Saturday, January 8, 2011

Zettai Zero Project

One of my gifts for Christmas this year was a quirky little game from the masters of quirkyness themselves, Nippon Ichi Software. It is called Z.H.P. (Zettai Hero Project): Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. I actually found out about it from it's TVTropes article (you know, every once and a while, TVTropes will actually be useful). And it's another roguelike. At this point I think roguelikes deserve thier own label already.

Z.H.P. is a rather mixed bag to be honest. The story is rather standard for Nippon Ichi, with quirky characters doing silly funny things, and ultimately not really that well written. My biggest complaints about the gameplay are that there is only 4 directional movement while most roguelikes have 8 directional movement (which really adds a lot more stratagy then you may think), and there is no item identification gimmick at all. Also while the game has special spells or techniques and exotic gameplay functions like barriers, they are more or less completely pointless or hard to use effectively.

Like the Disgaea series, the gameplay involves tons and tons of grinding (so much so the trailer proudly calls it a "Grindfest RPG"). The method of grinding is sort of interesting in that you start at level one whenever you enter a dungeon but the levels you gain when you leave one or die are added to a "total level" score that increases your base stats. I find that in my game almost none of the enemies can even lay a finger on me now after a level or two.

Some nice features are the fact that you can see every item you equip on your character (Elona did this too to an extent, but the equips in Z.H.P. are more interesting to see), and costumes that let you change your base body sprite. Even though most of these costumes are of anime characters I never heard of. But Dokuro-chan is one of them, and that alone is worth the blatant cameos. Everyone loves Dokuro-chan.

As far as the dungeons themselves, it is similar to the Mystery Dungeon series in it's basic dungeon layouts that are randomized each floor with a few traps items and monsters. In this game most rooms are pre-set and only the placement and paths are randomized, though there are rather good variety of rooms with basic 3D terrain and/or gimmicks that add some variety at least. Some dungeons have features like paths or rooms that vanish after a while or have no paths but feature other ways to get between rooms, which is interesting but a bit under used.

I have to say playing this game made me think about some features in Mystery Dungeon-like roguelikes. I have to restate I really like Elona alot for giving a Nethack-style interface that can be mapped to a gamepad. The Mystery Dungeon-style interface isn't to bad, but automatically picking items up sort of bugs me because my inventory fills up faster then I would like. Also I really must say I don't like having all the dungeons change every floor, as it doesn't allow for as much exploration. Also Mystery Dungeon-like games have way to tight food requirements. It should take AT LEAST few days before you starve, not a few minutes. This might be true of all roguelikes. In fact one of the only games I know of that I think got this right was Ultima Underworld, where food and sleep were very very subtle needs that didn't usually need to be dealt with unless you sleept a lot (BTW, I really would like to see a Ultima Underworld random level generator, because it's practically a 3D realtime roguelike in every other aspect).

Also I really have to say that Nippon Ichi games in general, while generally fun, are sort of annoying. Their stories are way to predictable and cliché, their gameplay relies way to much on repetitive grinding, and there gimmicks are just that: gimmicks. I also personally hate the restricted and gimmicky character customization. In Z.H.P. for example, you can fuse items but all this ever does is let you choose some skills to be attached to them and raise their max condition. You can put stuff on a silly little grid to upgrade your stats and abilities but a simple point system would make much more sense, be easier to do, and would offer more freedom in the long run. I could also say similar stuff for Disgaea's class, reincarnation, pupil, and item world systems. They are just gimmicks that limit character growth and make no sense. I kinda like Phantom Brave's fusion system though, even if it was way to easy to break the game with it thanks to the silly title system.

I should actually make a roguelike someday. I have a few ideas I really want to try, such as completely level-less gameplay (using only a system like in nethack/Elona where you can train stats and skills directly) and a reincarnation mechanic (you have to make a new character when you die, but you unlock new starting roles/races/starting feats as you play, and the world layout will remain more or less the same giving a chance of getting items back).

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