Nowadays it's more and more difficult to make a unique game. Games come out in such a rapid rate that it's easy to lose some to the wayside. So many games can be rationalized to a little bit of one game, with elements of another. I'm sure many people when trying to explain a new game to a friend will tell them what other game's it's like. To explain The Division 2 "It's like Destiny but in Washington D.C after an apocalypse." It's not a negative thing to compare games like this. It serves as a way to immediately familiarize players and give them a reference to gauge interest. Where other games get compared across developers, Zanki Zero is a game you can only justify relating to Danganronpa. Spike Chunsoft and Lancarse have been able to carry over their unique art style and grim storytelling creating a perfect imitation of themselves.
The game opens as the eight playable characters are all unaware of their past. These characters have woken up on Garage Island, a piece of city in ruins floating in an endless sea. They wonder how they ended up on the island, discovering strange metallic Xs where their belly buttons used to be. The first character you play as in Haruto Higurashi, the last thing he recalls is throwing himself from the top of a building. Expecting to hit the car parked below his new found situation quite perplexing. Being introduced to the other characters you meet a police officer, doctor, heiress, farmer, bondage artist, and more. Each character unrelated to one another yet dependent on everyone for survival.
Characters are informed by a TV program called "Extend TV" that they are all clones and the last eight humans on the earth. As clones, their greatest flaw is an accelerated growth process meaning that they'll expire in 13 days. After death remaining party members are able to collect their X-key to revive them using the Extend Machine. The characters shift through the child, adult, middle-aged, and senior stages of life each with their own benefits and downsides. Extend TV's goal is to give the players missions to fix their aging effect and help restore the human race. To fix the world and themselves they need to visit ruins relating to each of their past sins. At the end of a ruin, there's another machine part to continue fixing the Extend Machine. With each new piece, a feature is added to the Extend Machine ranging from added difficulty settings to an arcade game.
As you might expect a story about the end of the human race and people regenerating Zanki Zero has a dark plot. Each of the ruins that you visit along the way will tie back to one of your central characters. You'll learn why Haruto threw himself off a building, or what led the bondage artist to be so interesting in his craft. Zanki Zero delivers story at a consistent pace for both the characters in the world and about the fate of the world. For no extended period are you left waiting for story continually stringing along the player while not forcing too much exposition at once. There are plenty of games with multiple lead characters where one is the full focus. This includes Crono from Chrono Trigger and Tidus in Final Fantasy X. By swapping the main character each chapter Zanki Zero ensures that you learn enough about each character. This gives the entire cast a portion of the spotlight and proper time to develop.
To mirror the dark story filled with tragedy Extend TV tries to bring some lighthearted fun to the tale. The hosts of Extend TV make off-color jokes and play off one another in a way that will make you cringe. After hearing about abuse and childhood trauma you'll get greeted by a grade schooler talking about busty housewives. It's really weird and catches you off guard a lot. It would be wrong to say that the humor is good or that even 50% of their jokes land. A game that has so much death and abuse affecting the player does need something to level it out.
When they aren't making over sexualized jokes Ryo and Mirai work in the same way as Monokuma from Danganronpa. They know what has happened, and while they don't let on they slow drip the characters this information. You can't trust them but as the only ones with knowledge of the world, it's impossible to not keep listening to them. Each video will answer some questions while bringing up whole new questions you hadn't even thought of yet. It's only through completing all of their missions for you that you can learn about the fate of the world.
Zanki Zero's gameplay can be broken down into the two main elements of dungeon crawling, and survival. With Garage Island as your hub area, you navigate the first person grid-based world. As new ruins appear near the island it's your job to explore them. At any time you're able to have four characters in your party. Each can have a weapon, head/body/foot protection, and be carrying up to 7 other unique items. Combat is extremely simple allowing you to attack either with a single attack, or hold down the attack for a combo.
