Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is an amazing game from the ingenious minds behind Danganronpa. It’s a thrilling combination of action RPG and survival game with a story full of insane twists. Outside of a few minor nitpicks, I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who wants something a little different.
The story in Zanki Zero starts after humanity and the world have been destroyed, leaving only eight clones. Instead of a single main character, different parts of the story are told from a different character’s point of view. It puts you inside their mind, and it’s a far more personal experience as they all search for answers to why they are alive and what happened to everyone else.
Since the life of a clone is short, that search begins and ends and begins again in a repeating loop. Assuming you can keep them alive, each clone will go through four different stages of life and die in about thirteen in-game days. When your new you is created at the arcade-y Extend Machine, they start as a child. Every few days, they advance to the next stage of the life cycle as adults, followed by middle-age, and, finally, seniors.
Each part of the lifespan has its pros and cons. As a child, you can fit into small spaces to access an area, and your health regenerates. Adults have more life, stronger defense, attack, and the ability to carry more items. Middle-age and seniors have less vitality, but your charge attack is faster. Some places and extra bits of story can only be accessed by having the correct age.
Even though everyone is confused and scared in this new world, they are not without guidance. As you progress through the game, you will find old CRT TVs that play a show called Extend TV. Hosted by the exuberant and slighty pervy young man, Sho, and a sheep named Mirai, they let you know when you can explore new ruins and reveal details about each character’s past through Conquest Videos. I loved these segments and couldn’t wait to see the next video. The writing was very clever with jokes for the player as much as for the story, and I laughed more than a few times.
Exploring the ruins and discovering new Conquest Videos is where you will spend most of your time. Each one is a themed, massive, multi-leveled area for you to loot, explore, and fight your way through to the end. Reaching the end requires solving puzzles and backtracking a bit, but they are well-designed and filled with new areas to unlock even after spending hours exploring every corner of the map.
Looting ruins and killing creatures provides materials for you to improve your base and craft new food, armor, and items. Some of these are incredibly rare, and upgrading your base expands your opportunities for survival from better bathrooms and bedrooms to more recipes for your kitchen or new weapons. Everything helps you to survive, and I had to make some tough choices about what to use and how. New weapons and armor make a huge difference, so you’ll want to improve your base as soon as you can.
With all these items, weight management can be a challenge. If someone picks up too much, they cannot move until you redistribute that weight to other characters. It wasn’t all the time, but, if I didn’t manually switch the active character, the game would strangely continue to give items to a character with too much already instead of switching to the next person with nothing. If this happens in a fight, you are having to move items while your party is slowly destroyed.
All movement in the game is grid based. You can use the D-pad to move and turn, and your R1 and L1 buttons will allow you strafe left or right. I didn’t love it at first, but it makes sense and lends itself to strategic fighting and the use of traps.
Once you reach the end of the ruin, you will face a boss. You receive clues about the boss from the Conquest Videos, and they are locked behind Zanki Doors that require all your clones to unlock. The boss difficulty felt slightly uneven from boss to boss, but you can adjust your difficulty level easily in-game. Win the fight, and you gain a deeper understanding of a character and another chunk of the story.
Combat is critical to surviving those bosses and the ruins in general. There is a basic and charge attack. The basic attack is quicker, but it doesn’t give you as much power. The charge attack gives you more damage, and it lets you hit the weak points of your enemies. Aside from killing creatures, this will give you materials, and it can remove one of your enemy’s ways to attack. If you can get everyone charged up, you can unleash a very powerful combo attack.
Balancing weight and combat aren’t your only concerns. You will have to mitigate the interlocking stamina, stress, and bladder levels of your team. Stamina will decrease naturally and faster as you move while charged for an attack. If it reaches zero, you start to lose health, so cook at your base and feed your team something to regain part of it.
Eating will increase how quickly your bladder fills, and trips to the bathroom keep you from making a nasty mess on yourself and increasing stress. (Yes, really.) Events and untimely accidents can increase a character’s stress level, so give them some water. That also increases the chances that they will have to answer the call of nature. Failing to address any of these could lead to death.
