Road 96 was a surprise hit in 2021, focusing on several teenagers trying to cross the border from autocratic Petria to a northern country, and now fans have a sequel released in the form of a prequel aptly titled Road 96: Mile 0. The game follows Kaito, a young boy mourning the loss of a close friend who has since developed a deep bond with Zoe, a key character from Road 96: Mile 0. One is the daughter of Petria’s Minister of Petroleum, the other is a child from the oppressed working class, these two have extremely contrasting backgrounds and somehow manage to work despite the hardships.
What makes Road 96: Mile 0 interesting from a narrative standpoint is not only its connection to the previous game, but also the fact that it is a sequel to the first game from developer Digixart, Lost in Harmony. While most of the cast is made up of returning characters from Road 96, Kaito is one of the protagonists of Lost in Harmony, and not only follows the story of that game, but also incorporates some of its gameplay into this new title. Unfortunately, Road 96: Mile 0 hits many of the same notes that made any of the studio’s previous games work so well, and it rushes through a story that could have paved an emotionally resonant path to the previous game.
Like Like Lost in Harmony, this title places most of its action in the inventive sequences called Rides, where Kaito and Zoe glide in their imaginations to the beat of a song for the sake of weeding out whatever is emotionally upsetting them at the time. Even if it leads to moments where it can be difficult to separate Kaito and Zoe from everything else that’s going on and can lead to heartbreaking deaths, there are places where the title can deliver some of its most stunning visuals. It’s only a minor annoyance as players are never sent very far in a song, and if anything, it would have been nice to see Rides expanded upon. Most of them only last a few minutes and with only 10 Rides in the entire game, it feels like they could have been a bigger part of the overall experience. The thing here is strong, offering a mix of original songs and some licensed tracks, but adding a little more could help strengthen its ties to its origins.
Road 96: Mile 0 is a game worth checking out, even if it’s just to appreciate the specific vibe each district is trying to go for. From the meticulously tended gardens in Presidential Park to the impoverished conditions of Tyrak Square, the simple art style is excellent at giving players the information they need to know how to feel towards a district. The same can be said for all the character models, which stand out in the same stylised designs that help to distinguish them. Path 96 from many other titles that came out around the same time. A few scenes look rather barren due to the lack of detail and can be a bit distracting from what is going on in the story, but these issues are very rare. The animations for some characters can feel stiff or their bodies can move robotically, but these moments rarely take too much out of a scene.
Path 96: Mile 0 is a much more linear affair compared to the first title, where the player has a more guided experience through the narrative and only has some choices that affect the story. While most of the choices are superficial, it’s nice to see a few that have payoff. It doesn’t match the wide range of choices found on Path 96, but in a smaller-scale prequel adventure, that’s hardly a complaint as the focus is clearly on telling a more intimate narrative between best friends who stray due to conflicting worldviews. These views are somewhat player-determined as Zoe is forced to confront her upbringing and Kaito forges his own path.
While short, the length of the game isn’t an issue, but the story still moves along in a way that feels somewhat rushed. The game does a good job of telling players that Kaito and Zoe are good friends, but it doesn’t allow enough time for them to feel that bond. Later developments in the story where this bond is tested could have been compelling, but the game doesn’t give it enough time to be fully explored. Even the concept of unravelling one’s ideology is hampered by a series of choices that are not effective. There is a point where an important decision is determined by the player’s ideology, but it would have been nice if there were more of these.
It may be easier for fans of Digixart’s previous games to bond with the cast, but newcomers will find it difficult to connect with the characters. In terms of the lack of path 96Usul elements, a more tightly focused narrative could have really shone through, and it’s a shame that this wasn’t taken full advantage of.
To clarify, the story has real highlights. The dialogue and voice acting flows well, the characters are entertaining and the plot is mostly engaging, but more could have been done to explain why the characters behave the way they do. The main problem is that time spent in the world won’t cause many players to feel attached to it or its characters, something the first game was highly praised for and inspires players to make sure their favourite characters are saved.
for a solid follow-up has its essence. Path 96 is lost in harmony in this prequel adventure that unexpectedly intersects, and some of that is realised. But a little more could have been done early on to establish why the player should care about Kaito and Zoe’s friendship, and more could have been added to the Rides, or the mechanics could have been fleshed out a little more to make them a meaningful part of the game. Exploration works well as a complementary part of the experience and the art style does a great job of immersing players into the world, but this hurts the narrative threads a little more. There’s a lot to like here, but the ever-present feeling that more could have been done to improve the overall game hurt it.
Even with the short runtime, Road 96: Mile 0 ends just as the narrative becomes interesting, making it hard to care about what’s going on. These are issues that could potentially be fixed with minor changes to the story, but there’s enough here to raise some curiosity about how the overall narrative could be expanded upon in a theoretical sequel. There are reasons to go back and play more than one playthrough if one wants to see all the potential outcomes, but this can only be recommended for someone who is already attached to the characters and wants to spend more time with them.
Road 96: Mile 0 is currently available for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. Today Technology was given a PC code for this review.