Z.H.P. – Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman – Review
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform(s): Playstation Portable
Genre: “Rougelike” Dungeon Crawling RPG
Rating: T – Teen
Official site: http://nisamerica.com/games/zhp/
The Scoop: In 2003, Nippon Ichi Software broke new ground on the PS2 with, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. The game reinvented tactical role-playing with a solid battle system, a ton of content and quirky humor. Now their latest PSP title Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman, takes on “roguelike” RPGs. First developed in late 1970’s on computer systems using ASCII graphics, “roguelikes” became known for their random dungeons and turn based battle systems. ZHP is a mixture of this with “Disgaealike” humor and graphics, but the end result stumbles over the fine line between challenging and frustrating.
The Setup: The tongue-in-cheek story starts off with evildoer “Darkdeath Evilman” kidnapping Earth’s prophesized savior “Super Baby”. Only the “Ultimate Victory Unlosing Ranger” can save him but unfortunately he is struck and killed by an automobile on his way to confront the villain. As the accident’s sole witness, you receive the “Unlosing Ranger’s” cape and have been handed the task of defeating “Darkdeath”. He promptly hands you a swift beating but before he can finish you off you are rescued and teleported to “Bizarro Earth” – a land where time stands still and has plenty of dungeons for the untrained hero to hone his craft.
Your 2D character is always present in the middle of the screen in a ¾ isometric view and the PSP’s left and right bumpers rotate the camera in the 3D environments. Movement is done with the d-pad and each step counts as an action in the turned based battle system. Enemies move in unison with you and a highlighted area on the ground represents their line of sight. This allows you to plan a ranged or sneak attack, or avoid them all together.
I can see you Kirk. Can you see me?
Sounds easy enough, right? Well it’s not. In the dungeons you will have to follow the Tao of Kenny Rogers and know when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, walk away or run. Every action including walking burns stamina. Avoiding enemies will create a lot of extra steps and will drain your energy meter causing your character to starve. Attacking everything in sight is not an option either as both weapons and equipment wear out quickly and without replacements you will have only your ineffective fists to get by. Finding a balance of when to do both is paramount to making it through the more difficult dungeons.
What’s hot: ZHP lacks a deep story without side quests or mini games but it makes up it for with a heaping portion of character customization. Although his basic look will stay the same, there is an endless amount of bizarre equipment to add onto your character, like “Fluffy Tail” which will turn the lower part of the torso into a horse. When the “dark clinic” becomes available in “Bizarro Earth” items brought back from the dungeons can be transformed into cybernetic chips to implant your body. Each chip will have a different effect on your character’s stats depending on what was used to make it and where on the body it is placed.
Where else can you get turtle legs?
Some excellent voice acting saves the overlong cut scenes. Even with the entire script subtitled on screen, I listened to every bit of dialogue to hear to how the voice talent would deliver it.
What’s Not: Like William Shatner or David Hasselhoff in a below average comedy, the game awkwardly attempts to recreate the unintentionally funny. ZHP relies a lot on 4th wall breaking and self-deprecating humor to drive its hackneyed story, but Nippon Ichi is too careful not offend anybody. Good opportunities to be clever are missed as they take the Leno-ish safe approach with broad strokes to poke fun at Japanese to English translation errors or clichéd plot holes.
ZHP has a two-tiered leveling system that calls for an obscene amount of grinding. At the end of each dungeon crawl your newly gained stats are lowered back to zero and added to your base stats. This means your character will start the next crawl at level zero and only be slightly better. It is a weak effort to prolong gameplay and it might be forgivable if the battle system was deeper than mostly walking up to enemies and pressing the square button.
The dungeons are randomly created and so are the items populated in them. With limited pouch space you must rely on the food, weapons, equipment and health packs you are able to find during a dungeon crawl. Too often the game will unfairly place too much of one and not enough of the other and your character will expire.
Those floating squares are the in game map.
Speaking of which, death is a regular function of the game and it punishes you good for allowing it to happen. Your character will be booted out of the dungeon and forced to lose all of his carried items and money. Cheating death with multiple saves will not work because ZHP only allows one save file for every new game. It’s a terrific move by Nippon Ichi to keep the integrity of the game’s challenge intact but goes too far by punishing the player for exiting the game. ZHP counts any mid-dungeon exit as a death and auto saves over your file. Need to take a break and listen to an MP3? Okay, but it’ll cost ya.
Final Virdict: Some players might enjoy ZHP’s rich character customization, but are in for the long haul if they want to see all of the content. Be prepared for a ton of dull level grinding, an unbalanced amount of items to find and to have your PSP taken over for some marathon sessions. If you are looking for a RPG on the PSP, your money will be better spent on other current titles like Valkyria Chronicles II or Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep.Z.H.P. - Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman - Review,