If you’re anywhere near as old as I am, and I’m not divulging that bombshell again, then you’ll have some memory of Rise of the Robots. For the uninitiated, Rise of the Robots was uber-hyped and PR-ed into extinction, sealing the demise of the game before it really had a chance. It was an absolute, unmitigated disaster for all concerned. It was a robot fighting game that was set up to be the end to all other fighting games. It was expected to be the next big thing: a game-killing giant of all gaming. No one even remembers WHY. We were just told it was going to be amazing. I suppose at the time, it looked… spectacular? I suppose. For that era… maybe it did? I dunno. It looked pretty dark and ropey to me from the off. But then again, I’ve always preferred the sprite-y look of old-school 2D fighters.
So why am I telling you about Rise of the Robots? Because essentially, Zero Divide is everything that that game wanted to be… only ten times better.
But ten times better than zero is still zero. And zero divided by zero is… zero divide?
Actually it doesn’t exist but GAMING NAME PUN. Roll credits.
Let’s early-era PS1 it today with a robot fighting game that gave us eight robotic creatures and pitted them against each other in a battle for supremacy over… er… very little. So each of the robots wants to… er… well… who knows? There’s no actual story and anything that is told in this game is through a really irritating, possibly-not-English-but-who-can-tell narrator/battle announcer. He says things in this weirdly inflected accent. He’s clearly not a robot but in all honesty, from the way he speaks, he might as well be. He tells us nothing other than introducing us to what lies ahead. Because why not?
Turns out he’s the voice of XTal, the game’s final boss. And he’s set up the fights to find who’s the best robot of all of his units… because of course. Standard. And hey, standard robot design, he’s a giant brain of information. OF COURSE HE IS. I have no more words.
But, gentlepeople of the interwebs, Zero Divide fails to be amazing by one account: robots.
This might sound incredibly harsh but robots in fighting games have NEVER really taken off purely because they’re… robots. Basically. There’s a massive difference between playing a fighting game with characters that are eminently recognisable or ones that you’ll get hooked in by, and the ones that are shells, husks and mutes without a hint of personality.
Which is what this whole game lacks: PERSONALITY.
Come ON, guys, you know how much I love a charming game and this has absolutely none from the offset. There’s no introductory sequence, seeing as it was developed during a time when introductions to games were still minimal and you could get away with them, so there’s really no reason or spark right from the off.
The characters themselves are lacklustre and boring but then again, if you have robots trying to look vaguely human-like, why not just… shove humans in? Or at the very least shove humans INSIDE the robots or… I dunno. Look, the characters just suck, OK? Zero is the sort-of protagonist, hence the game’s title, and he’s joined by camouflaged Wild-3, cat-like Io, dragon-robot Draco, and… some other characters who really don’t actually matter too much. They don’t exhibit any speech patterns or behavioural patterns or anything that makes them interesting. They fight like humans would and very rarely do they exhibit some kind of interesting technique that only a robot would truly be capable of doing. Some of the spider-like robots hold a bit more potential but they couldn’t even be bothered with them.
What Zero Divide tries to provide is a 3D fighting game and nothing more than that. If anything, it felt like they were simply testing the waters. It’s a merely perfunctory example of what happens when a developer wants to create a game but only in the bare-bones format to see what people think of it. It’s a kind of cowardly way of getting a new IP started but without wanting to take risks.
“I WANT A FIGHTING GAME BUT I HAVE NEVER DONE ONE BEFORE.”
“FOCUS ON THE FIGHTING AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE.”
“I ALSO WANT ROBOTS.”
“WHAT A GOOD IDEA. ROBOTS IN FIGHTING GAMES ARE GENIUS. THEY ALL LIKE TO FIGHT BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT ROBOTS DO.”
“I AM A GENIUS.”
“MAKE SURE YOU DON’T INCLUDE A STORY.”
If you’re going to do that, be prepared for me to be MEAN about your game if it sucks.
And it does.
There is so little substance to this game that it sorta struggles to really grab your attention in any way shape or form. The character models are fairly bland and although it can be ARGUED that they look like robots, you could have shoved a few cubes on the screen and said “robots” and that would probably get away with it to a point. But alas, no. It is not a good looking game. It’s blocky and insubstantial, the background are mixture of textureless and headache-inducing or just plain creepy like the weirdly (Starfox 1) Andross-looking floating head on a screen background you can see above. I mean… what the fuck is that thing supposed to be? Is it supposed to be the announcer? Because his mouth never moves in time with the announcer’s voice… or is it? But he only appears on this one stage… and why make him look like THAT? LOOK AT IT. THE FUCK IS THAT? THE FUCK’S IT? FU’S’AT? ‘AT?
