Over time, the Danganronpa series became one of the most popular franchises in Spike Chunsoft library. It could also be called the most popular, if the metric for popularity here doesn’t extend outside their home country of Japan, since the Zero Escape franchise could still be more well-known in western markets. That popularity is evident in how each installment has sold better than the last, even though the most recent title, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, was released simultaneously on PlayStation 4 and Vita instead of on one handheld. We’ll see if that trend follows outside the country when the western version arrives in late September.
Occasionally, though, these development teams like to take breaks from their main franchises, particularly when they’ve been working on them for years. The Danganronpa team previously took a short break from the franchise to work on Ukiyo no Shishi and Ukiyo no Roshi, two separate-though-connected samurai action/RPGs for PS3 and Vita released in 2015. The games, sadly, weren’t that well received, and didn’t achieve high sales on either platform, which sent the team back to their more reliable series with the aforementioned third Danganronpa game. But now, they’re ready to venture outside their comfort zone again with a new project, helmed by producer Yoshinori Terasawa and director Takayuki Sugawara.
Their next project is Zanki Zero, an RPG with action elements that takes place in a universe where civilization mostly came to an end, and features eight survivors. Each of them will serve as a protagonist in their own way, depending on the chapter, as the game will feature detailed accounts of each of their backstories and efforts. Its story will also include lively older people, who will play a big role in the story. In fact, the Famitsu issue contains concept artwork showing a male character in younger and older forms, perhaps implying how the story could occur over a significant amount of time. Older characters aren’t as highly regarded as they should be in video games, especially those developed in Japan. Hopefully this early information isn’t misleading regarding their potential presence.
One character will be a mascot, who will be more comparable to the Danganronpa series’ Monomi instead of the more identifiable Monokuma. Given Monomi’s appearance, this suggests the game’s mood won’t be quite as grim as most might expect upon hearing they’re in for a post-apocalyptic tale; but that’s not implying it will be an uplifting tale, given what the Danganronpa series is capable of despite its colorful art style.
The definition of it being an “RPG with action elements” is currently vague, as they’ve yet to show the game in motion, and the screenshots thus far don’t show anything. It’s confirmed that it will have seamless transitions between exploration and battles, and characters will be able to directly attack and evade incoming blows. The main enemies will be animals who’ve adapted to the post-apocalyptic world better than the remaining humans, though whether they appear normal or have mutated forms is also unknown. Since this game is partly about survival, the characters will have to kill them for food and creation materials.
The first screens could make anyone familiar with this company’s library think it’s another visual novel, with either event scenes with detailed backgrounds or first-person exploration. Another screen shows a dialog sequence with a female character whose amputated limbs have been replaced. The presentation from them brings Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward to mind, though the team behind that particular game is working on another project. The screens could showcase how early in development it is, as the team confirmed it’s only around 10% complete.
It doesn’t appear the Danganronpa team has much experience with games outside visual novels, so hopefully Zanki Zero expands their horizons while being an enjoyable experiment for those who play it. Reviews for the aforementioned Ukiyo games were harsh, as they were criticized for being sluggish and unpolished, so this game should ideally succeed where that one failed. It was originally planned during the development of Danganronpa 2 for PSP in Japan (which released in July 2012), but remained on the backburner for six years. This suggests the project is an important one for the team, enough that they didn’t want to discard the concept. If it doesn’t work out, or if the game doesn’t catch on with an audience in any territory, at least they have a reliable franchise they can fall back on.
Since Zanki Zero is only 10% complete, it’s too early for the developers to provide any kind of release timeframe. Expect it to arrive in Japan sometime in 2018 at the earliest, and since Spike Chunsoft has everything localized these days (either through them or publishing partners like NIS America or Aksys Games), it should come westward shortly afterward. Look for more information to arrive throughout the year, especially at events like Tokyo Game Show.