No one ever said being a hero was easy but Nippon Ichi Software’s Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (PSP) certainly makes that point clear. The game begins with the Unlosing Ranger getting hit by a car on his way to fight the demon Darkdeath Evilman. As he lays dying, the teenage Main Character – you get to name him – walks by on his way back from shopping and is asked by the Undying Ranger to take his place and fight Darkdeath.
The boy agrees but loses horribly and is whisked away to Bizarro Earth by the young girl Etranger in order to train him to become a hero and save Earth. By solving problems that pop up on our Earth the Main Character also does the same on Bizarro Earth since events and people have a parallel relationship on both planets. What comes after is a enjoyable and comedic romp through the life of becoming a superhero.
In a nutshell this game is really funny. The combination of the setting, story and lovable characters makes the humor topnotch. Since your character is a silent protagonist the other characters speak for you: namely, Etranger and Pirohiko (the original Unlosing Ranger). Witty and downright hilarious dialogue bounce off between those two characters so well it will be hard to keep a straight face. The only things the Main Character has to say for himself are displayed as anime emotes contained in thought bubbles, e.g. sweat drops & exclamation points. Some of the situations the principle characters get into are comical and sometimes make no sense in a way that will make you laugh. For example, your party will take part in a mission that involves the couple inside the car that ran over the original Unlosing Ranger.
Another charming aspect of the character’s time training is that whenever a mission is complete he goes to Earth and fights Darkdeath Evilman even though it’s apparent he’s still no match for him. Naturally the demon lord kicks his butt and launches him back to Bizarro Earth. As many times as that happened it was hard not to at least smile. Plus there’s a whole cast of other characters that add their own fun antics to that of the main crew, like the Unlosing Ranger’s rival Dangerama. There’s a lot of breaking-the-fourth wall and tongue-in-cheek humor but it works very well within the context of the game.
Like many other NIS projects, the gameplay has a lot going on. Fighting is done on grid maps using a turn-based battle system in which your character makes a move and an enemy does the same directly after which works well for quick pick-up and play sessions. There’s a HP bar and the EN (Fullness) bar which depletes as the hero moves and uses special attacks. This must be kept full at all times by consuming food else he die of starvation. The amount of weapons and armor available may not be as massive as those found in Disgaea, but it’s still robust and many have awesome special attacks tied to them. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself trying every new piece of gear you come across just to find your favorite attack.
A unique feature in the game is the Shadowgram which allows a player to install weapons/equipment onto their body to bring up any of 7 stats: HP, Short-range Attack Power (SAT), Short-range Defense Power (SDF), Long-range Attack Power (LAT), Long-range Defense Power (LDF), HIT and Speed (SPD). You can even install items that have been worn down by use which is a major plus because it means less clutter in your inventory and makes even the most useless items worthwhile. More upgrading can be done by using Booster Devices that can increase equipment effects, allow more items to be kept on your person, and allows more items to be kept in the event of your demise. All this is done by going to the Dark Clinic found at HQ which adds an interesting dynamic to how to make your character stronger.
There are a lot of story missions as well as extra side missions. This latter are a real treat for anime fans because they are tied in some way to popular titles like Toradora!, Baccano!, Spice & Wolf and many more.
The game has the look and feel of many of NIS’ previous titles. Characters are displayed in-game as 2D sprites and the 3D world can be rotated and zoomed-in/out with the former holding up well on close inspection. Important story sections of the game use a mix of 2D sprites and anime-inspired drawings which come complete with fully voiced characters: both English and Japanese audio are available which is a major plus. If you’re an avid anime watcher, you’ll recognize many of the VA’s who have lent their talent to the game. There’s a nice variety of wacky and dangerous enemies to fight but the most care was taken with the sprites of the main characters. The majority of special attacks still have that epic feeling of destruction and carnage NIS fans will appreciate seeing.
How the Main Character levels up is the big concern. During the course of the game it never feels like the Main Character is growing significantly stronger. As you progress through missions and killing monsters your level goes up and stats increase on the spot. But were you to die you lose all your XP and revert back to level 1. This also happens the moment you leave the dungeon for any reason. The game justifies this by telling you all accrued levels go toward increasing your level 1 base stats but the increase seems inconsequential by comparison to what has been lost. This makes enemy encounters needlessly difficult at first and heavy level-grinding a foregone conclusion. Combine this with many of the environmental hazards you’ll face in a dungeon and frustration will set in more often than necessary. And to add insult to injury when you are killed all your money and whatever items you might have collected disappear as well. This can be combated by going to your Base’s Insurer, which insures a certain amount of loot in the event that you die but what the Insurer keeps is random and it costs a lot just to save a handful.
Not as major as the leveling system but it does happen often enough to warrant a mention. The game tends to slow down when your character enters sections where there are a lot of enemies on-screen, usually in Hero Interception Bases. Attempting to rotate the camera or zoom in & out will compound this problem even more. Depending on how the game randomly generates dungeons it may become annoying but it doesn’t break the gameplay overall.
This game was a blast the entire way through, though I wish the leveling system was handled differently and the slowdown wasn’t around. Over 25 hours has been spent in the game and there’s still more to look forward to in extra playthroughs and side missions. The story is one of a kind, the characters are fun to watch, and the gameplay is deep enough to satisfy any Nippon Ichi fan. Should you pick this? You bet!