Vanessa Schneider struts her stuff with grace and style in Capcom's sci-fi action shooter, P.N. 03 (Product Number 03). Here's the Kikizo verdict.
P.N. 03 is a refreshing change from Capcom's barrage of fighting games and survival horror titles. As part of the Production Studio 4 line up, P.N. 03 is the first of the Capcom "Big 5" to be released. Directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of the Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series, P.N. 03 was definitely in great hands and takes a different approach to his previous titles.
With the western release of P.N. 03 approaching, we're happy to tell you that the game provides gamers with quality arcade style shooting thrills, as they guide Vanessa through an onslaught of enemy robots, causing mayhem and destruction while keeping her body moving to the musical beats in her head.
The story of P.N. 03 takes place sometime in the future where a dance-a-holic female mercenary named Vanessa Z. Schneider is contracted by a mysterious woman known as "The Client", her mission is to destroy the army of machines on a colonial settlement on the planet Öde. With the colonization of distant planets, their military defenses have become dependent on CAMS (Computer Arms Management System).
But something goes wrong on an outlying outpost with CAMS going haywire and killing the entire colony, including Vanessa's family. With that, Vanessa isn't short of motivation to accept the mission. Her objective is clear: she'll need to infiltrate and destroy the CAMS automated weapons complex. Vanessa heads to the colony with no guns, explosives, or external weapons of any kind, just her non-stop dancing. You think she's crazy? Well not just yet, because she has no intention of serenading and dancing the psycho robots to death.
Outfitted with a combat suit known as an 'Aegis Suit', she's able to use her body as a weapon. The suit gives her the ability to fire blasts from the palms of her hands and unleash spectacular special attacks that exhibit some cool looking effects like the spell effects in some RPG games.
The controls are pretty easy to pick up and feel great with the Gamecube controller. Every button is utilized for something useful during the game.
Vanessa has a host of offensive and cool defensive acrobatic-like moves to help her through missions. Her moves consist of shooting palm blasts, ducking, rolling in four directions, a short standing jump, a high jump flip that she can do forward or to the sides, a jump back flip that helps a lot in avoiding some powerful energy beams, side-stepping, spinning around in 180 to quickly face the opposite direction, locking onto different enemy targets, and performing her awesome special moves by performing certain d-pad and button combinations similar to the street fighter games but easier to perform.
The special moves look Great and do a lot of damage by wiping out many of the on-screen enemies as well as destroying or severely weakening bosses. Fortunately Vanessa is invincible while performing her special moves but is vulnerable while the moves are wearing down, leaving her as a stationary target during the brief lag that occurs during recovery. Utilizing the special moves adds great strategy to the game play, as you have to make sure you're out of harms way while they're fading.
One of the coolest moves in the game is definitely Vanessa's ability to side-step enemy fire. By pressing either the Left or Right shoulder buttons, Vanessa will spin and side step in that direction, pressing the shoulder buttons twice in a timely manner will have her side-stepping into a somersault in order to get further away from enemy fire. A move that takes a little bit of timing as jamming the shoulder buttons multiple times quickly won't produce anything past her first side-stepping move.
The gameplay is fast paced, arcade-style shooting action. There are two difficulty settings to choose from at the beginning of the game: Easy and Normal. Hard mode is unlocked after you complete the entire game the first time through. The higher the difficulty setting you select, the harder the enemies are to kill and the more damage their shots seem to inflict on Vanessa. After selecting your difficulty setting, you're briefed by the mysterious client and then prepare to start your mission.
Taking control of Vanessa, you'll lead her through 11 stages that'll take her from barren wastelands to metallic enemy compounds while trying to dodge the heavy barrage of enemy fire headed her way. Each level consists of numerous rooms you'll be running and blasting through, some of which you'll need to clear completely of enemy robots in order to unlock certain doors and proceed. Wiping out all of the enemies in a room and exiting as quickly as possible will also earn you additional points for your room clearing times. The amount of rooms differs in each level and can range between a short 5 rooms to a lengthy 21 rooms.
After clearing each room you're scored on your performance. A 'ROOM RESULT' appears after you exit each room and before you appear in the next one, it displays the amount of rooms you've cleared so far as well as how many you have left to go, your room clearing time, the max combos you performed in the room as well as awarding bonus points for not incurring any damage during your battles in each room. It also displays the total amount of enemies you've killed in the room and displays the word ALL if you manage to successfully wipe them all out.
