Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Once again NIS has graced us with a pack of some of their older titles. Today we have Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2: Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound and ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. These titles released in 2005 and 2010 respectively, so it’s nice to see them coming to a location near you.
Makai Kingdom and ZHP are both fairly different titles in nature, and while Makai Kingdom was a big part of my childhood, I never actually got to play ZHP before. Both titles, while vastly different, do have a few similarities though, mostly in the comedic script writing, animations and graphics, soundtrack, and character sprites. Makai Kingdom takes more after the Disgaea series, whereas ZHP is more of a roguelike-ish dungeon crawler in nature. Let’s take a look at both of these awesome titles that come packaged in the 2nd volume of the NIS classics bundle.
Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound
Makai Kingdom stars Overlord Zetta, the man, the myth, the moron. After being warned that the Netherworld he is in charge of will be destroyed, he goes to check on the Sacred Tome, the essence of his Netherworld, to prove nothing will happen to it. Unfortunately, the book pisses him off so he burns it. More unfortunately, this means he has essentially burnt his entire Netherworld. To keep his world from being destroyed, he fuses his soul with the book, becoming the book himself. Now nothing more than some paper bound together, he must have other Overlords write in the book in order to recreate his Netherworld. You’ll meet a cast of zany characters along the way, get into some weird fights, and witness some of my favorite quotes from a PS2 game.
In Makai Kingdom you will start off by turning random objects into combat units. These units will then be summoned into battle in order to defeat your enemies. The number of units you can summon is dictated by the stage, and you can make a whole slew of different units to bring with you into battle, ranging from standard warriors to carrots. Yup, that’s right, carrots. Makai Kingdom also has a ridiculous amount of different weapon types to explore, with both the standard fare like swords and axes, to the more unique like UFOs and pies.
Once you’ve outfitted your units and are ready to take on your foes, you can meander over to the teleporter in order to challenge a stage. Makai Kingdom is composed of chapters divided into stages, where you summon your units and then take action similar to Disgaea, just without the grid. For those unfamiliar, once you summon units they have a movement radius, as well as an attack radius. You move all your units first, line up attacks, and then you can chain them together to do increased damage.
As is common with most NIS titles in this vein, there is plenty of stuff to do other than just the main campaign. So if you haven’t played before, there are bonus stages and the added Petta mode, which is spoilers for the original campaign. You may want to hold off on that one a little. Makai Kingdom has a lot of heart, and a lot of complexity. Figuring out the best units to make, with the best gear, using the best reincarnation bonuses and building bonuses, not to mention the different vehicles you can equip may get rather overwhelming. That being said, you don’t really need to worry about a lot of that during the main campaign, minmaxing is a post-game thing, really.
Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound has a few upgrades from ye olde PS2 release, with the aforementioned Petta mode, as well as refined test graphics. Is it all that different from the PS2 title? Well, not that I can really remember, and it doesn’t look all that different. That being said, there’s something about classic titles like Makai Kingdom that I still love to break out every once in a while, so it definitely still holds up surprisingly well.
ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman
ZHP is another classic title from NIS, and while I was expecting either Rhapsody or La Pucelle in volume 2, I’m quite happy to see ZHP brought to the PC. ZHP is a title I was always told was really good and I should play, unfortunately for me it was released on the Playstation Portable, a handheld I never actually owned. Thankfully this title is now available on PC and Switch through the NIS Classics.
ZHP, or Zettai Hero Project, is about a hero called the unlosing ranger! Well, sort of. He wakes up late for the “end of the world” battle, and dies in an accident on the way to the fight. So he pawns his duty off on you, a random nobody bystander. Needless to say, your fight against the last boss doesn’t go so well. And so our newly minted hero is punted to the other side of the sun, where he is brought to Bizzaro Earth, a sort of alternate reality Earth, where the people living there are mirrors of the people living on normal Earth.
It is here on Bizarro Earth where the intrepid hero is trained in order to become strong enough to defeat Darkdeath Evilman and rescue the world from evils clutches. In case you couldn’t tell, ZHP is heavily inspired by tokusatsu shows from Japan. Think of it as Japanese Power Rangers. As is NIS fashion, the game is split into chapters, with each chapter requiring you to clear certain stages to progress, after which you challenge Darkdeath Evilman once more, hopefully coming out on top this time. With the help of the ghost of the former Unlosing Ranger, as well as the hero trainer Etranger, surely you can save the world, right?
