If anyone can take a concept and run far away with it, it's got to be NIS. Ever since Disgaea
crashed upon the US shores back in 2003 there has been a yearly title that uses core mechanics from the Disgaea universe and builds upon them. Sometimes with hilarious and wacky results like Makai Kingdom
, or some less loved titles like Phantom Brave
. Their latest efforts, the off the wall Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (yes that is the title), known as ZHP for short, eschews the typical strategy game that NIS is known for. Well that is a half truth, you're still going to be playing a solid strategy game, but it's a much faster experience and overall is a stellar product in its current incarnation. Combine speedy gameplay that can be enjoyed in short bursts with a story and writing that's got the manic and goofy humor that NIS is known for and you've got a recipe for success that rivals Disgaea in terms of quality.
First and foremost, you cannot take ZHP seriously. At the outset NIS would like to warn you that there is only one battle sequence in the game, but it will be absolutely epic. Unfortunately this battle is cut short as the main hero, the Unlosing Ranger is killed after being run over. As a hapless passerby, the Unlosing Ranger bestows upon you the title and powers of the Unlosing Ranger. Unfortunately your skills aren't up to snuff against the game's villain, one Darkdeath Evilman, an antagonist so evil he is out to destroy the world's savior, the Super Baby. Saving the Super Baby won't be an easy task, since as a newly appointed hero you'll have to start from square one when it comes to abilities. There are also tons of people who don't believe you can save the world, and along the way you'll have to sway some of them to rally support for your cause, which will actually affect how your fight with Darkdeath Evilman will go. What initially starts out as an 8-bit styled battle will eventually grow to take advantage of the PSP's abilities once you have enough people believing in you, like for instance, the President of the United States, Brick Oldllama, who initially has no qualms about dropping a nuclear bomb on Japan. But your determination and understanding of sacrifice will cause her to change her mind about the plan to destroy Japan and Darkdeath Evilman along with it.
So you've got a steep hill to climb if you wish to put up a fight against Darkdeath Evilman, and it starts at the very bottom of the Hero Training facility on bizarro Earth, where every person has a bizzaro version of themselves. The Hero Facility has connections to a collection of dungeons where you can power up, and in doing so protect the bizarro versions of people on Earth who will grant you powers needed to save the world. This is also the point where the game kind of lies about that one battle sequence. Instead you'll crawl through dungeons in typical NIS grind fashion, only this time the combat is a lot more streamlined with the actions limited to attacking, moving, or throwing. Each action consumes endurance, so you'll have to take care to keep yourself fed otherwise you'll pass out midway through the dungeon and be forced to start over. You'll burn through dungeons quickly and gain levels at a very fast pace, and before you know it you'll be challenging Darkdeath Evilman once again. Once you finish a stage, either because you completed it or were defeated, you'll gain levels toward your overall level which will increase your base stats, and the next time you start a dungeon you will be back to level one. It's a little confusing and after a number of hours through the game I am still not sure what I am doing to increase my base stats. I am currently at about level 300 and I am able to hold my own through all the main story dungeons but I still don't know if I am doing it right. Additionally, death will cause you to lose all the money you had amassed and items currently in your possession. There is a way to store items to be used later and it will serve you well to remember to deposit items after every dungeon.There are a number of other factors that go in to building your character, like the use of the body modifications that are available. By taking equipment that you are not using you can increase your base stats and equip specialty items that increase your capacity to carry items, or boost the effectiveness of the equipment you are currently wearing. You can also synthesize new equipment by combining articles to create new pieces of clothing, carrying over their abilities and giving you a deeper repertoire to fight with. The cool thing about the equipment is that everything you wear affects your character model. So if you happen across a drill arm, you better believe you're going to be piercing the heavens with your mighty drill. Or you can just go off the beaten path and play around in bonus dungeons that are based off a collection of Dengeki (Japanese Anime) magazines that will be named after some well known anime if you happen to follow those circles. Completing these dungeons can actually net you some equipment that will change your model to match that of characters from shows like ToraDora, Spice and Wolf, and more.
ZHP has a good looking aesthetic to it and if you're familiar with Disgaea then you know what this game is going to look like, and it translates well on the PSP screen. Musically this game delivers with more tunes by Tenpei Sato that never disappoint. Voice acting is solid as per usual with an English and Japanese voice track, personally I preferred listening to the game in Japanese just because it was amusing to hear them say “Super Baby.”
Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman has quite a lot to offer the PSP owner on the go, with even death providing you with forward progress. Though it's a lot to take in the gameplay is quite enjoyable and perfect for short bursts of gaming, especially with the ability to plot out save points for yourself. The comedic and crass story is perfect for those who are in to stuff like the Adult Swin line-up on Cartoon Network. If you're into the Disgaea universe then this title will hold you over for quite a while, especially those who managed to blast through the last NIS title, Cladun: This is an RPG.