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P.N.03, short for Product Number Zero Three, is a 2003 science-fiction third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo GameCube. Set in a science-fictional space colony compound, the game follows a female mercenary fighting against berserk robots. It was directed by Shinji Mikami. To avoid similarities with Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, the game designers emphasized defensive and rhythmic maneuvers, and a "delicate" "feminine" game world.
The game was developed on a tight schedule in an attempt to offset Capcom's poor fiscal year. However, it received mixed reviews and failed commercially. Several critics found the game repetitive and unintuitive. They were divided on its gameplay mechanics: some disliked its controls—specifically the inability to move and shoot simultaneously—while others compared it favorably to golden age arcade games. Mikami repurposed ideas from P.N.03 for the game Vanquish.
System requirements for GameCube
P.N.03 reviews and comments
The rest of the playthrough it’s pretty much a brief codec conversation between Vanessa and The Client about the challenges of the level of some kind of sassy passive-aggressive discussion, for the most part, these interactions are OK but they’re hardly interesting and only shows generic growth (if any) for both of the characters, still, they’re so short that isn’t that bothersome. In theory, the story seems to have a lot of potential and interesting setting but the lack of context and characters motivations and development make a pretty hollow narrative, maybe the ending has a more redeemable quality but it’s just a couple of minutes cutscene with a sterile plot twist that could make you think about stuff a little but not that much, its worth to mention that the ending is the only part that has voice acting and it isn’t great but not terrible after, finishing I looked on youtube for the Japanese VA ending but to my surprise, it seems that it was released for everyone with only the English VA. The meta-story behind the game and the Capcom Five is far more interesting than the inside the game and that is truly disappointing.
Same as its main story, the gameplay has its fair share of problems and it's also a sad thing as it could have the potential of being great and fun (and in a few portions of the game it is), yet buried under a lot of issues it does have some redeemable aspects. For starters, the game plays somewhat like an on-rail shooter but you have complete mobility without a fixed and unstopping destination. You can shoot, jump, evade and move in any direction and that sounds good on paper but the execution is far from being good.
The first problem that the player will likely face is moving the camera around, in third-person shooters like RE4 you have this shoulder camera that follows you, and even when you couldn’t move it freely you have great visibility of your surroundings and is easy to move naturally. In P.N.03 you can only move the camera within the spectrum of a limited of fixed angles, most notably moving the camera left to right will give a better view of a cornered enemy, however, moving Vanessa with these angles is pretty awkward and unintuitive, it’s hard to explain without showing but think of playing a shooting game with fixed angles like classic Resident Evil games, so if you want to check your surroundings you have to put Vanessa in front of everything and make sure that you don’t have enemies behind you, otherwise, you’ll get many hits or possibly dying.
Shooting is the main mechanic of the game and it's arguable the most fun part of it, you shoot enemies by facing them and the game automatically targets the nearest target and it will change upon destroying it, you can’t move your aim but you can change targets if needed with a dedicated button, what takes some of the fun is that bullets are shot manually and because it doesn’t seem to have a speed cap, you can deal more damage as long as you smash that button the fastest. This doesn’t sound like an issue but because enemies are HP sponges you’ll likely focus on dealing with them as fast as possible, the problem is that if you’re looking to have playing sessions from at least 1 or 2 hours or even more, most likely your thumb muscles or in my case, my forearm muscles (as I shot with my index finger for more speed) will get very tired by the end of the session and will be sore by the next day.
Considering that this is an 8-10 hour game (the game tracks your time but it’s one of those games that doesn’t count each time you fail so according to the game my complete playing time was roughly 4 hours) you’ll put a lot of stress on your arm muscles, assuming that you’re firing at a good speed that is. All things considered, you can play the game firing at a relaxed speed but I find this way of playing non-ideal, as it will take way too long to defeat a single enemy, not to mention that enemies have bigger HP pools by each level. This is extremely accentuated on the final levels of the game where difficulty has a pretty narrow spike, I played it on normal so I can’t say how different it is from easy or hard difficulty but the game has a most challenging if not unfair difficulty.
Of all the problems the game has this is the one that frustrates me the most since eventually, you can upgrade some of your suits with automatic firing and instantly make the game more bearable, as manual shooting can be cumbersome while evading stuff with side moves and jumping, so the safest and boring bet is to stay behind walls and wait till the enemy stops firing. If the game were more focused on speed-evading while auto-shooting I’m sure that even more enemies wouldn’t be a problem but more entertaining and fairly challenging, that would also maintain the promise of unparalleled dynamic battles that the developers were looking for, but instead, we only got slow pacing shooting gallery after another. The other drawback with these upgrading skills is that they can be quite expensive to equip and it’s a gamble between choosing more damage, defense, or auto-shooting, I was finally able to afford the 2nd and final level of auto-shooting on the penultimate level, maybe my mistake was to upgrading it the last but still, the upgrading system doesn’t feel very fair and intuitive.
