Is ‘Personalike' a genre yet?
HIGH The combat system is fresh and fantastic.
LOW High encounter rates turn it into a grind too quickly.
WTF Why is there no quick and easy way out of a dungeon?
While I don't advocate any developer outright swiping stuff from others, there's a famous saying that states if you're going to steal, you should steal from the best. I think that sentiment is clear, and really, it's sound advice. Case in point, Mind Zero. Although it's not exactly a clone of Atlus's Persona series, it's impossible to ignore the influences, thematically and otherwise. On the other hand, it strikes out in a new direction with its combat and has a flavor all its own.
Coming from Zerodiv and Acquire, Mind Zero is a mostly-first-person, turn-based dungeon crawler that posits the existence of a dimension parallel to our own, and populated with, uh, personas that mirror humanity. These creatures from the other side are called MINDs, and they connect to the game's characters in a special room between worlds that's guarded over by an odd caretaker. At this point, I'm sure anyone who's played the Persona titles can begin to see similarities, and when the graphics are factored in, there's no doubt that Mind Zero has more than a passing resemblance to Atlus's work. However, despite the common points, Mind Zero differs in significant ways.
The first is that while there's a passable amount of story, there are no choices to be made, no classes to attend, no romances to be chased, and no social links to be established. Sidequests give the player a bit more information about certain characters, but none of it is as deep or involving as one might desire. The plot gets the job done and the characters are likeable enough, but narrative is not Mind Zero's strong suit.
The place where Mind Zero differs in an even greater way is the combat system mentioned earlier. In this regard, the developers have done a wonderful job of creating something that stands out, based on three gauges to monitor: the life bar, the mind bar, and the action gauge.
As long as players have some energy in their mind bar, they can summon MINDs. When active, these spirits grant access to swappable skills and also soak up all damage dealt by enemies. As long as the player has mind energy, they're basically invincible. However, each attack chips away at the mind bar. If it's depleted, that character is stunned and out of action for a turn or two. It's also possible to dismiss the MIND at any time and fight as a normal human. It seems counterintuitive at first, but it's advantageous against certain enemies and offers its own set of functions such as item usage and defending.
The action bar comes into play by functioning as MP for the skills, but when the bar is full enough, the points can also be used to buy extra turns via a "burst" mode. In this way, the player can perform six or more actions in one round, frequently tipping the scales towards victory.
Finally, if a battle can be completed before the mind energy runs out, that bar is completely refilled before the next battle, and action gauge points are awarded after each turn. When used judiciously, this system grants the player infinite resources in a dungeon, eliminating the need to keep a huge stock of items, or to go back and sleep at an inn every fifteen minutes.
I don't usually go into so much detail when talking about combat, but it's Mind Zero's strongest suit, and if the way these systems come together sounds a little complicated, well, it is. But, it's also quite smart and balanced. Tough battles feel strategic, things are pleasantly complex without being confusing, and the annoyance of having to constantly replenish supplies is nearly eliminated. However, despite the fact that these mechanics are brilliant, the developers haven't totally nailed everything.
The biggest issue I had with Mind Zero is that the encounter rate is higher than I'd like, and I found that I could only play in short bursts before combat fatigue set in. It was also annoying that it's not possible to upgrade and customize MIND skills while in a dungeon. Want to increase some stats or combine some abilities? Sorry, those crucial functions are only available in town. Worse, there's no quick ‘exit' spell to be seen. Having to trek up several floors to tweak things is a big pain in the neck, and the lack of a shortcut here is a strange omission.
Another puzzling thing was that despite each character having their own unique MIND, none of these creatures have individual skills. Perhaps specializations come in past the point where I'm at, but I'd expect some sort of practical variation between them right off the bat. They all seem unique—one's a one-armed demon, one's a Samurai ghost, one looks like a fairy with machine gun arms, and so on. I mean, it's a no-brainer to give the Samurai sword attacks, or to give the fairy a ‘sniper' or ‘gatling' power, and yet they're all functionally identical except for small stat variations. This absence (or extremely delayed appearance) of basic differentiation is bizarre.
Despite the issues outlined above, I've been enjoying my time with Mind Zero, and would recommend it to fans of Persona open to a different take on combat, while being accepting of something that's not as heavy on story. "Personalike" might not be a genre yet, but Mind Zero would be a great candidate to kick off its creation.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Vita. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: blood, fantasy violence, language, partial nudity, and use of tobacco. Despite the warnings, I'd call this one safe for kids old enough to grok how to play it. The combat is bloodless swipes of weapons on monsters (not sure where the ‘blood' warning comes into this, honestly), the partial nudity is from one of the MINDs showing some cleavage, and as for the rest, it's all pretty harmless stuff typical for the genre.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All dialogue is subtitled, and since it's turn-based, there are no audio cues necessary for play. I spent about 10 hours with the sound completely off and had no problems playing at all. It's accessible!