damage and keep your characters protected. It makes completing battles unscathed very possible, and stringing together battles where you’ve taken no damage is rewarding.
I do have a few gripes to which I must confess. My first complaint is that battles become stale by chapter four (if not earlier for some), as I was breezing through common enemies. Leveling takes a bit of time, but it’s not so much effort where it feels like you aren’t being rewarded enough for battles. Unfortunately, boss battles had a tendency to annihilate me on my first attempt each time I found a new one. This resulted in either a restructuring of my strategy (which became a conservative battle where I attacked, dismissed my MIND, and defended every few turns or when hit) or grinding a level or two. I’m not sure that this would have been an issue otherwise if it wasn’t for the fact that, after a certain amount of time in a dungeon, experience begins to taper and enemies become simple, so the boss would, in my mind, match my level; but it always seemed that I never did enough work, even after exploring an entire dungeon.
Still, these complaints really don’t hold back what is an enjoyable experience that old school RPG fans will enjoy. With solid combat, enjoyable exploration, and in depth characterization, Mind Zero breathes fresh air into a potentially stale formula. And while it doesn’t exactly revitalize the genre, it does offer Vita owners and lovers of RPGs a worthwhile experience that your Vita deserves.