Mind Zero is the personification of plagiarism. The manner in which it copies the Persona franchise is akin to that little twerp who used to copy my exam answers back in school. He ceased that unethical practice once his grades came back and he realised I’m equally clueless when it comes to geography. Much like in Persona, the cast of Mind Zero is composed of teenagers who battle creatures in an alternate dimension with the aid of powerful guardians. In the case of Atlus’ smash hit you explore the Shadow World and summon Personas, whilst Mind Zero has you traversing the Inner Realm with the aid of summoned Minds. If that isn’t blatant imitation then Blackpool isn’t the capital of England… told you I suck at geography.
Aside from the similar premise Mind Zero also mimics Persona with its cast of characters. Kei, the moody protagonist, is accompanied by a buffoonish sidekick and a spunky tomboy that make up a trio who resemble Persona’s Makoto, Yosuke and Chie (both in terms of appearance and personality.) Coincidently the English voice actor who plays Yosuke also voices Leo the Yosuke doppelganger. Clearly Aksys Games, who localised Mind Zero for western audiences, noticed the similarities between both titles too. They can at least defend their casting decision by arguing that said voice actor does a fine job performing the role. If however you are one of those sticklers who prefer to play games in their native tongue, you’ll be pleased to know that the option to switch over to Japanese is also available.
Much like in Persona, the majority of Mind Zero’s gameplay involves dungeon crawling through mazes made up of multiple floors. I cannot help but admire the stamina of your average RPG hero. I’m down for the count after climbing a flight of stairs, unlike Mind Zero’s cast who manage to traverse several floors and battle monsters without breaking a sweat. Although I have spent much of this review harping on about the similarities Persona and Mind Zero share, I can at least say they differ slightly in their execution. Persona’s levels are randomly generated whilst Mind Zero’s are pre-made. Your view of the action is also different. The recent Persona games show your party from a third person view whilst Mind Zero opts for a first person vantage point, akin to that used in Demon Gaze and Etrian Odyssey.
Like with many JRPGs, combat is a turn-based affair were you select your desired action from a list of commands. Random encounters are the order of the day so you won’t see any enemies on the map. Instead every step you take has a chance of triggering a battle, which in my experience occurred too frequently for my liking. In order to triumph over the game’s tougher foes managing your Minds is essential. Summoning a Mind onto the field boosts your stats and protects your characters from damage by depleting your MP bar, instead of your health, whenever you get hit. Hiding behind a Mind can however be risky as an attack that reduces your MP to zero will stun a character, preventing them from moving in the following turn. In other words you should be MINDful about overusing your Mind (ha ha.)
Apart from performing standard attacks and using items players can also command their party to cast spells. Magic that heals allies, buffs comrades and damages foes can be assigned to specific characters by equipping them with special cards. Vanquished enemies liberally drop these enchanted cards, which is a relief. Whenever I think of collecting cards my mind goes back to the days when I tried to complete a Premier League album. I never accomplished that feat and was forced to consume tons of nasty bubble-gum, which came bundled with the cards. Moving back to Mind Zero, the card system is neat as it allows you to customize your team. Duplicate cards can be sacrificed in order to strengthen your equipped spells, in addition to clearing up inventory space.
My rating for Mind Zero is a three out of five. It’s not a bad game, but it fails to distinguish itself from the multitude of other JRPGs on Sony’s handheld. I genuinely enjoyed Mind Zero at first, but after clocking in several hours of play its flaws began to surface. My chief complaint is the repetitive combat, which is made all the worse by the frequency of its random encounters. The uninteresting battles made the later levels a chore, as they regularly interrupted the game’s dungeon crawling. Increasing difficulty, more elaborate mazes to navigate and re-coloured versions of enemies you have previously faced are not a good combination when the battle system is struggling to maintain your interest.
Thankfully holding down the shoulder button speeds up the combat sequences, although there isn’t much pay off for fighting your way to the end. The story ends in an unsatisfactory cliffhanger, which may never be resolved given that the game wasn’t a hit. Despite its faults RPG fans looking for a new dungeon crawler will find some enjoyment in Mind Zero. The question is whether this Persona pretender is worth the full retail asking price. Given that Persona 4 Golden is jam packed with content you would probably have more fun replaying it over tackling its unimaginative imposter.