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[ Writer ] = CMoon
[ 01/04/04 ] = Product Number Zero-Three

P.N.03 isn't a good name to start with. I mean, here's a game that has almost everything going against it, add to that a pretty lousy name (though it does kind-of explain itself at the end - hmmm, maybe I haven't seen the true ending yet). So putting the bad name aside, there's plenty else that's hard to swallow. First off, if you've seen screens of the game, it isn't a first person shooter, nor is it an exploration game. No item collection. Nothing. Even the rather late assertion that P.N.03 is secretly a 2-D shooter is wrong. The only thing I've heard about the game that's right on the mark is that there is a lot of very fine ass-shaking going on. This bit is true (especially when you have rapid fire, woo-hoo!)

Beyond that ass, we have a nearly Kubrickian setting--monochromatic backgrounds do wonders for alienating players. Even when you're outside (very rarely), there's nothing but a bleak landscape to confront you. It would seem that Capcom has done virtually everything they can to shut out the love for this game...







...and that's just what's so great about it. P.N.03 is a little love package for just a particular kind of gamer. This is the kind of gamer
who's going to want to play a game defined more by its limitations than its sense of freedom, and play it only for the achievement of perfection (because other rewards are scant).

For starters, movement of your character is based on what seems like a modified Onimusha engine. That might sound truly hideous, but were it any other way, P.N.03 would suck. No other way around it. This isn't doom. It's far more tactical and elegant. So imagine that Onimusha movement scheme with some modifications: Nothing is pre-rendered so when you turn (oh so slowly), the room rotates with you. More importantly though, you can jump (only forward or backward!), sidestep and duck. Now that all
sounds fine and good, but you can't shoot (and shooting is very important) while you are doing any of those other things...not even ducking. Thus, action takes on a very deliberately paced scenario of run, shoot, dodge, shoot, run, etc.

The world you move around in also has little to do with the word 'freedom'. You move from room to room--most of the time there is only one exit, though occasionally there is a branching path. Either way you should destroy everything in every room if you can. This isn't exploration. The rooms don't have anything you can use. Just defense robots you need to destroy as quickly as possible.




These two elements come together when understanding the combo system. As if everything didn't sound single-minded enough, P.N.03 is about one thing, and that's combos. Here are the rules: Every time you destroy a robot, a combo meter starts counting down, if you kill another one before the clock is reset, your combo bonus will increase. Since some rooms have over 10 robots in them, the bonus can become rather significant. The second bonus comes from not being hit, while a third comes from how quickly you clear the room.

One last bit of the gameplay I haven't described yet are the 'overdrives'. This is a good old fashioned super-move that lets you kill lots of things at once and typically grants you a second or two of invincibility. Perfect for keeping a combo going while also essential for evading a lot of incoming firepower. Mix it all up and you have some pretty addicting game play that is constantly driving you to blow up as many robots as you can as fast as you can.

If P.N.03 was devoid of all the limitations I already discussed, getting those combos wouldn't be significant at all. Instead, the game leans toward a rather methodical pummeling of your opponents, while all the time taking a bit of risk to keep your combo meter alive. Some will call this repetitive, but personally I find the whole thing rather stylish. It is as if someone at Capcom was looking at the outrageous aspects of games like Viewtiful Joe and then decided to do something exactly the opposite.




Oh, and of course, there is 'some' incentive for all these combos. You can use your points to buy upgrades - and these are absolutely essential. Fortunately (unlike Devil May Cry), the game offers 'trial' mode which you can play between levels, allowing you to get all the points you need to upgrade sufficiently. No more killing that giant spider over and over! Incidentally, the trial mode is actually quite neat since it mixes up all the rooms you've encountered so far, so you'll run into something a little new every time. Still, each room will be about the same, so don't expect the nearly bottomless replay that games like Disgaea offer.

One note on playing at multiple difficulties: It is a very nice touch that when you start over at a harder level, you can do so with all the equipment you finished your previous game with. Again, a problem with Devil May Cry has been solved and I like it. Good thing too, since P.N.03 on hard is truly, stupidly hard. Don't plan on getting hit. At all.

Probably worth also mentioning my gripes with this game - I mean, what's the point of reviews without some constructive criticism? My number one complaint is what I consider a blunder with the combo meter. Suppose you kill a very large bot that puts 15 sec or so on your combo meter, then you shoot one of the small ones that only takes a couple shots. Do you get your 15 sec plus the 4 sec bonus given by the new kill? No, it doesn't add time, your clock actually goes down to 4 sec. It can really be infuriating at times because if you do kill the small guys first, the tiny time bonus they give you isn't simply enough to kill some of the really huge robots that show up later in the game. This is the one aspect of the game I deem broken.

Another issue though is targeting. It doesn't really start bugging me until the later half of the game when some of the robots get 'helper' bots that shield them (actually if you play on hard, this sort of thing happens very early on.) You're clearly supposed to target the helper bots, but with so much on the screen and bullets flying everywhere, effectively targeting them is far more than just annoying, it's actually quite hard (even though this should be solved by the tap of a button). This isn't aided by the fact that
you will automatically target the shielded robots. A related gripe is how in a very small set of rooms, you'll have enemies both in the background and foreground, and for the life of me, I couldn't target the ones in my face trying to shoot me at point blank. Again, some tweaking really could have helped this aspect of the game.

My final complaint is perhaps more in the realm of personal opinion, but for some, this may be the biggest flaw. There is no separation between score and the points you earn for upgrades purchases. Also, while I cited the 'trial mode' as an advancement, should this really add to your score? Well, clearly Capcom did not see this as a game where people would want to compete for the top score. I find this little detail rather annoying since there is also little incentive to try to do better. You can always just do trial mode until you can buy the things you want, so in effect, score is pointless. Once again, a small tweak would have solved this - money earned for missions and trials, and score earned just for missions. Even a final grade would have been nice. Ah, what a shame they dropped the ball on this one.

Wow, those things might sound like they really hamper game play, but they rarely do. And it isn't like I'm not a picky gamer. I am. Part of the reason P.N.03 really does something for me is that in stripping the game (and the main character har! har!) down to its bare essentials, Capcom has somehow created an entirely original game that while owing quite a bit to other genres still manages to come off as truly unique. That's really saying something. Not just for Capcom but for video game development in general that seems to always be on the look out for that new idea (not just better graphics). P.N. 03 isn't a great game, mind you. I doubt it really has a lot more than 10 or 15 hours of game play in it even beating it on more than one difficulty. Still, I paid full price and didn't regret it. I think it's dropped down to $30 now and in the low twenties used. So what's your excuse?

[ Extra ] = Features
[ 1 ] = Capcom
[ 2 ] = Vanessa's Wardrobe