The game has 10 levels to advance from and each level consists of 15 to 18 rooms that culminate with a boss battle at the end of them. Bosses can be a mixed bag, some of them are fun to fight, some of them are extremely easy and a few of them give you a good challenge. You don’t have a map and you don’t have to clear them up to get to the boss. But because the game doesn’t have a navigation system at all, you have to rely a lot on your memory to track your way through when you inevitably hit a dead-end or die, it doesn’t help though, that every room in the complex looks exactly the same and when going to the next level everything remains the same aside from an ever-so-slightly different color scheme.
When advancing through the main game you gain access to different tiers of suits to dress Vanessa, these suits are not only for aesthetical viewing pleasure but also alters Vanessa’s playing style, they always come in sets of three and are specialized in defense, offense, and all-round, each of them has unique skills that you need to purchase and for the most part they will be extremely expensive that by the time you afford a suit for the 2nd tier you’ll likely unlock the next and better tier and ultimately stick with your weak suit for more time. I think the decision of not upgrading a single suit with the possibility of changing its look ultimately backfired, as it’s not fun to wait too long to upgrade your suit and also be teased with a weaker one but cheaper.
Your currency it's basically your score, meaning that if you acquired 1000 points in a room you have 1000 points to spare, it’s simple and could be great but when your score is directly tied to not getting hit in each room and your evading mechanics aren’t that great, more likely you’ll have a lot of frustrating and seemingly unfair moments, and for that reason probably you’re final currency will be on the lower side, or maybe I was just pretty bad. Also, the game relies on a continue system, this means that if you reach 0 you’ll be back to your last manual save so you will be always on your toes.
Luckily, when completing a mission you can choose to do trial missions between the main mission, these trial missions consist of 15 randomly generated of the last stage or stages that you have played and you need to complete every single room and have a professional rank (the best rank that you can achieve, you attain it by not getting hit and killing the most enemies) to unlock the next trial mission. You can unlock a total of 5 trial missions and each one is harder than the last but it also gives you more points, also, you don’t lose continues and can do them indefinitely so it is a good way to get extra currency, they’re not fun though, and in most cases, you’ll be doing the exact same room over and over so it’s hardly a fun time but at least you can make extra points.
Not everything is mixed or bad in P.N.03 art direction for a change it’s generally good, character design and mechanic design are top tiers, particularly the bosses, they are inventive and have a Ghost in the Shell inspiration to them that I like quite a lot, even Vanessa seems to have some inspiration from Motoko Kusanagi but with her unique twist, each of her suits looks great and I love how the skills are performed by using a cheeky dance or sexy movement to activate them, it just gives the attacks a lot of personality. But even when Vanessa looks stellar and the boss designs are memorable, it simply cannot hold the fact that there’s only one character with color variations throughout the game and bosses that are used at least two times.
Maps on the other hand are quite boring, there are just two flavors from choosing from, industrial futuristic indoors and deserted green/grey wastelands, both of them are repeated through the game with slightly different color lighting, so you’ll be having a sensation of deja vu for most of the game, it doesn’t help that trial missions use randomly generated rooms from the same settings.
Everything has an early 2000s aesthetic and that includes the music in my case that is a good point as I can be transferred to another decade just by the sound of it and it goes extremely well with the art direction and tone of the game, it's techno-tropical sound with a sometimes androgynous voice chanting made-up words make for an upbeat soundtrack that it looks like Vanessa is also enjoying as when she is static, she bumps her feet with the rhythm and also strike a pose and move her hips while shooting, those details are truly beautiful at least in an aesthetic level. But as it is a child of its time, its music could alienate other people from newer generations or that’s what I think at least.
I don’t believe in the concept of being disappointed by high expectations, I do think that if a piece of media is good or bad you’ll likely react to that instead of the prejudice you have of it, still, I really wanted to like P.N.03 as it has all the things that I like in a game along with the direction of a living legend director as Shinji Mikami. When all is said and all is done, I don’t hate Product Number Three at all, it is mostly a mediocre game with a pretty good aesthetic and pretty neat ideas but poorly executed, still, I do think that it blurs the line of what it's acceptable and what is not, but if anything I think that at least the developers tried to do something that is not conventional and that is always commendable. By this point, it is extremely unlikely that this game will have a remake or reboot of some sort but I think that it has a lot of ideas that could make a great video game, even a masterpiece. While playing it, I reminded me of another infamous/controversial more modern game that I happen to like a lot, Metroid Other M, I can’t argue with the story decisions but what I would defend any day of the week is its combat system, it is dynamic, fast and fun, and I think a newer P.N.03 with a similar combat system will do wonders to the game, anyway, as it is Product Number Three it’s not a recommendable game by any means, not even for people like me that have a boring past story with it, still, I hope a lot of people play it and experience it themselves because Who knows? maybe the next legendary developer will love it and see its true potential and gave the game a second chance at least in spirit.