It does do one thing right and that’s making you finish the battle quicker so you don’t need to look at his face any more.
OH GOD, HE’S STILL FUCKING THERE.
Fighting is fairly standard in that you’re one-on-one, in a ring, a ring you can be pushed out of – but by the same token, one you can cling to the edges of if you accidentally hop off or fall off the edge of your own volition – across two rounds of combo-attempting fighting. There aren’t a huge amount of combos. You have a punch, a kick and a guard button, which is pretty much the Virtua Fighter mould. There’s nothing inherently WRONG with the combat itself but a majority of the characters can combo effortlessly with their punches but the kicks feel utterly useless and out of place. There were, at least for me, very few opportunities to combo in kicks in your attacks. You can press punch-punch-punch all you like and you’ll at least get a three-hitter in but adding in the kick usually stops combos in their tracks. It feels quite sloppy as a gaming mechanic and really does not lend the game any sort of satisfaction.
In short, the fighting falls woefully short and there appears to have been little to no real imagination or creativity gone into creating the characters OR their fighting styles. Surely… it was an opportunity to mix things up a bit. They’re fucking robots. Imagine an alien fighting game where all of the characters fight with Karate or Kickboxing… I’m not suggesting that aliens wouldn’t know these fighting styles but… well… they’re aliens. Why WOULD they know these fighting styles unless they developed the styles in their own ways and they JUST so happen to be exactly the same as the styles we have on Earth…? You see what I’m getting at here.
Basically… why are we not getting something like Roboxing? Or AI-kido? Or Muay Thai-borg? LOOK. THERE WERE PLENTY OF POSSIBILITIES TO GO TO TOWN. You sorta went outside, thought it was too cold and went back inside, you boring, cowardly bastards.
OH FUCK. IS THAT FACE STILL THERE?! FUCKING HELL.
See, these are the things that get my goat in games. I’m all for realism. I really am. Fighting games that feature real-life martial arts make sense because they’re set in realistic locations for the most part. The self-developed styles are also acceptable because I’m fairly sure some characters do that. That makes sense. But for robots to truly recognise these fighting styles is sort of a cop out to be honest. And as much as the argument for it is that they’re robots and they can learn by doing, these things are make in the mould of humans for the most part so basically, what they WANTED to do was create a proper fighting game but they wanted to get away with the early-PS1 graphics by making them into robots.
Look I dunno, it makes sense to me.
There’s very little to get away from in terms of genericness. The sound is meh, the graphics are meh, the combat is meh, the whole game sorta strikes me as being a reasonable attempt at creating a 3D fighting game, one that was destined never to become a classic. Even in the sequels, WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN GOOD, they didn’t do anything special or interesting. The only interesting thing of note that this really had going for it was that they included a little bodywork map next to the characters that told you how damage a robot had received during the fight. If you’re hit there, the body map changes colour. However… again, this isn’t really played on much at all. You don’t actually get a sense that the game is changing in any way when this happens. It might be but let’s be honest, it feels utterly negligible in game. It’s another example of a wasted opportunity. Imagine having to defend against an attack from a robot pummelling you and your arm cannot take the damage any more and smashes off your body… what then? What do you do?
This is why games like this SHOULD be good and yet aren’t. The lack of ingenuity, or at the very least the laziness in not bothering to implement it, is palpable. Very few games seem to have tried to implement a similar system, save for the GODAWFUL Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus.
Actually, that might be the reason why it’s NOT implemented… yeesh.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve struggled to remember much about this game at all. I remember that it kind of sucks and that the combat’s a bit dull and wishy-washy. I’ve remembered a few of the characters’ names but other than that… there’s so little that comes across as memorable at all. It feels cheap and unloved and in the end, regardless of what happens, the world is doomed at the end of it all anyway. The information that XTal holds inside of himself is logged away somewhere else and then it tells us that HUMANITY IS ONCE AGAIN GOING TO BE IN TROUBLE.
Well thanks a lot, you bastards. Kill us all the fuck off, why don’t you? Seriously. I’ve had enough of your apocalyptic bullshit. Robots will kill us all. The world’s going to be taken over by robots and all that crap. Well then, how’s about we have a humans v robots fighting game then? SHOULDN’T THAT HAVE BEEN THE STORY? Instead, no, we get the bland robots jumping about like lunatic rabbits, diving about, exploding and all that non-genius instead.
Give the robots a personality chip, someone. And while we’re at it, grab a few extra that we can give to some of the celebrities on TV these days.
Actually don’t waste any of them.
I’m off to ask Siri what 0 divided by 0 is. Because it’s a fuckton more interesting than this game.