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Review

Review: Zanki Zero – Last Beginning

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New real-time dun­ge­on craw­ler releases are few and far bet­ween, and a tit­le try­ing to blend that style of game­play with sur­vi­val ele­ments is even more irre­gu­lar. Zan­ki Zero: Last Begin­ning attempts to do this and more, but makes qui­te a few missteps along the way. 

After maga­zi­ne edi­tor Haruto see­min­gly jumps off a buil­ding to his death, he wakes up on an unfa­mi­li­ar beach. As it turns out, asi­de from him and 7 others, huma­ni­ty has been wiped out lea­ving only ruins of what used to be. He dis­co­vers that all of them are human clo­nes, each having an x shaped device implan­ted on their sto­machs, and they age far quicker than nor­mal humans. None of the sur­vi­vors have any memo­ries of what hap­pen­ed to the world, and the only thing they have to gui­de them is a stran­ge car­toon that direc­ts them to the ruins that drift through the sea. 

Zan­ki Zero’s cha­rac­ters are by far the stron­gest part of the game, giving us a diver­se cast of mis­fits that each have their own per­so­na­li­ties and quirks. If you’ve play­ed any of the Dang­an­ron­pa games (pro­du­ced by the same direc­tor) then you’ll likely alrea­dy be fami­li­ar with the way cha­rac­ters are hand­led in this game. Unli­ke Dang­an­ron­pa you’ll actual­ly be spen­ding a lot more time with the ent­i­re cast, sin­ce this about sur­vi­val ins­tead of kil­ling. 

Most cha­rac­ters have their back­sto­ries hand­led in a simi­lar way; the ruins that appe­ar each chap­ter are tied to one of the sur­vi­vors, and while explo­ring them you’ll often run into TVs that show you that character’s past in the form of ‘con­quest vide­os’. The pro­blem with this is the way the game pres­ents each look at their back­sto­ry, main­ly the car­toon that is used to intro­du­ce each video. Extend TV is a goofy car­toon with a pair of cha­rac­ters that joke around and make refe­ren­ces to other media and pop cul­tu­re. This, com­bi­ned with the visu­al style used for each video, real­ly takes away from the serious sub­ject mat­ter being pre­sen­ted. 

Thank­ful­ly this doesn’t detract too much from the rest of the sto­ry, and itt’s gre­at to see the cha­rac­ters over­co­me each of their trou­bled pasts. This is all fur­ther hel­ped by Zan­ki Zero’s fan­tastic Eng­lish dub, offe­ring some of the best Eng­lish voice acting we’ve heard in a dub­bed game for a long time. The­re can be a lack of voice acting at times though, main­ly due to the age­ing sys­tem requi­ring each line to be voi­ced mul­ti­ple times, which can detract from some important sce­nes.

Dun­ge­on craw­ling makes up the majo­ri­ty of Zan­ki Zero, and is whe­re many of the game’s issu­es crop up. Your main par­ty is made up of four cha­rac­ters, with the remai­ning 4 being avail­ab­le at all times to hold items or switch into the par­ty. Move­ment is grid based and works as you’d expect in a DRPG, though you do have access to sprin­ting which speeds up explo­ra­ti­on. Each cha­rac­ter in your par­ty can attack with their held wea­pon, with a small cool-down befo­re they can attack again. Again, stan­dard stuff for a turn-based DRPG, but the­re are at least a coup­le of attempts to spi­ce things up. 

Hol­ding down the attack but­ton will give you access to a pro­gres­si­ve­ly more power­ful char­ge attack, with more par­ty mem­bers joi­ning in with the final attack depen­ding on how long you char­ge it. If you release and then re-press the attack but­ton when the char­ge meter reaches a cer­tain point, you’ll quick­ly be able to use the full par­ty char­ge attack. This attack not only does more dama­ge than regu­lar hits, but can also break parts of spe­ci­fic enemies to gain extra items. This sys­tem is usual­ly most important during boss fights whe­re you can dis­able their attacks by brea­king parts, along with gai­ning access to new clio­ne. Clio­ne acts as the spe­cial moves or spells of Zan­ki Zero, giving cha­rac­ters that equip them new attacks or sup­port abi­li­ties. Both of the­se sys­tems do make dun­ge­on craw­ling slight­ly more enjoy­a­ble, but it often just means that you’ll be spamming char­ge attacking ins­tead of regu­lar ones which is still not very enga­ging. 