Now, while NIS is probably more well known for the Disgaea series, and turn based grid-tactic type games in general, that doesn’t mean they exclusively make those, as is the case with ZHP. ZHP is a dungeon crawling roguelike, where your main character will move around a grid-based dungeon one panel at a time, and you can collect items on the ground, fight enemies, and make your way to the end of the stage. Upon dying, or clearing a stage, your character level is reset to 1, but you gain total levels, which increase your stats. Unfortunately, you also lose any items you had on-hand, and money, if you die, making you have to find more. Oh, and before you think about save scumming, the game treats quitting out mid stage as a death, so no quitting to avoid equipment and money loss for you.
Very reminiscent of titles such as Mystery Dungeon, Gensou Wanderer, and Shiren, ZHP proceeds with you making a move, then all the enemies making theirs. Unlike the other titles I mentioned, enemies aren’t particularly omniscient like they feel in other cases. Enemies have a field of view, and apart from certain actions, will generally not notice you if you aren’t within their range. Taking a page from the rest of the NIS squad, you can lift and throw enemies, items, or weapons. You can use special skills as well, although it does consume energy. Be careful, for if you run out of energy you will start to starve and lose health, so make sure you have some food to munch on periodically.
Before you ask, yeah, gear has durability which will decrease as you use it, eventually causing it to become almost useless. Thankfully, you can always repair it for a cost, so nothing is ever totally useless, especially since you can just throw old weapons at enemies. When not doing hero training or fighting for your life, you will find yourself in a home base hub area. Here is where you can chat with NPCs hanging about, purchase items, repair gear, or upgrade your character with back alley doctor surgery! Don’t ask about that last one. You’re going to need it too, because the game is tough. Not the hardest, but expect to feel like you’re running yourself at a wall for awhile. To make it worse, whatever you die to can give you a trauma, inducing a negative effect until you overcome it. Thankfully, overcoming traumas will give you benefits, yay!
Once you’ve powered up, it’s time to head back into the training! But what’s this? The items and area layout is different? Well, I did say it was a roguelike, didn’t I? As usual, my excruciating luck is in play once again, as I traverse stage after stage with no food in sight, forever beleaguered by my growing stomach pains! In all seriousness though, ZHP is a lot of fun and a cool roguelike mystery dungeon type title to enjoy. Sharing similar assets from other similar styled NIS titles, the graphics may be a little out of date for some people’s taste, but the storyline and gameplay certainly aren’t.
NIS Classics Volume 2 as a package
As a combo pack, you really can’t go wrong with either Makai Kingdom or ZHP individually, much less coupled together. With a big enough difference in gameplay, it also feels like you get two fully individual games, and not just two disconnected parts in the same series. While there have been a few updates here and there, most noticeably in text quality, there are a lot of other assets that are sadly in need of a little revamping. That being said, the nostalgic format isn’t all that bad, and both titles are certainly playable with no issues there.
While Makai Kingdom and ZHP may be very different in terms of gameplay, they do share some really important key aspects: plotline and graphical assets. The writing for both titles I found to be really great. Combining what I remember from Makai Kingdom, as well as what I forgot and relearned, with the storyline from ZHP makes one heck of an experience.
As mentioned previously, the graphics may need a little updating for modern day standards, but still work alright on average sized monitors. Larger monitors may have some issues with character stretching and looking a little worse on the whole, but comes with all the nostalgia I got from remembering my time with Makai Kingdom when I was younger. The soundtracks for both titles are what you have probably come to expect from NIS titles if you’ve played any before, with a good combination of theme setting tunes as well as themed stage tracks.
In conclusion, Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2: Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound and ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman is a great combo of titles that give a good diversity while sharing similar writing and art styles.
While the graphics could use some updating, it’s an absolute treasure that NIS has decided to bring titles from their classic collection into the forefront once more, and you can’t go wrong with either Makai Kingdom or ZHP, which just makes this union all the more sweet.Score: 9 / 10