Of course, wiping out all the enemies in each area will garner you more points, but to add to the scoring mechanics you're able to link the kills into combos in order to score even higher. The way it works is that once you kill an enemy, a combo counter appears on the upper right hand corner of the screen and counts down to zero, so before it hits zero you have to chain another kill in order to bump the counter back up and repeat this procedure to score a lot higher. A pretty simplistic but effective combo system. Using your special moves in these situations can be quite helpful as they can wipe multiple enemies at once and help weaken others as the special move is wearing down.
The final room in each level contains a powerful boss that you need to dispose of. Some of the bosses can wipe you out with one blast if you're not careful so you'll need to make full use of your sidestepping techniques as well as your special powers in order to survive.
After obliterating the end bosses of each level your overall score will be tallied and you'll be ranked based on your performance through them. Depending on how well or how badly you did you'll either be awarded the rank of ROOKIE, AMATEUR, REGULAR, PROFESSIONAL or DESTROYER after completing each level. Other data shown will be the total amount of enemies you destroyed throughout a level, the total amount of time it took you to clear a level, your highest combo count as well as how many rooms you managed to make it through without incurring any damage. Any bonus points you're awarded will also be displayed.
Unlike in most other games where scoring isn't much of a big deal, P.N. 03's scoring system works like money. The more you have, the more you can purchase in the shops throughout the game. As you make your way through each level you'll encounter a large pink glowing orb that you can enter which will take you to a shop. Here you can purchase items to upgrade your suit, change into a different Aegis suit that you already have in your arsenal or purchase new Aegis Suits in which there are 9 to purchase and 2 to unlock. Each suit has different attributes, some may enable for more powerful palm shots but have weaker defenses while others will have better defense capabilities and be able to absorb enemy shots well but have weaker palm shots.
The suits can be upgraded a certain amount of times in five areas such as- 1. Barrier (Defense), Palm Shot (Offense), Energy, Automatic (only available with very few suits), and Energy Drive - which is the general title of all of Vanessa's powerful special attacks. The amount of Energy Drives you have depends on the Aegis suit you're wearing at the time but in the early goings the suits have 2 energy drives and very few of the later ones have 3. Most of the Energy Drives of each suit are different, exhibiting their own unique and destructive abilities so it's up to you to decide which suit you feel is best suited for the job at hand. Using the special attacks will deplete Vanessa's Energy Drive meter after each use but she can replenish it by collecting power-ups that refill her meter either incrementally or fully.
After trying out all of the suits we settled on the ones equipped with Automatic firing since we're kind of lazy about repeatedly tapping the fire button. Sure their firepower may be weaker but the fact that you're letting off many more rounds of fire by simply holding down the button makes up for it and balances out quite well against the more powerful manual firing suits. While at the shop you can also purchase extra Continues but to be honest we found it to be a pretty useless option that's nullified by the fact that your continues automatically increase as you successfully progress through the levels in the game. For example, We started a game off with just a small handful of continues, never purchased any throughout the entire game and by the later levels managed to gain close to 30 continues.
After completing each level you're provided with the option to take part in Trial Missions. This game mode is optional and serves the purpose of helping you to score higher points in order to help speed up the suit upgrading/purchasing process. The Trial Missions randomly generates the rooms you'll need to successfully make it through by killing as many robots as you can in order to score points and complete, fortunately if you die during the trial missions, you won't lose any of your continues and get to keep the points you racked up before you bit the dust. You can access the trial missions as many times as you'd like, something we spent many hours doing.
The difficulty level of P.N. 03 is just right, it never feels difficult unless you're not utilizing all of Vanessa's moves. The game does tend to feel a little easy at times once you've mastered core techniques, but that's okay, since the game is a bucket load of fun. The pace of the game is also at the right level. Vanessa runs and jumps through each room at moderate enough speeds to clear them quickly.
The robots and powerful mechs of the colony are relentless with their assault on Vanessa. The moment they spot her on their scanners all hell breaks loose. Many of the mechanical terrors will appear out of nowhere and come in various shapes and sizes, with their own distinct offensive and defensive moves, some of which can wipe her out with one or two shots. But thanks to Vanessa's fast and agile dancing' feet and nifty palm blasting techniques, when used correctly Vanessa will be able to avoid any and all of the enemy fire power thrown her way, it takes a bit of practice, but in no time you to will be having lots of fun dodging enemy fire of all types. You'll also get many opportunities to perform cool acrobatic moves through rooms equipped with laser defense systems as you smoothly leap over the low beams and roll underneath the high ones that are both stationary and moving, a pretty cool looking series of moves and a great feeling when you make it through the laser traps without getting hit.
