Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a game that on paper looks like a game that I would have an absolute blast playing as it takes elements from different genres but the end result is a game that feels lackluster as it feels that some of these elements weren’t well executed. It’s not to say it’s a bad game, there was a lot about the game I quite enjoyed but you have to really ignore the glaring issues to get what makes the game fun.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a dungeon crawler as well as a visual novel game mixed with survival elements and a roguelike battle system developed by Lancarase and alongside them is the team behind the Danganronpa series including Yoshinori Terasawa and Takayuki Sugawara. Lancarase is best known for developing the first two games in the Etrian Odyssey series as well as Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey which is still one of my favorite Nintendo DS titles to this day (especially Redux) and I enjoyed it for most of the game and at other times I just got frustrated as the dungeons get quite complex and incorporate some very annoying puzzles.
At the start of the game, you take control of Haruto Higurashi who is about to commit suicide, as he is falling he suddenly awakens on a strange island as a child where he meets Sachika Hirasaka, a young girl with a robotic arm and leg, as well as six others who also found themselves stuck on the island. Very soon, Haruto learns that while the island has no electricity the group is given quests via a television show known as Extend TV. This is where you can really see the Danganronpa influences show, Extend TV’s two hosts are Mirari, a female sheep who serves as the show’s host, and her assistant Sho. The two play a role similar to Monokuma but instead of trying to bring despair, the two want to help the characters survive by telling them where to go and what they need but also along the way play videos that looks into each of the character’s sins. I really loved Monokuma in Danganronpa since his mischievous character was unique and fun even as the antagonist of the series but Mirai and Sho as important as they felt rather flat and as a focal point of the game, they didn’t really leave much of an impression.
Mirai and Sho explain that the group are actually clones who have a mysterious item known as the X key on their stomach, one of the missions they give is for one of the characters to die only to explain to them afterward that they are in fact clones and can be revived using the Extend function of the mysterious arcade machine in the garage.
This Extend function plays a huge part in the game as it not only revives a character who has died but also can grant bonuses for the characters based on how they died including stat bonuses and extending how many days they will live. Compared to Sachika who does not age, the rest of the group will be reborn through various stages of their lives starting from a baby until eventually reaching death only to be starting the cycle once more. It can be used over and over again but it does require the cost of score points which are earned mainly by defeating enemies and performing combos but I never had any issue with this especially by the end game since you do earn quite a bit throughout the game.
Build, Kill, Collect, Run Back to Base and Revive….Repeat
If you’ve played games like Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon or even Shiren the Wanderer the battle system will be somewhat familiar but in a first-person view, much like the Etrian series. This means you don’t have any skills and instead just attack as you move from space to space. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that enemies will wait for you to make a move either as they attack and move in real time so attacking and quickly dodging is important though most of the time they will try to pincer attack or surround you. There is one skill you gain later in the game but I never really bothered using it as it takes too much time to set up and in this game you don’t have the luxury of time so using it can potentially kill your character so it’s more of a last resort.
Sadly the battle system felt a bit too bland, while you travel with all eight characters, only four of them can be in your active party at any time and they all play exactly the same with only slight alterations in their skill tree that can make some characters more useful but it’s nothing too noticeable. At the start of the game, you might pick up a stick as a weapon to use for one character and as you progress you need to equip various weapons and equipment for each character though as you progress you are also able to create or power up weapons which will be important as enemies get stronger.
Dungeons are for the most part pretty straight forward for the duration of the game, there are a few puzzles that will have you run back and forth because you need a certain item or you need to have all your members alive and that wouldn’t be a problem…except for the fact that your party members will drop like flies quite often. I wasn’t really a fan of how time passes in the game, it feels inconsistent even if you rush into the next area or backtrack especially towards the final dungeons where it’s easy to get lost finding items to proceed. If a character falls every one of their items are dropped so you need to manage the inventory and depending on your characters age, which is broken down to one of three stages (child, adult, and senior), the amount of weight they can carry varies so you might have to leave items behind but that’s not an issue as the item will remain there when you come back.
The game overall isn’t very difficult, you are able to adjust the settings as you please with a normal mode that has average enemies and decent rewards but there is more risk vs reward in a harder mode that has tougher enemies and higher goodies. You also have the option of picking an easy mode, it sadly makes the game way too easy and worst of all shows just how shallow the game really is as it removes all enemies and lets you kill bosses in one hit. I don’t really get the point of this mode, it’s fine giving players the ability to make the game easier if they are having trouble but to remove enemies means you pretty much get no items which in my opinion is just disappointing. This means you have no real reason to try and create better items or even level up.
My biggest issue with the game is that it’s just too repetitive and that would be fine if there was something I was really looking forward to but there isn’t. I never really felt rewarded for beating a dungeon, just more frustration as I played. It felt at times lackluster including the story, the characters never really stood out even as you learn more about them and that probably has more to do with the fact that Extend TV is how you learn everything about them and it’s done via videos with the characters not really engaging all that much with it. It felt like a step back from the intriguing and vastly superior Danganronpa series where each character had a sense of interest and intrigue but the characters in Zanki Zero felt a bit flat.
Nuke the Fridge Score: 6/10