From the Archives: Go, Unlosing Ranger!

I made a throwaway comment to a friend a while back that I wanted to check out more of Nippon Ichi’s games.

This was partly due to some past positive experiences with Disgaea back in the PS2 days, an enjoyable bit of time spent with the surprisingly tragic The Witch and the Hundred Knight as well as a great deal of enjoyment of products NIS had contributed to, such as the early Hyperdimension Neptunia games.

Zip forward to the time of writing (Editor’s Note: 2013… and this is a game I’d like to cover in more detail in the future!) and I’m thoroughly engrossed in one NIS offering in particular: a PSP game from the team behind Disgaea. And, boy, does its heritage show.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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I always liked the Disgaea series, but I’ve never beaten one. I always got far too sidetracked with the fact you could take your army into the weird “item world” inside a stick of gum and level it up to be slightly better at healing. It was fun, but ultimately I found myself too overwhelmed with possibilities to get through the game’s story — which was something of a shame, as it was a game filled with wry humor, witty writing and lovable characters.

Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (Z.H.P. for short to save my sanity) maintains the things I liked about Disgaea while transplanting it to a personal favorite RPG subgenre — the randomly-generated, turn-based dungeon-crawler, aka the roguelike. Actually, to call Z.H.P. a roguelike isn’t strictly accurate, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The premise of Z.H.P. is that your character, canonically named Main Character, is thrust into events beyond his control when he witnesses the world’s hero, the Unlosing Ranger, being run over by a car and killed while on his way to fight the final boss Darkdeath Evilman. The Unlosing Ranger passes on his powers to Main Character, who subsequently finds himself in battle against Darkdeath Evilman and gets rather soundly trounced.

In fact, he gets knocked all the way out of orbit and on to Bizarro Earth on the other side of our sun, which just happens to be the place heroes are sent to be trained. Subsequently, under the stern tutelage of the mysterious, stroppy girl Etranger and the fatherly if dim-witted concern of the former Unlosing Ranger’s ghost, Main Character is sent to train his skills by righting the world’s wrongs in the hope of powering him up enough to take down Darkdeath Evilman.

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There are a few different aspects to Z.H.P.’s gameplay, all of which are introduced through some excellently entertaining introductory quests. While at “base,” Main Character can wander around, shop for items, repair damaged equipment and take advantage of other services that gradually become available as the game progresses. These range from a Prinny wife who demands living expenses at regular intervals and makes Main Character lunches on request, to a caravan which brings some of the base’s services to the depths of a dungeon.

The dungeoneering is where the interesting gameplay comes in, though. Presented from an isometric perspective much like DisgaeaZ.H.P. is a turn-based role-playing game much like a traditional roguelike. Main Character moves, enemies move, repeat. There are some intriguing elements to the gameplay that make this far more than simple hack-and-slash, though. For example, enemies all have a visible vision radius, and if Main Character enters this area, they will give chase and alert any other enemies whose vision radii overlap their own. Likewise, when an enemy dies, they will cry out, and any nearby enemies will come and investigate the source of the noise. This can be used to your advantage.

Equipment is highly disposable in Z.H.P. — everything has a durability value which declines rather quickly. When the durability is used up, it no longer provides bonuses so must be repaired. Alternatively, if you so desire, you can simply fling broken pieces of equipment at enemies, and this often has special effects. Like Disgaea, it’s also possible to pick up and throw enemies you’re standing next to, meaning savvy players can manipulate the flow of battle to their advantage with a bit of clever grappling.

There are a lot of things to pay attention to, which is perhaps why the game takes a turn-based approach. Not only do you have to keep an eye on your health, but much like in a traditional roguelike, you are constantly getting more and more hungry as you move, attack and use skills. If you’re hungry, your health will gradually decline, but if you’re well-fed, your health will gradually increase, making it in your interests to keep stuffing your face with the lumps of meat you occasionally find around the place.

Unlike your common-or-garden roguelike, death is not the end in Z.H.P. In fact, it’s a key part of the experience. When you die, you see, any levels you gained in that dungeon run are added on to Main Character’s “total level,” which in turn affects his base stats. Every time he enters a new dungeon, regardless of whether he completed a previous one or died, he starts again at level 1 — but the higher his total level, the “better” that level 1 is. Finding a dungeon difficult? Gain some levels, die, run it again and enjoy more success. The eventual aim is to get Main Character’s base stats and abilities to such a level where he is able to defeat Darkdeath Evilman in increasingly-elaborate JRPG combat, beginning with an 8-bit first-person battle reminiscent of Phantasy Star and progressing through the eras of presentational awesomeness.

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So the game part is great, but what really surprised me is the story. The premise is utterly ridiculous and I was expecting the narrative to be little more than a throwaway concern, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised in that the tale it tells has some depth. Rather than being a cheesy tale about fighting evil, Z.H.P. is actually a story about overcoming your own weaknesses and finding the strength within to better yourself.

This is reflected in the dungeons Main Character has to run — they usually involve rescuing the Bizarro Earth version of someone from doing something stupid, be that killing themselves over the Unlosing Ranger’s apparent defeat, or getting into a cycle of bullying as a result of being bullied themselves. The incidental character arcs that Main Character helps to resolve with his training are all rather touching and relatable in a vaguely Persona-esque way, and the themes of conquering adversity are very well-represented through the game mechanics themselves as well as the story sequences.

I’m a relatively short way into the game as I write this, but it’s already proving to be a surprisingly compelling experience as well as an excellent fit for the portable format. It also works just fine on Vita (and PlayStation TV!), so if you’ve been looking to give Sony’s underappreciated handheld some love, then this is a great option.


This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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2 thoughts on “From the Archives: Go, Unlosing Ranger!”

  1. “— they usually involve rescuing the Bizarro Earth version of someone from doing someone stupid,… ” I think that second ‘someone’ should actually be ‘something’

    Like

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