Review – Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2
I sincerely appreciate the three pronged emotional response that NIS is delivering with their Prinny Presents series. It’s equal parts boldness, fondness and almost unflappable brashness, if that makes any sense. It’s like going through your closet that contains all the clothes that you wore since you were born, and they all still fit, and you’re going to put on a fashion show. Everyone can agree that how people dressed in the 90s was highly influenced by the culture of the time, and it was awesome in the group collective, but someone showing up now with iced tips, a metal ball necklace choker, JNCO jeans and an Evanescence t-shirt will raise eyebrows. In the same part, NIS lays bare what they created, unapologetically saying “these were what we wanted to do, and we are proud of them.” It’s admirable, and that’s what brings us to Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2: Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound and Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. Jesus, that’s a long title.
Broken into two separate but equally accessible games, NIS has decided to give each a decent treatment to keep it classic but also updated. For example, you now can easily toggle between Japanese and English audio if you want to hear how the game originally sounded for the first wave of audience members. Each title has been kept in the original resolution and graphical design, which is both a plus and minus in some cases (which we’ll touch upon later). Additionally, Makai Kingdom specifically has a new mode, Petta Mode, which is a first for Western audiences who were unable to see the alternate storyline that takes place from Petta’s POV.
Purely from a collection and appreciation standpoint, these games have been given a fine treatment, preserved as close to the first incarnation as possible while making some QOL tweaks and optimizing them to run on the Switch. Players will have zero issues running the games, either as digital or physical copies. By the way, NIS, really solid job with the collector’s edition stock: as of now, you can still order directly from NIS even though the game launches…now? But how are the titles?
Makai Kingdom is the one players will most be familiar with, as it did receive a decent PS2 release reception and, well, more people had a PS2 than a PSP. In this title, NIS scratches the itch that they do so well with tactical, turn based combat, overly anime storylines and incredibly high level and complex character combat. You play Zetta, an omnipotent Netherworld overlord whose spirit is bound to a magical tome when his world is about to be destroyed. You then need to crawl back up the ethereal ladder to be the most badass overlord (his words, not mine) again. Defeat other overlords in other Netherworlds by summoning and training troops, many of whom are made out of materials (rocks, trees, etc) that you find on the ground. Get more cash, level up, better equipment, lather, rise, repeat. You get the drill.
For players who need to scratch that Disgaea itch, you’ll be both pleased and disappointed in Makai Kingdom. On the one hand, it does a lot of what other great NIS strategy games do, in that you need to learn the ins and outs of highly specific tactics in order to make progress. Troops all have weapons that they are proficient in, and it’s important to pay attention to those “advantages” when equipping them, because it’s the only way to survive in any capacity at the beginning. Additionally, you’ll want to resist the urge to be too experimental initially, as you’re expected to really stick to the script and grind out some smaller battles quickly, which you can only do if you’re set up properly. For me, I tried to be silly and have a couple of healers equipped with UFOs (which is a clearly obtuse combination), and I got my ass completely handed to me as a result.
Once you get into the groove of it all, Makai Kingdom is as investable and exciting as a tactical RPG can be, though the cutscenes help to inject a ton of charisma and enjoyment throughout. If there’s one thing NIS does well, it’s get good English voice acting to help complement the overly hammy and dramatic scripting, which was lovely. Because the approach to the combat is a bit different, it never quite clicked with me, unfortunately.
You see, Makai Kingdom doesn’t stick to a grid, and lets players sort of wander loosely around the map, which was just too chaotic for my taste. I saw the angular layout of the troops and the way I had to assign actions and then confirm, and my brain conformed these actions to doing things in a set movement sort of way. Instead, I had enemies that could move however they’d like, often cleverly skirting the radius of my attacks while getting ready to combine into their own. I have no shame in telling you it took way, WAY too long for me to finish even the first combat mission, and it only got harder from there.
My takeaway is that Makai Kingdom, which came after the big name successes of Disgaea and Phantom Brave, wanted to do something for itself while also catering towards fans of the other two, and the result is something truly complex and difficult. Figuring out if there are secret events in each randomly generated map can eat up an enormous amount of time, but the RPG enthusiast within will compel you to try and find things out while actively being walloped by enemies. Using vehicles is a brilliant reconfiguration, and I found it to make what became positively SPRAWLING maps that much easier to explore and plan.
The bosses are harrowing, to say the least, and this is a real capital S strategy game. Like, sit down, look at the troops and try to anticipate call and response type nonsense. Ironically, with a game this big, it doesn’t benefit from the Nintendo Switch’s portable nature. Instead, it almost frustrates you trying to compress this much content down onto a smaller screen. It’s like people who play Civilization in handheld mode: I cannot comprehend trying to encapsulate the growth of an empire on a tiny device. That’s the same effect of Makai Kingdom.
