With a name like Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman, everyone should expect a game to be a comical, whacky, and on-the-nose. It makes sense that something like this would come from Nippon Ichi. Indeed, Zettai Hero Project takes the idea of a sentai soldier-type anime and parodies everything about it backwards and forwards. All of this is presented in the form of a rogue-like, randomized dungeon crawler. I’m surprised at the amount of fun and laughs I got from Z.H.P. I think other folks will get that same level of enjoyment if they can overlook a few issues.
It has been prophesized that the Super Baby will save the world from destruction. Only a few months old, the Super Baby was enjoying the life of an infant until it was kidnapped. She wasn’t kidnapped by just anyone. No, she was kidnapped by the final boss of all final bosses: Darkdeath Evilman. He’s taken the Super Baby hostage so he can realize his ambitions for world domination. Citizens around the world watch helplessly, but there’s still hope. The Absolute Victory Unlosing Ranger is on the scene to take down Darkdeath Evilman. Unfortunately, everyone’s hero gets run over by a car while he’s en route to the battlefield and dies. Before drawing his last breath, he entrusts his Morphing Belt to you – a nobody of a main character that was just walking home from the store. Now, guided by the former Unlosing Ranger’s spirit and Etranger, the instructor of the Hero Training Facility, you need to gather your strength, courage, and heroics to put a stop to Darkdeath Evilman and save that Super Baby.
Even during the more “serious” moments, Z.H.P.’s story is non-stop silliness. You’ll feel for your MC as everyone gives him a hard time for not being handsome enough, or not being strong enough, or not being charismatic enough to take up the title as the Absolute Unlosing Ranger. You’ll also enjoy getting to know everyone that he meets. Along with the former hero and Etranger, there’s a great cast of characters that will invariably assist you. I found the writing solid because the humor isn’t subtle. Every joke and every quip are in your face. Some of the story events are drawn out and repetitive, but it’s a small nitpick. All of the story events can be skipped instantly if you want to get to the action.
The game is divided into chapters. At the start of a chapter, you’ll unlock a new dungeon (more on those soon) and a new facility at your homebase. At the end of the chapter, you’ll be sent to earth to face Darkdeath Evilman in a traditional turn-based battle. Inevitably, you’ll lose and get sent back to your homebase. This cycle repeats for ten chapters. The goal is to slowly but surely gain enough power and ability to stop Darkdeath. This starts with keeping up with your equipment acquired from dungeon treks. The only things you can buy at the homebase are recovery items. However, a blacksmith can repair and/or modify your gear before its durability reaches zero. Equipment doesn’t break, but it will lose effectiveness the more its used. My favorite feature is turning old pieces of equipment into chips that get implanted in your character’s body. These chips provide stat bonuses that really add up over time. They can become even more effective by adding boosters on top of them. For more fun, you can direct the flow of energy to the hero’s sources for even more boosting. There’s a bevy of other neat facilities that appear during the game that will provide your hero with additional much needed assistance. There’s a lot to keep track of but it never feels like you’re biting off more than you can chew.
Training to be a hero comes into full force in the dungeons. This area might turn off a lot of gamers since it’s a rogue-like with randomly generated dungeons. With this comes the expected features: losing all equipment when dying, enemies acting when you act, no retention of any levels gained, traps, swarms of foes, etc. Fortunately, Z.H.P. is forgiving. Whenever you complete a dungeon or die mid-voyage, your character will gain permanent boosts to his base stats and overall level. In other words, you’ll enter and exit a dungeon at level one, but you’ll still gain boosts to every stat at the end. Another helpful feature is being able to double your stats after you kill enough enemies. There’s also the ability to throw enemies or bait them into traps. Of course, you’ll still want to avoid an untimely death since you’ll lose your equipment. It can be a challenge trying to get back to where you initially perished without your favorite pieces of gear. The thing that caused most of my deaths was hunger. Alongside your health meter, there’s an endurance (EN) meter. When it’s above zero, you’ll slowly regain lost health. If it’s below zero, then you lose health. You need to eat food items to refill it. Limited inventory space coupled with random item distribution can make keeping up with the endurance meter stressful. The good news is that nine times out of ten there were food items lying around the dungeon floors.
ZHP features the usual, expected chibi 2D sprites with crisp detail and bright expressions. During the encounters with Darkdeath Evilman, the sprites are even larger and more vivid. And of course, the special attacks and skills that your hero can do are fast, furious, and frenzied. Nearly every piece of equipment not only has a unique look, but also a unique attack attached to them. Helmets, gloves, expansions, and more have a skill that can be activated at the cost of some endurance. The music is repetitive, yet unmemorable. While the voice acting and sound bites are solid, the music couldn’t capture the zaniness of the story.
Z.H.P. is a fun game, but there are a couple of problems with it. Sometimes, it feels like the dungeons just won’t throw you a bone for getting new gear. Some of the bosses of these dungeons need to be tackled like a puzzle instead of simply rushing in and exchanging blows. While I appreciate the creativity, these “puzzles” are poorly explained. I’d end up running out of EN before long. Also, this being a Nippon Ichi title, extra grinding is necessary for facing the final challenges. This extra grinding is why the game took me about 30 or so hours to complete. It would have been less with better balance. Still, I look back on the game fondly. Those that can’t get enough can enjoy new game plus, multiple endings, and hidden secrets – many of which feature characters from other NIS games. Since dungeon treks don’t take long regardless of success, it’s an easy game to replay. Z.H.P. shows that not all of NIS’ hits are strategy RPGs. This is an accessible rogue-like that has the same humor and vibe.
Overall, 8/10: Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman provides endless humor and endless randomness in the form of a rogue-like with lots of leeway.