Another great thing is the ability to use the environments as cover from enemy fire. The level designs provide plenty of wall extensions and indentations to use for cover as well as a few objects positioned throughout some of the rooms that you can hide behind of as well. However after taking enough hits the objects will be destroyed, leaving you with no cover and having to rely on Vanessa's evasive maneuvers. But regardless, hiding behind walls and objects as well as hiding inside the openings in some of the floors allows you to engage in some cool shoot outs as you blast the robots, run for cover, peek out every now and then when it's safe and finish the job you started on them until they're destroyed and the coast is clear for you to proceed.
Fortunately the game has a well-implemented targeting system that automatically locks onto enemy targets even at far away distances with Vanessa's palm blasts still hitting them at such distances. There's also the option to cycle through which targets you want to focus on, allowing you to get rid of the harder guys first before focusing on the weaker minions or vice versa.
The great thing about the game is that once you destroy all of the enemies in a room you don't have to worry about facing them again when going through the same rooms again. This helps in trying to figure out which rooms you've already been through without becoming lost or confused and making unnecessary trips.
To the delight of some of us, unlike Capcom's other 3D titles that involve a lot of backtracking, P.N. 03 pretty much consists of all forward moving action. What little backtracking there is isn't mandatory and is only there for accessing areas to obtain power-ups to increase Vanessa's life meter and Energy Drive meter.
Throughout all of the action in the game, with all of Vanessa's offensive and defensive moves including her special attacks, without a doubt our favorite move of hers is her ability to sidestep enemy fire. After pressing the button once, Vanessa will perform a cool little dancing twirl to the left or right and sidestep whatever's coming at her if timed right, still keeping pace with the musical beats going on in her head as she just continuously taps those toes and snaps those fingers.
Pressing the same button twice will have Vanessa performing her sidestepping move into a cool looking somersault/cartwheel-like maneuver towards the left or right direction, a very useful move to help escape the relentless enemy assault that trails her movement. It's pretty cool to watch as homing missiles are launched at you from a distance, at first slowly approaching from afar then speeding up as they get closer, Vanessa patiently waiting there like a sitting duck until they get within inches of her before sidestepping them with just the tap of a button, a move that takes a little bit of timing but is a whole lot of fun to perform. We at Kikizo just love when missiles are launched at us!
Despite the very addictive game play, P.N. 03 is INCREDIBLY repetitive. Even throughout all of the game's 11 levels you'll be seeing some of the same rooms over and over again, getting a major sense of Deja Vu while performing the same tasks. Any other game would have been raked over hot coal for such a blasphemous thing but P.N. 03 manages to get away with it thanks to its fun and highly addictive game play. Capcom is certainly on a roll this year with its newest crop of games coming down the pipeline.
P.N. 03's visuals are a testament to the old 'gameplay over graphics' philosophy, a statement that rings true many times in this case. If P.N. 03 were to have a great weakness it would most definitely be the graphics. The game's visuals have an extremely low budget look to them. With the graphical quality of the environments at times you'd almost swear you were playing an N64 or PSone game.
The environment graphics are quite lackluster due to the low quality textures and sometimes unclean looking visuals. The environmental textures in this game are almost a disgrace. The level designs for the most part leave a lot to be desired as they're ultra repetitive in many of the levels. On their own, without any repetition, the level designs work somewhat well for their intended purposes but how many times can you run into a new room and say - "Hey, wasn't I just here??"
The textured light fixtures are also pretty bad, you can easily tell they're not real lighting effects just by having Vanessa stand over them in darkened hallways with no light source bouncing off of her. The shadows in the game are also just simple circles, it would have been great to get volumetric shadows like those found in Blue Stinger. The 'real' light sourcing effects however are very nice and well implemented, helping to highlight Vanessa's well-designed model.
What kills us about some of the backgrounds looking very low quality is that some of them have a lot of potential and look well designed even at low quality. For example, there's a futuristic cityscape in one of the backgrounds that looks pretty cool from a distance and looks great in design but the visual quality is lacking thanks to the low quality textures and rough looking graphics.
A plus for some of the backgrounds is that they're not made up of overly simplistic shapes. Along with Vanessa, some of the backgrounds contain a few nice curves themselves.