On the total opposite end of the spectrum is Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. This banana pancakes PSP title is a dungeon crawler in the vein of Pokemon Mystery Dungeons or Shiren the Wanderer. You play some poor schlub on the street who ends up needing to take on the mantle of Unlosing Ranger, the seemingly immortal superhero who is killed by two teenagers driving a Subaru.
You, now the most powerful superhero on the planet, go to engage Darkdeath Evilman in a fight for the survival of the planet, and are immediately killed. Like, in about six seconds. Luckily, you’re teleported away to a Netherworld (no relation to Makai Kingdom) and told you’re going to be trained and properly outfitted to become the hero that we all need to fight Darkdeath Evilman. Through quests, grinds, and the support of your Prinny wife, you’ll be able to save the day again! And you’d better hurry, because Super Baby can only hold off Darkdeath for so long.
As far as approaches for an off-the-wall idea goes, Z.H.P. goes above and beyond to make this crawl both madcap and exciting without losing the thread or making things too bizarre. The narrative and voices help to keep the entire premise wacky and hyperbolized, which is what you want in a game that features Darkdeath Evilman as the primary antagonist. You are aided and abetted by two entities, one who is your training instructor and one who is the ghost(?) of the previous Unlosing Ranger, and they fight constantly.
Like Makai Kingdom, you have the ability to skip over cutscenes between dungeon crawls if you just want to get on with it and delve in, but why on earth would you want to? The interactions are top shelf anime tropes, from baseless accusations and casual cruelty to emotional stakes in something totally arbitrary. It’s worth playing just for the excellent voicework and setups alone.
Unlike Makai Kingdom, however, Z.H.P. is also wildly addicting in the gameplay, and I feel that speaks more to the platform of origin. Whereas Makai Kingdom was meant to be played longform on the PS2, Z.H.P., coming from humble PSP backgrounds, inherently needed to make things more accessible in a short burst of gaming. Therefore, the slightly isometric approach to dungeon layouts, combat and looting feel more at home in the handheld nature of the Switch.
Additionally, the approach to the dungeon crawl is quite creative, offering leveling bonuses within the run as well as permanent upgrades for future dives. So, if you manage to get your character (who I named NAME) all the way to level 20, you still have to be level one the next time you go down, but your base stats are substantially higher, allowing for a strong leadoff and better perks from leveling up in that dungeon.
Additionally, the spatial awareness of Z.H.P. makes it more exciting every time you dive into a dungeon. Enemies won’t notice you until you step into their field of vision, allowing the possibility to bypass combat on some floors, conserving both HP and fullness gauges with the tradeoff of not generating EXP before moving on to arguably harder mobs. If you do fight an enemy, there’s a chance their death cry will alert other troops nearby, pulling you into a fight you may or may not be ready for.
You can throw found items, equip stuff you find in the dungeon, or prepurchase something before heading down. Also, you can call your Prinny wife to come deliver a care package if you’re running low on health, but that’s only accessible a limited number of times. It’s a clever set of circumstances that allows for both fast gameplay or deliciously strategic approaches, like if you could decide to play regular chess or chess on cocaine.
As a final note, Z.H.P. found a way to just keep making the grind fun, and I think it has a lot to do with the quickness of the overall experience. As someone who doesn’t get a lot of time to play often, I appreciated the idea that, sometimes, you just gotta jump in, get your loot or find the meaning of life for some old man and then get out. While the graphics still looked a bit grainy due to age and source material, it worked for the Unlosing Ranger. The sprites were rough, the terrain was gritty, and that all made sense in this series of darkest dungeons where tank treads could become your new feet. I play, I die, I play again, and it’s just a fun test of mettle and patience.
For Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2, I think we have a better showcasing of what NIS is capable of in both good and bad servings. On the one hand, we get to see how many of their titles swing for the fences: they like to try something different in each case. For Makai Kingdom, they easily could have repeated formulas that existed, but they experimented with movement and troop interactions, and, in my opinion, it didn’t work. But it helped to lay the groundwork for what we would see in later Disgaea entries, so we can’t chalk it up as a failure when it clearly won over so many people with multiple aspects. In Z.H.P., players get to try a standard affair with a zany flavor, and it is absolutely lovely. Granted, it didn’t sell as well due to the nature of the release, but it was great nevertheless.
If you get a chance to add these to your collection, know what you’re getting into, and consider this: are you enough of an NIS fan that you want these titles for what they were, or what they are? Personally, I’d recommend it even if I’m unlikely to put on Zetta’s shoes (or dust jacket) ever again. It’s a great chunk of video game history, and I’m deeply appreciative of what they’re providing for new and old players alike. Now to prepare for Vol. 3 and Rhapsody…
Aged like a fine wine, the classic sprites in Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2 still shine through after all these years.
Handling is solid throughout, though I must admit that one game handled better than the other with modern inputs.
Brilliant voice acting and a solid score, this is a set to enjoy with headphones on.
Splitting the difference between one that I adored and one that I was…okay with.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2 is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 2 was provided by the publisher.