Zanki Zero: Last Beginnings from Spike Chunsoft is a great looking adventure with a weird but interesting premise and a ton of death. Learn more in our Zanki Zero: Last Beginnings review!
Zanki Zero: Last Beginnings is the latest game from game designer Takayuki Sugawara and producer Yoshinori Terasawa, who are the creators of the beloved Danganronpa series. This time around, we’re not getting a visual novel/whodunit mystery, and will instead dive into a game in a very different genre: a first-person real-time survival action RPG! The game starts right away without an intro cutscene or a tutorial. You will walk with the D-Pad, can move side to side with the L1 and R1 buttons, and move your view a bit with the right analog stick.
As you walk around the city you’re located in, you will hear distant laughter, and witness what seems to be the ghost of a girl running around. As you give chase to this ghost, you will be guided to a garage of sorts, and it is then that the tutorial will kick in. It turns out the left analog stick controls an on-screen pointer which you can move around to find things to inspect with the X button to gain extra information on what it is. Inspecting can end up giving you extra items, uncovering valuable hints, or doing something as simple as opening a door.
After being told about this, you will spot an arcade machine right in front of you, and once you end up applying the information you’ve just learned, you’ll be able to interact with the machine to select the difficulty setting for the game. You will notice a flashing “Rec” sign over what the game recommends that you select, which is actually the hardest difficulty setting, but you do need to know what you’re getting yourself into because each of the three difficulty options offers a very different overall experience.
For the first option enemies are almost nonexistent, so you’ll be able to focus on the game’s story since you won’t have to worry about your stress, bladder or any ailments you could otherwise suffer, but if you go with this one you will get less points, less experience, and the least rewards. For option two the enemies are more abundant, and you will need to manage your stress and bladder gauges – and rewards you can get are just right. The third option features stronger enemies, and you will need to manage your stress, stamina and bladder gauges for the full survival experience. On the bright side, you will get more points, more experience, and a ton more rewards for your extra effort!
Once the story proper begins, you will see how Haruto Higarushi is standing on top of a rather tall building, contemplating the many lights at a distance, in the city. He then takes a deep breath, and jumps to his death… only to her a “splash” instead of the loud noise his body should have made when hitting that car he was going to fall on top off. Haruto, for some reason, wakes up on a beach on an island, and it is then that he realizes that something has gone terribly wrong.
A friendly female character greets you and explains you’re not in heaven, but on Garage Island. Her name is Sachika Hirasaka, a young girl with a prosthetic arm with two fingers that make it look like a robotic claw, as well as a prosthetic left leg. You will be introduced to the game’s main protagonists, and while I’m not going to spoil the game’s story arc here, I do want to take a moment to talk about the other characters. The cast includes four male and four female characters. Along with Haturo and Sachika, we have goofball Ryo Mikajime, farmer Ken Kubota, beefy doctor Mamory Ichiyo, food expert Yuma Mashiro, florist Rinko Susukino, and police officer Minamo Setouchi.
Battles are fought in real-time as you explore, and you can actually target different parts of your enemies to break them off, which might end up giving you extra material, or making it so that the enemy can’t use a particular attack. As you battle, you can make use of regular and special attacks, as well as hold down the attack button to start a charge attack. If you hold down the button for a longer period of time you will get to charge up a chain attack during which multiple characters will jump into action – you do need to keep an eye on your stamina since this will drain it out faster.
Defeated enemies might also drop Clione, a powerful parasite that can imbue their hosts with a ton of extra power or some extra skills. Clione with offensive skills can be put to good use in battle, while those that offer supportive skills can help you, for example, heal your party members. Offensive Clione might also be able to, say, be used outside of battles to breakdown walls, so that you can find new paths to explore. Since this is a survival RPG, you can and will have to loot defeated enemies to gain food as well as crafting materials. You should be careful with using Clione too much, or else it will go berserk and end up killing the host.
With the game being a first-person action RPG, you will have a minimap in the top-right corner of the screen that will fill up with every step you take. The more you explore, the more information you will get to add to the minimap, so be sure to pay attention to it as you explore each area! You can also press the X button to place a marker on the map so that you can be reminded of an important spot you should revisit at a later time as needed.
Speaking of time, there are two interesting gameplay mechanics in this one. You see, it turns out (and since this is public knowledge, I’m casually going to drop this in here), each of the protagonists is actually a human clone! The good news is that if a protagonist dies, you can use the Extend machine to, as its name suggests, extend your life by being reborn in a new body. As long as you do things right and get plenty of points as you explore each of the game’s ruins, you can use those points to clone away, and the new host will retain the skills, memories and more of the previous clone. Each protagonist has an X Key implanted into their body, and it is that X Key that saves all the relevant data so that even in their immature state they retain things such as their personality. The bad news is that clones only last for thirteen days, so during that period of time they will quickly age, and as will be one moment closer to death.
But worry not, because even death is a good thing in this game! You can unlock skills for each character by spending skill points, which you earn when you level up. Skills can either have an effect during battle, as you explore, or when you’re crafting something with the materials you find, and the skills you learn will carry over between each new clone. There is also the Shigabane system, which allows the bodies of the new clones to gain resistances to the cause of death of the bodies of previous clones. Say, for example, that one of the characters dies from poison. Once reborn, the new body will be resistant to poison. Yes, I know what you’re thinking right now: does that mean the game rewards players for finding as many ways to die as possible? It sure does!
Something else you need to keep track of is how your base evolves as you play the game. You need to collect as many materials as possible so that you can survive for as long as you possibly can before inevitable death knows on your death because these can be put to great use for your base. Once you have the appropriate skill for making renovations at your base, you’ll be able to create different facilities to help you out. You’re going to need a toilet to relieve your bladder, so build one of those. You’re going to need a workshop so that you can craft and upgrade items, so definitely build one ASAP. You can also upgrade facilities to unlock more stuff, so be sure to check what materials you need for this to keep the cycle going.
There’s a lot to like about Zanki Zero: Last Beginnings on PlayStation 4, which makes this first-person real-time survival action RPG with a dash of visual novel a very easy game to recommend. Its gorgeous art style, fun, weird and quirky gameplay mechanics, the charming and engaging story beats, the great soundtrack, and its Platinum trophy support will keep you coming back for more until you make it to end of the storyline, popping trophies left and right from your in-game progress. If you’re a fan of the Danganronpa series, then you’re definitely going to dig this one!
This Zanki Zero: Last Beginnings review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy provided by Spike Chunsoft.