Sometimes I think the fine folks at Spike Chunsoft have a worst name competition in their office for their games. After putting out Danganronpa and key members working on this title, they go with Zanki Zero: Last Beginning. It’s like they’re trying to make people avoid their games.
The game starts off on a relatively dark mood with one character jumping off a building, but instead of the pearly gates, he finds himself washed up on a beach and meets a cute amputee girl named Sachika.
As it turns out, Haruto, our jumper, is one of 8 people stranded on this little island. According to a 50’s-styled Japanese cartoon, they’re the last remaining humans on earth. After that reality shattering moment, the TV also says they’re clones that can be revived almost endlessly, but they need to fix the cloning machine so their lifespan is longer than 13 days.
In order to do so, our party needs to explore ruins and scavenge some spare parts. And because it’s a video game, they need to fight a boss that’s connected to one of their pasts.
The story in Zanki Zero is where it really shows its Danganronpa roots. It’s character-driven and interesting with its setup and themes. There are plenty of twists and turns even after two major reveals in the prologue. There’s also that patented violence that you come to look forward too
One of the most interesting aspects is how the game changes perspectives every chapter. You’re not stuck behind Haruto’s eyes the entire time, and it allows dialogue to flow a lot smoother because characters don’t blurt out their most inner thoughts because you can just read what they’re thinking.
You grow attached to each of the main cast and their likability helps smooth over any quick shifts in character arcs that happen every now and then. The two Extend TV characters are also hilarious and provide much needed comic relief to the oftentimes over-the-top and melodramatic situations.
The atmosphere of the game sucks you in right away. The bleak nature of the post-apocalyptic setting on a set of islands is strangely relaxing. And this freedom compliments the simple survival and RPG mechanics quite nicely. Building up your base, crafting and learning skills feel comfier than most survival games and it’s quite easy to get caught in the gameplay loop.
While the story is fantastic, the gameplay is more of a mixed bag. It’s a first-person dungeon crawler survival game. It has RPG elements but it’s not turn-based, like a lot of other entries in the genre.
It feels like a means to an end for the story. For a majority of the game, you’ll be filling out your map, gathering materials and solving the occasional puzzle. And outside of getting lost or that one puzzle that requires you read documents in the menu system to solve it, you won’t have too much trouble. You’ll find the occasional enemy too, but the combat is easily the weakest part of the game.
You have a normal attack, a charged attack, tentacle attack and can move in four directions. It’s very basic, although the first-person perspective adds a little bit of a learning curve to the controls. Enemies have weak points that you can target with the charge attack, but you’ll find yourself abusing the piss-poor AI more than anything else.
To make up for that deficit, they deal a shit ton of damage. You will die in one-hit sometimes, which sounds like garbage, but it highlights Zanki Zero’s most interesting gameplay element. It’s a survival game that encourages you to kick the bucket.
Because they’re clones, every time a party member dies, you can revive them at the arcade-cabinet-looking Extend machine using the points you get from killing enemies. And they’ll get resistances to whatever killed them or lead up to their death. Instead of getting punished you get rewarded when you die.
For example, if one of them dies from starvation, then they don’t lose stamina nearly as fast anymore or if you die from poison, you gain a poison resistance. My personal favorite moment has to be from killing two characters with food two different food allergies back to back. I had no idea what was happening and legitimately though potatoes and lizard tails were poisonous.
This is honestly the most novel idea ever accomplished in the survival genre. It gives the high damage output from enemies a silver-lining and encourages you to kill your party in new ways.
Another innovation that adds a little more depth to the gameplay is the aging system. Because clones, your characters age faster than Solid Snake, which switches up their stats and skills. So planning what cycle of life you want to be in for the boss takes a little strategy because fighting one as old men and children isn’t exactly ideal.
One thing that still sucks though are those menus systems. You’re gonna be stuck in them for a while. And there seriously needed to be a system in place where revived party members get all their equipment back because re-equipping them after a mimic eats your face is a giant pain in the ass.
It would also be nice if a similar level of innovation went into babysitting all the nonsense you need to take care of. It’s not too cumbersome, but you still have to manage your stamina with food, health with stamina, stress with water, and going to the bathroom. That last one is by far the worst. These characters had three days without a bathroom just go in the god damn corner again.
Speaking of corners, don’t stand in them. Outside of stepping in pee, enemies will also ruin your day if you get caught in them. So it would have been nice to have some way to get out of those tight situations because it can easily Thanos snap away half your party, especially if those damn scaled boars are involved.
Zanki Zero revels in its status as a game. It makes up for the lack of graphical power with retro menus and icons with a visual novel layout. It’s no Persona 5, but it adds a layer of polish that makes the whole presentation endearing.
Anyone who puts gameplay above all else may want to pass on this one. However, the innovations to the survival genre and memorable story more than make up for the slew of issues on the gameplay. If you’re still on the fence, there’s a free demo that’ll keep your progress should you take the full plunge.
This review is based on the final retail version provided by Spike Chunsoft on Playstation 4 (Also available on PC)
- Extend TV is great
- The atmosphere is oddly relaxing
- Cloning and dying makes for a great use of strategy
- Combat is dissapointing
- AI is weak
- The menu system could use some work