However laughably bad the textures and some of the background graphics may be, there is one bright spot; Vanessa. It appears as if the developers chose to focus all of their graphical resources on her as she's modeled BEAUTIFULLY. A well shaped and defined character model that's detailed and animates quite smoothly and dances oh so sexy as she's kickin' mechanical asses all throughout the game, looking good while doing so. We find it kind of funny as to how much attention to detail was given to her ass instead of the environments of the game. It's like Tecmo focusing most of their physics on the breasts of their female Dead or Alive characters instead of where it should matter most in the game. Perhaps maybe a few Tecmo people helped work on this project? Just kidding!
The animations of Vanessa are both funny and sexy as she's always dancing, even when bombarded with enemy fire and missiles whizzing past her head. Throughout the game, Vanessa will constantly be snapping her fingers, nodding her head, tapping her toes, and at times gyrating her hips with a nice view of her well-defined ass! Her dancing isn't always synced properly with the music and you'll wonder if she's rhythmically challenged when she finger snaps after the beats in a song and not during the beats, but still she's fun to watch. It's pretty damn funny how she gyrates her hips while she's bathing an enemy with automatic fire. Her sexiest move and something that has some of us starting to wonder about her "day job" since she seems to have mucho experience shaking that butt! Some of us were even throwing dollar bills at the screen while she danced.
The frame rate for the most part works well with the action. It chugs and lags in spots, especially when being bombarded by large powerful energy beams but not bad enough to detract from the overall game play experience.
The game's soundtrack must be duly noted as it is pretty good at times and goes well with Vanessa's finger snapping and non-stop dancing. The entire soundtrack consists of catchy, toe-tapping techno music that goes quite well with the game's futuristic settings. Some of the music has a nice mechanical style to them with cool robotic-like melodies chiming in rhythmically to provide some very catchy head bopping, toe tapping moments.
Then there are some of the other themes that provide a beautifully mind-drifting ambient feel to the game with their sweeping soundscapes and fast paced shake-your-butt style beats. Sometimes sounding beautifully atmospheric like Thomas Dolby's "The Gate to the Mind's Eye" musical works. Kudos goes to Capcom's sound team for providing such a catchy and at times captivating soundtrack, one that also supports Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound. It's definitely worthy of an OST release and surely one of Kikizo's *Must Buy* game soundtracks if or when one is released as there are no sound tests in the game, fortunately the music does continue playing while the game is paused so it's time for us to pull out those recordable mini discs!
The sound effects are done well with a subtle amount of reverb added to them, giving all of the explosions, energy blasts, and enemy movements a clear distinct sound to them. And just when we began to think that Vanessa was a mute, she finally SPOKE near the end and at the end of the game. Her voice and accent sounded pretty good, and what little voice there is in the game is done quite nicely.
Despite the greatness of the game there are some negative aspects to it besides the bad texture work and overall low budget feel. Vanessa can't jump and shoot at the same time, nor can she move around at all while shooting, can't duck and shoot or perform any attacks while ducking. It would have been pretty cool to crouch down and leap onto smaller robotic enemies like a leopard and tear them to pieces.
Also, the camera work while good can get a bit annoying at times, luckily there's the option to adjust the camera with the C stick, but in the heat of battle we'd like to focus on fighting the enemies and not be fighting the camera as well.
But in the end we can say that despite its highly unimpressive graphics and ultra repetitive environments, P.N. 03's game play and soundtrack made for a very enjoyable game. Having logged 8 hours and 35 minutes of non-stop play during our first play through without even stopping to use the restroom is testament enough of that. Don't get us wrong, the game isn't 8 hours long, in fact if rushed through we could've probably aced through it in under 2 hours, but we saw no need to rush as we tried to take in all the sights and sounds of this gem. The game also has a bizarre ending that had us shouting "what the duck?" and hoping for a sequel.
After completing the entire game you'll unlock Hard Mode as well as get awarded a new powerful Aegis suit that kicks tons of butt. The new suit is so powerful we were able to run through the entire game the second time in only an hour and 35 minutes without Ever dying. Quite an enticing bonus and incentive to make you want to run through the entire game again. Something we're about to do again and again after this review despite the fact that we've already completed it on every difficulty setting and unlocked pretty much everything, but still, we want MORE! Finishing the game on hard mode unlocks a sexy looking outfit that shows more skin on Vanessa, but unfortunately using this outfit will truly be quite challenging as it has no Defense against enemy shots, so one hit deaths are rampant and you'll have to remain savvy enough to make it through the game with just that suit.
P.N. 03 is set to ship across North America this September 9, with an earlier UK release of August 29.
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Capcom's futuristic action title - in-game footage and set-pieces.