The vast majority of normal enemies are only able to attack one or two spaces in the direction they're facing. Simply sliding up next to them, unleashing a combo, and then retreating repeatedly will be enough to dispatch them. When you do encounter an enemy that has AOE attacks it can be a surprising change. You won't fall for it again though unless your timing is off. The real danger of combat is getting surrounded or caught off guard. Being built on a grid you're not able to jump over or move through enemy spaces. The enemies make up for their simple AI by hitting you as hard as they can. Returning to earlier areas if you're too cocky about your play style you could find yourself in a world of hurt early on.
While early in the game a simple button will unlock a door the puzzles get more obscure as you progress. Puzzles can include locating various keycards, weight puzzles, and word games. One of the more obscure puzzles asked for a birthstone for a month based upon the Roman calendar. If you go through each floor and investigate every room you'll be able to solve the puzzles. For some of the obscure puzzles trial and error are just as reliable.
When it isn't enough that you're forging into the ruins, fighting enemies, and discovering the fate of the world you'll be surviving. You have a number of meters that you're required to pay attention to for each character. You'll monitor your characters stress levels, stamina, bladder, and how much they're carrying at a time. These meters will all continue to go up as you explore dungeons and all can affect the character and even lead to death. Dying of old age might be one thing but starving a character to death is just cruel. There are even penalties for feeding your character raw food if you're unable to cook more.
Each character also has their own food that they could be allergic to. Being the player that will pick up every item they come across meant a lot of hitting character weight limits. If you don't want to leave anything behind you'll have to hightail it back to Garage island to stash it away. There's a lot that goes into micromanagement in this game. It's not just the meters though that you need to keep an eye on. What stage of life or position in the party can also affect your characters stats. Each character's skill tree will shape them into specific roles. If you don't want to learn the ins and outs of each character you'll still be able to beat Zanki Zero. However, it'll be a frustrating process along the way.
When you're not out collecting items from across various ruins you're back on your home base of Garage Island. Here you'll be able to build facilities that will make your job going forward much easier. Workshop and kitchen for taking your spoils and turning them into weapons or food to keep your character safe. Beds to not only heal your character but also build up their relationships with other characters. A toilet to... well go to the toilet. Each of these will replace the need to use up items. Having consistent ways to heal or empty your bladder will leave you with more resources for ruins. Facilities will require different items that you can collect around ruins or from enemies. After a time you'll begin to learn standard item locations so needing an extra water bottle or rope should be trivial. There are some items like partitions though that are rare to come across which will forcibly slow your development. While it's frustrating when you need an upgrade it's balanced so that you don't get too far ahead of the game.
If that wasn't enough on your plate you can also add more to the mix with the difficulty scale of the game. For those who are purely in it for the story, the lowest difficulty actually removes enemies other than story based ones e.g bosses. Each difficulty past that not only makes the enemies more difficult but also rewards the players with more experience and items. This range gives players of all skill levels and patience a chance to experience Zanki Zero how they want. With some penalty, you can also turn the difficulty up and down whenever you're on Garage Island. So, if you want to spend some time traveling back to previous locations to grind for previously inaccessible loot, you can. This becomes a viable option to speed up experience gain and challenge yourself.
Spike Chunsoft and Lancarse have successfully taken their own style and applied to a new genre. This is the spiritual successor to Danganronpa in all the best ways. Micromanagement is a large part of the game so anyone wanting to pick this up should be prepared. There will be plenty of deaths early but every one of those will be a learning experience. Difficulty levels work fantastically to get players in and then give them a chance to crank up the challenge. It's great to see a developer carry on their legacy without sticking to the same old formula. Lancarse has once again developed an interesting and engaging story that will keep drawing the player in for more.
TechRaptor reviewed Zanki Zero on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the developer. This game is also available on PC via Steam.
Zanki Zero takes the dark and compelling storytelling of Lancarse' Danganronpa and successfully applies it to a new genre. Mixing together heavy simulation elements with a deep narrative and first-person dungeon crawling this might not be the game for anyone but if you're in for a wild adventure this might be your cup of tea.
- Complex Survival Elements...
- Interesting Story...
- Inviting Difficulty
- Humor To Break Chaos
- ..But Keep An Eye On Them
- ..But Very Anime