Road 96: Mile 0 is a heartfelt prequel to the 2021 road trip simulator, and another narrative adventure game created by developer DigixArt and published by Ravenscourt. It’s a game that shares a lot with its predecessor in terms of narrative, but surprisingly little in terms of gameplay. Does the affecting story make up for the changes that were made, and is Road 96: Mile 0 worth your time?
This game follows best friends Zoe and Kaito. If you played Road 96, you’ll recognize Zoe as the rebellious runaway who plays a big part in taking down the despot of the fictional country of Petria. Fans of the original Road 96 will also be happy to see other familiar faces in a handful of cameos throughout the game.
"It carries the same visual DNA as Road 96, for better or worse. Itas heavily stylized so it looks great in stills, but everything feels… unrefined in motion."
Kaito, on the other hand, is probably less familiar to most people. While he’s new to Road 96 canon, he is an existing character from Lost in Harmony, DigixArt’s first game from 2016. You’d gain a fair bit of insight if you’ve played that game and are familiar with the characters and themes because Road 96: Mile 0 kind of just throws you into his narrative. The opening moments of Mile 0 have Kaito remembering his late friend Aya as if she is a person the player would have a connection to, although that wasn’t the case for me. While you can still level with a character being sad about a friend that was lost in a tragedy, I felt like I was missing something, like there was a piece of dialogue or a cutscene I had skipped, which was a little jarring.
Similarly jarring is the game’s presentation. It carries the same visual DNA as Road 96, for better or worse. Itas heavily stylized so it looks great in stills, but everything feels… unrefined in motion. There’s a lot of dialogue between characters, and the attempt at lip-synching on display unfortunately looks to be more like random lip-flapping. This is a shame because what is actually being said is strong and even powerful in some cases. Character movements and animations are also pretty far below what I would consider the standard even for this genre of game, which gets a pass in many cases due to its focus on story rather than presentation. Movements are stiff and wooden, which did a lot to keep me from being fully engaged with the game during the regular exploration/dialogue gameplay.
Thankfully, that’s not all there is to do in Road 96: Mile 0.
Whereas Road 96 made an impact with its roguelike gameplay and the many different activities and diversions you could get up to, its prequel seems more content to inject gameplay and even occasionally deliver some story through a particular style of gameplay: a rhythm-based “runner” (your character is usually on some kind of skateboard or roller blades) that feels a lot like Sayonara Wild Hearts with shades of Sonic Adventure. There are lots of cinematic pans around your character while they are on a linear path, lots of loop-the-loops paired with dramatic zoom-outs, and plenty of jumping or ducking to avoid obstacles.
I don’t think this is a suitable replacement for what constituted gameplay in Road 96, but I can’t deny that it’s pretty fun. Each of these stages has some awesome music backing it up, and the shift from reality into more fantastical, bewildering scenarios is a delight. Going from being chased through the streets of a neighborhood by Zoe’s new bodyguard to having that very same bodyguard grow into a kaiju-sized pursuer was fun to see, though I question how these scenes are actually playing out in reality.
"Each of these stages has some awesome music backing it up, and the shift from reality into more fantastical, bewildering scenarios is a delight."
These running or skating stages and their associated QTE moments can increase significantly in difficulty as you progress through the game, which is good. I never got bored with these segments. However, I also never had an instance where I died more than two or three times on any one troubling section. The intended paths and actions are pretty well-telegraphed after you mess them up the first time, and most failures can be boiled down to bad timing. Additionally, restarts are lightning fast so you never lose too much time on a failure. The overall balancing of the difficulty and handling how failures work is well-done.
There are a few other forms of gameplay throughout the game, including a pretty hilarious on-rails shooter where your bullets are newspapers, but the majority of them are these skating segments. Something else that was changed from Road 96 to Mile 0 is the “health”, or more accurately the status bar on the top left of the screen. Whereas this meter indicated a character’s stamina or restfulness in the previous game, it now represents Zoe’s certainty about the political state of Petria. This is where the best parts of Road 96: Mile 0 come into play.
The unlikely friendship between Zoe and Kaito and the politics surrounding their respective situations are the driving forces behind Mile 0. Zoe is the daughter of a powerful government employee and lives a good life in a big house, and Kaito’s family are workers who are viewed and treated poorly amongst the higher class while living in an apartment below street level.
We know Zoe’s ideological stance throughout the original Road 96, but seeing and playing through the events that got her to that point was very interesting. One skating section in particular has Kaito trying to convince Zoe that things are not great in Colton City, and that President Tyrak is basically evil. As you skate and avoid obstacles, you get to see the same city from each of their perspectives, culminating in a visual where the two interpretations are split right down the middle as Zoe is no longer sure of what she believes. It’s really powerful, and that entire segment has a track by The Midnight playing over it which only amplifies the emotion.
"We know Zoe’s ideological stance throughout the original Road 96, but seeing and playing through the events that got her to that point was very interesting."
These scenes and ones like it are what make Road 96: Mile 0 really work, even when the parts surrounding it don’t quite seem like they do. But then again, the entire game is built around making decisions that push Zoe in one way or another, but the nature of the game being a prequel means that we already know what happens to this character after these events. This makes the decision-making feel less important and maybe even a little misleading in practice, though it works for the game’s relatively short runtime. Mile 0 can be completed in roughly half of Road 96’s 8+ hour runtime.
This review covers the PS5 version of the game, and it’s worth noting that the framerate didn’t feel entirely smooth. This is of course not super important for an adventure game, but the style of the game paired with the power of the PS5 should have resulted in a smoother experience, which leads me to believe the issue is down to optimization. The strange storybook-style pop-in that appeared in the original Road 96 is also present in Mile 0, though it is less significant.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Fun gameplay segments; Great music; Heartfelt story.
Love it or hate it art style; Poor lip-synching and wooden animations; Mostly inconsequential decision system.
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