Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 Review: A True Underdog Uprising!
I think it’s reasonably fair to say that the release of Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 marked the beginning of an exciting new time for Nippon Ichi Software fans, both old and new. On one hand, you have people who played these games when they were originally released who are finally being given a chance to relive the glory days of the NIS PS2 era. And, on the other hand, you have fans who either weren’t around that time or who simply weren’t aware of NIS/their games, who are finally getting to experience what all of the hubbub was about. And I think it’s great. The first Prinny Presents was a great introduction to older NIS classics, and Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2: Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound / ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman is every bit as exciting a follow-up.
Starting from the Bottom
While it’s a little too early to tell at this point, I can’t help but feel as though NIS is pairing their games together based on certain thematic elements. In the first Prinny Presents, you had unassuming protagonists who were unexpectedly thrust into world-saving situations and relied on the power of another to help them accomplish that goal. In Prinny Present NIS Classics Volume 2, both stories begin with a sudden—and extreme—shift in power. ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Everman—which is quite possibly the most self-aware NIS game I’ve ever played—begins with the protagonist—whose default name is literally “Main Character” (which I was 100% okay keeping)—inheriting the ability to turn into the iconic Superhero “Unlosing Ranger” after the real Unlosing Ranger gets hit by a car and dies. Like, this dude is literally supposed to be invincible, and he dies because he’s running to the “final battle” in the middle of the street like an idiot and some other idiots run him over with a car. It’s the most ridiculous premise I think NIS has ever set up, and I absolutely love it.
Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound, an updated version of the original Makai Kingdom, plays the power-shift dynamic in the opposite direction. The game starts off with protagonist Zetta, the most powerful and most badass Overlord in existence, attempting to save his own Netherworld from the brink of existence. After a fierce battle with an entity known as Raiden, he makes it to his Netherworld’s Sacred Tome—a book which, as its name dictates, basically tells you anything you want to know. Unfortunately for our fearless, badass protagonist, all this specific Sacred has written in it is stuff about how stupid Zetta is. Not surprisingly, this enrages Zetta, prompting him to burn the book to ashes. The problem? That book is tied to the existence of his own Netherworld. Whoops! Not wanting to be erased for all eternity, Zetta does the only thing he can do—confine his own soul to the tome, resulting in… I don’t know, the first book Overlord, I guess? Anyway, Zetta’s alive, but he can’t actually do anything. Also, everything he once ruled over is gone. So, it’s up to his, *ahem* “friends” to help him build up a new Netherworld to rule over.
Soul Nomad and Phantom Brave—the two titles making up the first Prinny Presents—were, without a doubt, NIS games and could be easily identified as such. However, they were noticeably subdued in terms of zany-ness, offering characters and stories that were generally a bit tamer and serious overall. Personally, I can appreciate that NIS was able to branch out of its comfort zone, but I also enjoy experiencing what NIS does best—creating hilarious, bizarre, borderline-fourth-wall-breaking stories and characters—something which both of these games most definitely have. As I mentioned before, however, the real shining star when it comes to narrative zaniness is undoubtedly ZHP. While I don’t necessarily want to give too much away, it literally feels like, I don’t know… a condensed form of NIS? Like, there’s almost zero restraint when it comes to the writing (not in a bad way), and I absolutely love it.
What’s Yours is Mine
Continuing what seems to be an apparent trend, Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 is once again made up of what can best be described as a “Disgaea-like” and a “non-Disgaea-like”—with Makai Kingdom being the former and ZHP being the latter. In terms of gameplay, Makai Kingdom is largely what you’d expect from a tactical, grid-based JRPG produced by NIS (and I mean that as a compliment), and if you’ve ever played a Disgaea game before then, you’ll already be familiar with most of its mechanics. It also shares a surprising number of traits with Phantom Brave, including the use of non-grid-based movement, the fact that you can throw people out of bounds, and, of course, Zetta’s ability to Confine units to objects (although Zetta’s Confine ability is permanent, which is really nice).
Makai Kingdom isn’t just a mish-mash of other NIS games, though, don’t worry! It’s most definitely got some flavor of its own. The biggest thing that helps to set it apart from any other NIS tactical RPG out there is how battles are won. While they might play in a way that feels familiar, winning isn’t as simple as clearing out all of the enemy units. Instead, players need to reach a certain score in order to beat a level—with players earning points by KOing enemies, breaking items, and so on. I’ll be the first to admit that this idea is, well, kind of weird. Combat can be difficult enough without adding in things like points. But it really isn’t that bad, and it even gets to be kind of fun after a while.
ZHP, on the other hand, is an entirely different ballgame. And that would be because it’s the only (as far as I’m aware) Mystery Dungeon game produced by NIS. At least in this style, anyway. Now, I’m not sure how many of you have played Mystery Dungeon games. If you haven’t, that’s totally fine—it’s a fairly niche genre that’s essentially run by a single developer (it’s not NIS, by the way). Basically, the Mystery Dungeon sub-genre is a unique kind of dungeon-crawling game that has the player (usually) exploring procedurally generated dungeons in an attempt to make it from the top floor to the bottom (sometimes the opposite) as they battle bad guys, avoid traps, find items, and, of course, try not to starve to death. And in that sense, ZHP is pretty much your standard Mystery Dungeon game. Every basic element of the genre is there, and they all work together very cohesively.
That’s not all that this game has going for it, though. Just in case you forgot, ZHP—a Mystery Dungeon game designed in the same graphical style as Disgaea—was made by NIS, the company that made Disgaea. And any game that looks like Disgaea is going to have Disgaea mechanics—including this one. While you might not be able to pull off ridiculous combos in this game, almost every other trademark mechanic has made its way into ZHP some way or another—including the ability to lift and throw, the way that skills work, and the fact that the max level in this game is crazy-high (although leveling does work a bit differently in this game, to be fair). Miraculously, though, it works. You might not think it would, but it does. And the end result is one heck of a dungeon-crawling experience.
There’s really no getting around it, dood—Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 is another smash-hit. Er… I guess it’s more like two smash hits? I don’t know. I’m not here to talk about semantics. Basically, what I’m saying is that they did a good job with picking out these games. Both ZHP and Makai Kingdom were most definitely worthy of receiving another chance in the spotlight, and I’m very happy that that happened. Keep ’em coming, NIS!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Codeglue; Players: 1; Released: August 31, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.