Like so many other people who took a quick glance at Mind Zero, I immediately thought it looked like a Persona clone. Two of the characters look like they were taken straight out of Persona 3, and the game revolved around the concept of high school students wielding MINDs to fight weird entities from another realm. However, it would be a mistake to write this game off simply because of the assumption that it’s just a Persona rip-off.
Mind Zero tells the story of a boy named Kei Takanashi who one day finds himself in a strange shop. The shopkeeper, referred to as the Undertaker, tells him to choose a weapon in the shop, but warns him that he will suffer dire consequences if he chooses poorly. The act of choosing a weapon serves as a contract between the minder and MIND, and if you choose wisely, the MIND will become your ally in battle. Along the way, Kei realizes that a few of his close friends are equipped with the MIND ability as well and they set off to find out how to prevent the aggressive and uncontrollable MINDs from taking over the human realm.
The gameplay is pretty standard JRPG fare: you buy items and accessories, you explore a dungeon, defeat a boss, and progress with the story. Set in modern-day Tokyo, doors to the inner realm where the MINDs dwell will open up as the story progresses and it’s your job to defeat the powerful MIND inside it so that you can close the door. Mind Zero is essentially a first-person dungeon-crawler and you will spend hours of your time in these labyrinthian areas level-grinding and item-hunting.
You’ve got a street-themed dungeon, a zany-looking dungeon filled with bright and garish colors, and a metallic laboratory. Having different themes and music tracks for the dungeons is a nice touch, but these dungeon-crawling segments can feel quite long and dragged out at some parts.
Mind Zero’s dungeon-crawling aspect reminds me a lot of Etrian Odyssey’s gameplay because of how everything is in the first-person view. Even in combat, the UI looks strikingly similar to Etrian Odyssey’s in that you select actions for all your characters before executing them in your next turn.
The combat system itself is rather deep and requires some strategic thought, which was a pleasant surprise for me. With a press of the L button on the Vita, you can summon or dismiss your MIND. Your MIND has a separate health bar which refills at the end of each battle. Think of your MINDs as shields for your characters; the MINDs will absorb your enemy’s attacks and the MIND bar will drop slightly at the end of each turn. When the bar is depleted, your character will be left vulnerable and you’ll have to defend so that the MIND bar can charge up again. However, if your MIND takes too much damage from an enemy attack and the bar gets depleted that way, you’ll suffer a MIND break, leaving your character stunned and defenseless for one turn. If your MIND bar gets too low and you don’t think you’ll be able to beat your enemy before the turn is up, it might be a good idea to dismiss your MIND and defend so you don’t take too much damage.
There’s also a ‘Burst’ option available during combat. Choosing to Burst will deplete some of your TP but it allows you to take a free hit on your enemy before your turn actually begins. You can also use this option to quickly heal your allies before your enemies get a chance to attack.
Aside from this, you’ll also unlock an antique shop that allows you to fuse skill cards after completing the third chapter of the game. You’ll have the option of spending skill points to either enhance your existing skills or fuse them together to make entirely new skills. In addition to that, you also get to swap out your MIND’s existing skills for the new ones you just acquired from the antique shop. This level of customization was really useful for me because I got to adjust my characters’ builds as I saw fit. With so many different elements to take into consideration, Mind Zero’s gameplay proved to be much deeper than I thought.
When you’re outside the dungeon, you’ll get to roam about the Tokyo map with a green cursor. Sometimes there’ll be optional side quests for you to take on at Ogata’s private detective agency, or you might find little side story events with your party members. These mini events usually serve to flesh out a bit more of the characters’ backstories and sometimes, they’ll even unlock a side mission for you to complete in a dungeon. It’s a commendable effort in attempting to add value to the game, but unfortunately, most of these side quests do feel tacked on and extremely repetitive; especially since they usually just require you to revisit a dungeon and beat a boss or go to random areas and hit the X button to get through all that text.
Speaking of text, it’s worth mentioning that Mind Zero is a very text-heavy game. It’s a visual novel that gets off to a very slow and painful start. The first hour of the game is a painful slog for the player because literally the only thing you do is hit the X button to move through the dialogue boxes and suffer through the incorrigible voice acting. Don’t get me wrong, characters like Kei, Lina and Ogata do deliver pretty convincing performances in their voice acting; it’s the anime trope-ish characters like Leo and Sana who really get on my nerves with their high-strung voices. I get that JRPGs do generally need comic relief characters (I do adore Teepo in the recent Tales of Xillia), but getting the voice acting down for these characters so they don’t annoy you is tricky. And unfortunately, Mind Zero dropped the ball with its voice performances for these characters, Sana in particular, and it was difficult to look past.
Thankfully, there is a dual audio option available at the title screen. Playing through the game with Japanese audio made Sana’s voice a little more bearable for me because I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
Aesthetically, the game is surprisingly beautiful. The art design of the characters is visually pleasing and I definitely enjoyed watching the characters’ facial animations change as I sat through the long dialogue segments.
Mind Zero’s story, in general, is an intriguing one. It will keep you engaged and interested to find out what happens next, but the writing is simply plagued with heavy chunks of dialogue that makes it somewhat of a chore to get through. The game’s got potential in both its story and gameplay but its execution on both fronts just falls short. When you’re level-grinding in a dungeon to beat a particularly tough boss, all you want to do is quickly get past it so you can get to the next visual novel segment; but when you’re bombarded with heaps of plot exposition and subpar voice acting, all you want is for these characters to shut up so you can get back to dungeon-crawling. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s a pity that the game’s writing wasn’t more refined and the labyrinths were so long and drawn out. Fix those two glaring problems, and Mind Zero would’ve been a very strong JRPG experience. As it stands, Mind Zero is a game that has probably slipped under the radar for most people. If you love dungeon-crawlers and don’t care too much for the story, Mind Zero is definitely right up your alley with its well-done combat system and customization options. However, JRPG fans who are in it for the story may find themselves put off by the lengthy dungeons and unnecessarily huge chunks of info dump.
[+Solid combat system] [+Freedom in customizing your character builds] [+Beautiful artwork] [+Dual audio option] [+Game is almost fully-voiced] [-Some characters have awful voice acting] [-Dungeons can get too drawn out] [-Lots of heavy dialogue chunks with plot exposition]