As for the ruins, they’re pret­ty good over­all, offe­ring a decent num­ber of puz­zles and gim­micks uni­que to each area. Zan­ki Zero can rely on item and but­tonbased puz­zles a litt­le too much at time, but even the­se offer up a decent chan­ge of pace from the com­bat sys­tem. It would have been nice if the­re were a few extra ruins that weren’t rela­ted to the main cha­rac­ters, may­be as a way to add in more sto­ry events bet­ween the main are­as, but that’s far from this game’s big­gest pro­blem. 

We men­tio­ned during the sto­ry that the main cast can only live for a short amount of time befo­re they die and have to be clo­ned again. Well, this and the sur­vi­val ele­ments in Zan­ki Zero real­ly detract from the dun­ge­on craw­ling game­play. First­ly, each cha­rac­ter has a set of stami­na, stress and blad­der meters that must be loo­ked after at all times. This means taking food with you and items that can redu­ce stress. The pro­blem is that unless you’re play­ing on one of the easiest dif­fi­cul­ty set­tings, stami­na will drain incredi­b­ly quick­ly. This means eating food, which in turn means each character’s blad­der meter will fill up. Even eating food can be some­what fini­cky due to the invento­ry sys­tem, requi­ring you to select food and then move it over to each character’s por­trait. The­se sur­vi­val sys­tems just feel like a cho­re after the first few ruins, though on their own they wouldn’t have been a deal-brea­ker. 

Age­ing and the cloning sys­tem is what real­ly makes dun­ge­on craw­ling annoy­ing, due to how time moves while explo­ring ruins. From what we could tell, spen­ding a cer­tain amount of time on a par­ti­cu­lar floor in a ruin will cau­se a day to pass when you move to a dif­fe­rent floor. With clo­nes only being able to live for 13 days at the start of Zan­ki Zero, and dun­ge­ons being at least 5 floors long, this means that you’ll ine­vi­ta­b­ly have cha­rac­ters die even if they aren’t kil­led by an ene­my or trap. Dead cha­rac­ters drop all their items, and can only be clo­ned when back at Gara­ge Island. This means back­tracking, which will likely end up making other cha­rac­ters age even fur­ther, or taking a point penal­ty. Points are what you need to clo­ne cha­rac­ters, and can deple­ted pret­ty quick­ly ear­ly on if enough cha­rac­ters die. 

So, bet­ween cloning cha­rac­ters and gathe­ring items you’ll end up having to make con­stant trips to and from Gara­ge Island. Back­tracking can alrea­dy be annoy­ing in DRPGs when you’re stuck on a spe­ci­fic puz­zle or fall into a pit, so the­se extra inter­rup­ti­ons are even less wel­co­me. Depen­ding on how a cha­rac­ter dies, they’ll gain cer­tain bene­fits when clo­ned, but many of the­se bonu­ses don’t have much impact con­si­de­ring how awk­ward it is to bring them back to life. Wit­hout the age­ing mecha­nic, the cloning sys­tem wouldn’t have been too bad – it would just be a slight­ly quir­ky way of revi­ving cha­rac­ters with slight bonu­ses here and the­re – but having cha­rac­ters die no mat­ter what you do just grinds game­play to a halt at times. 

Conclusion 

Zan­ki Zero fails to blend DRPG and sur­vi­val mecha­nics tog­e­ther in any mea­ning­ful way, though strong cha­rac­te­ri­sa­ti­on makes up for some of its short­co­m­ings. Fans of the Dang­an­ron­pa series will likely find some enjoy­ment in Zan­ki Zero, but this is not a game for tho­se cra­ving a good DRPG. 

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