Zanki Zero handles death in a very different way than most games. If your entire party of eight characters die, it’s game over. There are designated save points, so make use of them. Anything else might be a benefit, because your characters can learn from their deaths and become more powerful by accruing new Shigabane.
The Shigabane is a list of all the ways you can die in the game. The typical forms of blunt force, scratches, or poison are present, but it’s the more unique ways like tripping on a rock, soiling yourself, or a food allergy that’s going to surprise you. Each unique death makes you less likely to die that way in the future, but the game is designed to kill you. I strategically killed off some of my party on purpose to make them more immune to particular types of damage, so I could move forward more easily.
How many times you die depends on a lot of factors, but there are five different difficulty levels. Level I is meant for someone who just wants to enjoy the story and level III is considered normal. As you raise the difficulty, it will cost you some precious SCORE points, and these are used to make new clones when the old ones die. However, you will gain more experience and more rare items along with more aggressive monsters, deadly traps, faster stamina and drains, and faster deaths. Higher difficulty has drawbacks, but it has bigger rewards too.
I’ve made no secret about my lack of skill in gaming, but I think you should avoid the lowest difficulty. The lower you go, the more empty the world appears to be. There are fewer monsters to kill or avoid (sometimes the best strategy), and the tension is gone. Even between levels III and IV, there is a huge difference in how the game feels. You can lower the difficulty at any time for free, so give it a try.
Although it may not be going for realism, the whole presentation is marvelous. From the art to the story, there are so many things that look and feel great. Items are pixelated, and the world has a lower poly appearance in general. The music is electronic, and you can play your favorite tracks. The cut scenes are done in a visual novel style with text and semi-static character images. The voice acting in the English audio is very good, but you can roll with the Japanese audio if you prefer.
Wrapping all of that together is the writing, and it’s the best part of the game. From character interactions to Extend TV, it gives you plenty of jokes that made me laugh while managing not to fumble over the more serious moments that give certain revelations weight. I never knew what to expect, and I love that. There is even a serious side story for you to find and read as you play. Along with the other notes and info scattered through the ruins, it’s there for you to dive deeper into the world.
Without spoiling anything, there are a few plot points that repeated in certain ways, losing their impact, or were a little too convenient, but the majority of my 70+ hour experience was excellent. I also strongly recommend you watch the entire credit sequence for more surprises.
The only other negative was that sometimes the game would spawn me into an area with a creature already in front of me. It’s random, but it could decimate my party if I tried to stay and fight while taking a beating, dying, and losing my items until I came back to grab them with new clones. Like I said, it’s random.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is one of those rare games that surpassed my expectations. This is a destroyed world that I couldn’t wait to explore some more and kept me enthralled from beginning to end. The survival RPG mechanics work great, and the presentation and writing are some of the best you’ll find this year. If you feel like you’ve been there and done that with the post-apocalyptic stories, give Zanki Zero: Last Beginning a try to illuminate a brighter future for humanity. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning PS4 Review
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is the latest game from the creators of Danganronpa, and it’s a wonderful combination of survival game and action RPG with a crazy story that keeps you guessing. The writing made me laugh, tried to make me cry, and was never predictable. Although it has a few minor issues, it’s humor, charm, and stellar presentation have put it on my GOTY list already.
- Excellent writing with humor and serious moments in a great story
- Successfully combines survival game and action RPG genre
- Makes character death meaningful and useful
- Options for skills, crafting, and clever experimentation
- Bursting with content
- Occasional issues with weight management
- Some writing choices lack impact or feel too convenient
- Random enemy spawn traps
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
Jason became terminally addicted to videogames after receiving the NES at an early age. This addiction grew to include PC gaming and was cemented with the launch of the PS2. From then on, he was afflicted with epic RPGs, tense shooters, and deep strategy games, never becoming skillful, but never able to quit. He continues to play games (poorly) and share his passion for them to anyone willing to listen.