HIGH The presentation and translation are pretty good!
LOW Nearly everything else in the game, not so much.
WTF Every character’s backstory.
In good old videogame tradition, it looks like humanity’s gone and almost made itself extinct again. Kicking off in the aftermath of a mysterious apocalyptic event, eight seemingly-unconnected survivors find themselves waking up on a deserted island base with very little in the way of provisions or facilities to keep them alive. The only way forward involves first-person dungeon crawling through dangerous environments filled with resources and clues, so best sharpen up those wooden sticks — it’s time to go exploring.
Since the main party seems to be all that’s left of mankind, there aren’t many NPCs around to explain this puzzling situation to the survivors. Fortunately, a local TV station kicks into life to deliver critical missions to the team via ’70s-styled anime skits, though the repeated attempts at off-the-wall humor by hosts Sho and Mirai are more often irritating than amusing. They’re also the source of most backstory in the game, explaining the situation on Earth to our survivors. Kind of.
All of the remaining humans, bar one, are imperfect clones of the originals and doomed to grow old and die within thirteen days. Fortunately, they have an out — there’s an “Extend” machine on the island that will allow them to respawn almost indefinitely, growing in power and experience as long as a small fee is paid to unlock these bonuses. For instance, were they killed by a rampaging goat? The next clone can be made more resilient to goat attacks. Perhaps they died of old age? The next clone may inherit a slightly extended life capacity, and so on.
The cloning is an interesting narrative concept, but annoying in practice. Having little control over their ageing whilst out in a dungeon means that players may have to return to the base and deliberately kill themselves in order to restart with a fresh group of childlike clones who’ve got poor combat capabilities until they mature. Otherwise, ageing characters may drop dead whilst exploring or simply grow too old and weak to carry their equipment. It’s an added layer of awkwardness that simply doesn’t provide additional value to offset its annoyances.
Even though the party is doomed to die repeatedly throughout their adventure, it’s still important that they survive for as long as possible when necessary. This involves making sure characters are sleeping and feeding themselves properly, in good mental health and using toilets instead of wetting themselves while wandering around the dungeon. For some reason they’d rather piss in their clothes rather than in a corner guarded by their friends. It’s a bit of an oddity.
Building and improving new facilities back at base will also help longevity. For instance, the initial toilet is dirty and smelly, and using it stresses people out. Improve it via items found out in the field, however, and the negative issues are lessened. Same with every other amenity — build a decent workshop and better items can be fashioned to protect the group. Improve the kitchen and more dishes can be cooked to keep everyone in good spirits. It’s a neat subsystem, though more limited than I’d like since these improvements come slowly, and more types of facilities would have been appreciated.
Dungeon exploration isn’t really too interesting, either. Combat occurs in realtime, but it boils down to one of two approaches — either assault the enemy repeatedly with single attacks, or charge up for a more powerful swipe that can be aimed to break an enemy’s weak points. Foes generally move around trying to get a good vantage point on the player, so it’s best to scuttle around to the side and unload on them, scuttle again as they wheel around, then repeat this forever and ever, amen. It’s unengaging from a gameplay standpoint and most of the enemies feel too similar to battle, regardless of their form or kinds of attacks.
The dungeon designs are subpar. They generally look decent, with environments tying into each character’s backstory, but as they become more complex they become more irritating. Trying to hunt down specific distant doorways after pulling a lever, deliberately falling into pitfall traps to land in a new section of lower levels and cryptic puzzles all pop up to do their part in stalling a player’s progress.
At one point I was confronted by a puzzle involving throwing an item onto a distant pressure plate that I completed correctly, only to have it bug out and refuse to open a nearby door despite an audio cue triggering to suggest that something had opened. This resulted in wandering around for an hour wondering where the hell I was supposed to be going, only to later repeat the same solution out of frustration and have it work as intended. This was admittedly a one-off bug, but given my enjoyment was already at a complete low it felt like the game was spitting in my face.
Coming from the people behind Danganronpa, I’d assume that the storyline is probably the main attraction for most players. It does have potential from the outset, but it’s hamstrung by the fact that I grew to loathe most of the cast very quickly. They’re either boring or annoying — the minute one of them revealed his quirk of saying “that’s love” and making a heart shape with fingers at idiotic times, I prayed for a roaming pack of wolves to show up and rip him to bits on the spot. The translation may be top notch, but most of the characters certainly aren’t.
Zanki Zero leans heavily into the pasts of the cast as the story progresses, loosely attributing one of the seven deadly sins to each character, and these are usually so ludicrously awful and exploitative that it’s almost impossible to take them seriously. It’s like each one is competing for the ‘Most Inhumanely Dreadful Backstory’ award, but they’re all winners.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a bit of a disaster. It looks nice on its surface, but the initially-promising setup soon devolves into complete drudgery thanks to inferior dungeon crawling, poor combat and a cast I had no empathy for whatsoever. My interest in the overall mystery got snuffed out long before it was solved.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Lancarse and published by Spike Chunsoft. It is currently available on Playstation 4 and PC.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 37 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Violence. I don’t want to spoil the particulars of any character’s past, but some of them are absolute shitshows.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: While the game should largely be fine, there are audio cues when puzzles are completed or enemies are skulking nearby. It may make some of these instances a little trickier to discern.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.