When I first experienced the glorious journey of Road 96, it was unlike anything I’d seen before due to its multifarious gameplay, heavy politically driven narrative, and enthralling characters. So, now that the game has received a prequel, I was thrilled to see what the chaotic nation of Petria would be like from a different point of view as you take on the roles of Zoe and Kaito.
Those who played the original will remember Zoe as the teenage drifter who leaves her home to escape the country’s oppressive corruption. However, unlike Road 96: Mile 0’s predecessor, you’ll predominantly experience the story through her eyes instead of multiple anonymous runaways, making it feel more personal. Besides this character, you’ll also take control of Kaito, a character from DigixArt’s musical skateboarding game Lost in Harmony.
Considering that this project was released in 2018, it may be surprising to learn that Road 96: Mile 0 features an individual from a separate narrative, yet it just goes to show how massive Road 96’s universe truly is and how it’s all connected. Fortunately, even if you are a beginner to the franchise, the storyline is relatively simple to follow, given that it provides enough information to help you understand the authoritarian state of the world.
As a prequel, the tale’s primary focus is to unravel the mystery of why Zoe left her privileged life in the sumptuous White Sands to become the vagabond that she is in the original. On the other side of the coin, we see Petria’s impecunious faction with Kaito, demonstrating the extreme differences between the rich and the poor, as well as giving us more insight into the reasoning behind the frequent teenage runaways shown in Road 96.
While playing through the preview, I immediately dove into a new transportation method for the installment, incorporating Lost in Harmony’s traveling style. This mechanic was meant to replace the road trip journey from its predecessor as you use Kaito’s skateboard or Zoe’s rollerskates to collect points and maneuver around obstacles. While it can sometimes be challenging, it is certainly entertaining as the soundtrack frequently goes along with your movements, similar to Hi-Fi Rush’s melodic gameplay.
Since the series is fundamentally known for its impactful choices, I was curious about what type of decisions I would have to make this time, especially since the stress of hunger and money isn’t a factor in this rendition. Instead, you’ll select dialogue points that can either lean you toward President Tyrak’s tyrannical point of view or Kaito’s mission for justice.
Players will initially begin the game with the ‘Certainty’ classification, indicating that Zoe’s beliefs haven’t been influenced by any major decision yet; you can change this rank over time with every choice you make, causing her to doubt or give in to her ideologies. Still, as a preview version, I’m intrigued to see how these choices impact the story in the long run and if there are other pathways to unlock with the official release.
Besides these critical interactions, there are plenty of fun mini-games, from a playground Quick Time Event to a colorful graffiti art challenge. I often found myself laughing at various parts of these segments because there are so many outrageous moments that you would never expect from a game that involves oppression and poverty. In particular, you can attack residents with newspapers during a delivery job, where everyone screams in fear as you somehow bring them down with a stack of paper.
Yet, out of all the features of Road 96: Mile 0, the comparison between the two worlds that Kaito and Zoe live in is what I appreciate the most, in view of how people treat the characters differently based on their social status. While many residents speak kindly to Zoe, Kaito frequently gets shunned by others simply because he lives in impoverished conditions.
You can also see the narrow-mindedness through Zoe’s eyes as she views White Sands as a vibrant, thriving society until it gradually becomes darker and distressed the more she realizes the nation’s lies. Therefore, not only do your decisions impact the storyline, but the way you view the surrounding environment as well.
Speaking of visuals, the prequel showcases an improvement in character movements and facial expressions, adding more life to these unique individuals. Like Road 96, the harmonious soundtrack pairs well with the breathtaking scenery, perfect for when you want to kick back and enjoy the wonders of Petria.
Dedicated fans will notice subtle foreshadowing moments when they progress further in the game, such as glimpses of previous side characters and a future road trip plan that will undoubtedly trigger the events of the initial saga. Players will also learn new information about the despotic country and Zoe’s tragic origins, expanding the captivating universe further.
Upon the end of the preview, I already wanted to discover more about the secrets behind the nation’s dark past and Kaito’s fate, despite knowing the aftermath in the future. Nevertheless, those who loved the first game should absolutely pick up Road 96: Mile 0 when it releases on April 6, 2023, to perceive Petria in a divergent scope without the turmoil of the dangerous hitchhiker escapade.
Even if you are a newcomer to the series, you can still begin with the prequel and continue on Road 96 to complete the epic expedition.