Zanki Zero: The Last Beginning review for PS4, PC


Platform: PS4
Also On: PC
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

I went into Zanki Zero: Last Beginning with pretty high expectations. After all, it’s the newest game from the same team that created the Danganronpa series, which includes some of the most memorable games I’ve ever played. While Zanki Zero may not have quite the same premise — it’s still set in a weird, post-apocalyptic wasteland, but most of the other details are different — it’s close enough that I still wanted to see where it would go.

Turns out, the answer is: nowhere interesting. Or, to be more precise, it tries to go somewhere interesting, but it ends up being so all over the place, it ends up feeling like a bit of a muddled mess.

Just consider how many different genres Zanki Zero tries to bring together. It’s a dungeon-crawler. It’s a visual novel. It’s survival horror. Mashing all these genres together requires that the game keep a lot of balls in the air at any given time — and, unfortunately, it isn’t nearly compelling enough to pull that off.

In part, this is because the survival aspects of the game don’t blend so well with the narrative it’s trying to pull off. Zanki Zero is built around solving a big mystery: figuring out what happened to humanity, and why the eight characters here are trapped on an island together. At the same time, though, the game also expects you to closely manage the characters’ survival. You have to make sure they eat, sleep, clean their surroundings, even use the bathroom regularly, and failing to do so will have deleterious effects on their health and well-being. Needless to say, it’s hard to get fully invested in the story when you’ve got to keep an eye at all times on bladder levels.

Likewise, the narrative also suffers from a couple of self-inflicted issues. For starters, the game takes a very long time to get going. The prologue alone takes a couple of hours, and suffers from lots and lots and lots of exposition and explanation. I get that the game has quite a bit of info it wants to impart, but the way it’s presented here makes it hard to care. Contrast this with Danganronpa, which found ways to do info-dumps without slowing down the story, and you can see why Zanki Zero represents a bit of a step back.

For another thing, it feels like the game is trying to outdo its spiritual predecessors in terms of shock value. Thus, where Danganronpa had kids killing each other, here you don’t just have murder, but also rape, incest, pedophilia, and a whole host of other abhorrent behaviours. Likewise, where Danganronpa had one villainous narrator/mascot in Monokuma, here you have Sho and Mirai, a kid-and-sheep pair who pop up occasionally on TV to provide commentary, direction, and pee jokes. It all feels like an overt attempt to out-Danganronpa Danganronpa and pushing the envelope to really earn its M rating, but after awhile it all feels like a bit much. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will appreciate the game’s exploration of morality and the 7 deadly sins, but to me it feels kind of heavy-handed.

All that said, even with its glaring flaws, no one could accuse Zanki Zero of lacking ideas. All the characters are constantly reborn clones, and their past (very brief) lives significantly impact what they do in their next lives. Plus, even though the storyline does nothing for me, it’s rare to see a game tackling themes like this head on, so I’m sure that should count for something.

I don’t think, though, that it counts enough to make Zanki Zero worth checking out. It’s quite possible that my lack of enthusiasm for the game comes entirely from the fact it feels like a huge letdown after the highs of Danganronpa — but, given that we know that’s what these creators are capable of, can you blame me feeling disappointed?

Spike Chunsoft provided us with a Zanki Zero: Last Beginning PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-