Zanki Zero – Endless summer blobber

So I gave Zanki Zero a shot… and I had a blast with it.

Zanki Zero is a JRPG blobber, but it’s actually more of a survival game with crafting. It’s also of a visual novel whodunnit (like Zero Escape and Danganronpa). And a dating sim, sort of. Because Japan. Yeah, It’s a bit of everything, but it works.

Anyway, so it’s a very story-heavy anime blobber where real-time combat is mostly about survival planning.

What got me interested was mostly the screenshots :


That’s why I love Japanese developers. Much in the same way Ace Combat brings a bit of romance to the skies (and not just military babble), Zanki Zero demonstrates that a first person dungeon crawler doesn’t have to be about, well, a dungeon. A brick one, made up of the same six different tiles. Or a cave. A damp one.

What kind of blob would pass up a nice summer resort like this once in a while?

The cloning aspect is very original. Instead of having a whole roster, your 8 story characters have very short lifespans and get cloned after every death. Every different kind of death brings a new stat bonus.

It nicely circumvents the whole “turned to ash” nonsense of Wizardy games. Because who in their right mind would let their level 55 Bishop disappear completely? You just save and reload.

Zanki Zero smartly solves the issue by making death both inevitable and something you actually look for.

“Rinko is getting on in days. I should get her dissolved in acid. It’s for her own good.”

I think it’s very weird that the game rewards failure more than it does success. It’s like a reverse shmup. It really changes your way to look at things compared to most games.

You create new clones through a retro pixel art arcade machine… which should be too clever for its own good, but the sound and visual effects and the music are just too adorable. More clones!

Like all JRPGs, the game loves to hear itself talk, but the story is quite good. The tone has a difficult time balancing “summer vacation” with “grim post-apocalyptic sci-fi”, but those are pretty hard concepts to marry. They did a good job, considering.

The whole cloning and fast-aging concept has a very weird effect on the plot, since every story scene can happen either with a bunch of children, adults, seniors, or a mix of all the above.

I admit that I like the idea of blobbers on paper, but in practice playing most of them is like chewing cardboard. It’s dry and tasteless, but it lasts a long time! Zanki Zero hits a sweet spot: its dungeon layouts and puzzles are not particularly difficult, but it’s not a pushover either. There is no floor filled with 50 different teleport tiles that look exactly the same in this game. Seriously, cut that shit out.

Not pictured in the screenshots above: the constant sound of Cicadas chirping. It’s symbolism, I think, because Cicadas don’t sing for very long and clones are very short-lived. And summer goes by quickly. Get it?

Anyway, in that sense, I think Zanki Zero is a perfect late summer game.

This sounds like thinly-veiled ageism. Games journalists, assemble!

Whoa, this looks (and sounds from your awesome description) fantastic! I’ll look into it when I’m not Planetfalling full time.

Everybody is Rei, all the time! But hopefully less depressing.

There are too many good games around, but I’m keeping an eye on it. Ever since Might & Magic X I’m sad about humanity not realizing that blobbers are the best.

I also thought about Labyrinth of Refrain which is Disgaea take on blobbers.

Hm, weirdly, I had never really connected dungeon crawls JRPGs (Etrian Odyssey, some of the SMTs, etc) to the western CRPG blobbers, but I guess they’re pretty much the same genre, going back to the Wizardry roots. Etrian Odyssey is so much its own thing, and the mapping gimmick was so strong, that I never really thought about it, and SMT has the monster hunting thing.

I guess my point is, this appears to be a Spike Chunsoft game, so it didn’t come out of nowhere, per se, it has a provenance, which makes the success of the core loop less surprising.

Well games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are clear copies of Wizardry. Just look at what FF1 does. Even though they’ve changed the battle system a lot you can still see some Wizardry in later games.

Yeah, JRPGs in general are a separate evolutionary path parallel to western CRPGS that diverged around Wizardry, which apparently was very popular in Japan.

I just never really thought about linking modern “blobbers” to the modern Japanese iterations. I think of them as “dungeon crawls”. I think I probably separated them in my mind because the western versions were pretty dead for a long time and have seen a bit of a resurgence recently, while the Japanese versions have a more or less unbroken line.

I guess my point is, if people like modern blobbers, and haven’t played any of the Atlus/NIS/etc games, there’s a lot of options out there, with varying degrees of anime-fanservice.

Huh, so Zanki means “remaining”, as in “no lives remaing” in a video game. So what the title means is “Zero Lives Left”.

Considering how much the game plays with the concept of “lives” (look at the top left corner of the screenshots), it’s funny the title itself got lost in translation.