The European box art depicts the protagonist, Vanessa Z. Schneider.
|Developer(s)||Capcom Production Studio 4|
P.N.03, short for Product Number Zero Three, is a 2003 third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo GameCube. Its protagonist, a mercenary named Vanessa Z. Schneider, fights an army of berserk robots in a space colony compound. Vanessa wears special body suits that provide offensive capabilities such as shooting and explosive area-attacks.
The game is part of Shinji Mikami's Capcom Five, a group of five Capcom games intended to be exclusive for the GameCube. However, P.N.03 was the sole released Capcom Five game that was not later ported to another system. The development team aimed to create exciting gameplay and visuals. To avoid similarities with Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, the staff emphasized defensive and rhythmic maneuvers in the game as well as a "delicate", "feminine" game world.
P.N.03 received mixed reviews from video game publications, who also labeled it a commercial failure. Critics called the game repetitive and lamented its brevity. Reviewers were divided on its gameplay mechanics: some criticized the controls—specifically the inability to move and shoot simultaneously—while others praised its reward system and likened it to older video games.
Plot and gameplay
In P.N.03, players take control of Vanessa Z. Schneider, a freelance mercenary who works on colonized planets. She is contracted by a mysterious client to destroy a series of Computerized Armament Management System (CAMS) robots that have gone berserk. Vanessa has a personal grudge against these military robots because a previous incident resulted in the death of her parents. To destroy these robots, Vanessa wears "Aegis suits", full-body suits that allow her to shoot energy beams from her palms and perform powerful attacks called "energy drives". Energy drives require energy to perform and generally target multiple enemies while granting temporary invulnerability to Vanessa. At checkpoints, the player may purchase Aegis suits and energy drives as well as upgrade these suits' capabilities using points earned from defeating robots. Players may save their game to a memory card at checkpoints between missions as well as play "trial missions" (randomly generated levels) to score extra points.
All robots in the game have set attack patterns with visual and audio cues that indicate their next attack. To avoid these attacks, Vanessa has a variety of evasive maneuvers that travel fixed distances within the environment. Players cannot move while attacking but most rooms have terrain features that provide cover against enemy attacks. Defeated enemies may drop items that replenish barrier and energy as well as trigger a combo timer that multiplies point earnings as enemies are destroyed consecutively. Missions consist of a series of rooms with a fixed number of enemies that do not reappear once eliminated and may include a boss robot. At the end of a mission, players receive a score based on the number of rooms explored and enemies destroyed.
In one of the final missions, Vanessa discovers a clone of herself in a CAMS facility but is forced to escape without her due to the facility's self-destruct sequence. After destroying the CAMS central core, Vanessa encounters a digital projection of the client, who appears identical to herself. She speculates that the client is the person she was cloned from but the client counters that none of their memories may be real. Vanessa debates continuing being a mercenary as the game ends.
In November 2002, Capcom announced development of the Capcom Five, a group of video games produced by Capcom Production Studio 4 and overseen by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Among the announced group was P.N.03, with Mikami as the director. Capcom developed the Capcom Five to bring new intellectual property to the industry, which the company viewed at the time as stagnate. Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi summarized P.N.03's development as striving to create a game that is "fun to watch and fun to play". He listed audiovisuals, action, and speed as the game's key elements, and attempted to balance "tension experienced on the battlefield and the exhilaration of taking out the enemies". Mikami wanted P.N.03 to express a feeling of simple old Nintendo games. While the staff felt the background graphics were important, they prioritized excitement in the game world.
During the planning stage, P.N.03 was originally a wargame referred to simply as the "robot war game". Five days into development, the staff created a preliminary demonstration of the graphics. Unsatisfied with the game's early form, Mikami decided to change the direction of development to a third-person shooting game. The director initially wanted to name the game Jaguar to reflect Vanessa's cat-like agility. However, other staff members disliked the name; some claimed that it didn't describe the game well enough, while others thought that White Jaguar was a better title. Mikami chose P.N.03 as a hint to the game's plot.
Early depictions of P.N.03 in the media highlighted the action aspects of the gameplay: acrobatics and shooting. Initial development versions featured gameplay similar to Devil May Cry; Vanessa attacked with two pistols and performed acrobatic moves like Devil May Cry's protagonist, Dante. Feeling that it resembled Devil May Cry too closely, Mikami altered the game to reward players for performing defensive moves. Mikami wanted Vanessa to use guns, but the developers were unable to complete the animated graphics for the weapons in time for release. The developers later replaced the character's guns for the ability to shoot energy bolts from her hands. Capcom developed P.N.03 quickly and released it in March in an effort to meet its yearly sales goals. Many of Capcom's releases for the year had under-performed. The release of Viewtiful Joe, another Capcom Five title, was pushed back into the proceeding fiscal year, resulting in a decrease in possible sales that had to be compensated for. After leaving Capcom, Mikami later incorporated ideas he intended for P.N.03 into the 2010 title Vanquish.
Kobayashi aimed to avoid conventions established in Resident Evil, such as the dark masculine world portrayed in the series. With P.N.03, Kobayashi wanted to portray a "white" world with "feminine, delicate lines". To that end, the staff applied a minimalist approach to the visuals, used "fine drawn lines", and tried to emphasize "visibility and creativity" in the game world. To maintain the game's "delicate image", the developers aimed to make the visuals easily viewable and understandable. The development staff crafted the gameplay to avoid "button mashing"; instead players are meant to think prior to attacking by watching for enemy patterns. Mechanical designer Shou Sakai aimed to design "things that would stick in [the player's] mind". The tight development schedule resulted in the 3D models being created immediately after designs were completed. Sakai described the lack of time as the "toughest part" of the process.
Mikami was indifferent to the main character's gender. During the early creation process, he left the decision to his staff, who ultimately chose a female character. Because P.N.03 takes place on a space colony, Mikami wanted Vanessa's country of origin to be ambiguous. To that end, her name is a combination of French, German, and English names. The animation for Vanessa's movements were created freehand, without the use of motion capturing. The designers posed Vanessa on her hands and knees while crouching to resemble a jaguar, as an homage to the Jaguar title. The staff integrated rhythmic motions to her maneuvers to emulate dancing and appear stylish. Kobayashi wanted Vanessa to be a "cool and sexy mercenary with a tough exterior that hides her dark past." In retrospect, he was proud of the character's style and movements.
The Capcom Five were first announced as games exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube; however, Capcom later stated that most of the games would be ported to other consoles. In affirming the GameCube exclusiveness, the company announced at the end of 2002 that P.N.03 would be released in 2003. In January 2003, the company announced the March Japanese release date, and retracted the exclusiveness announcement. At a press conference prior to the 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo, however, Capcom announced that the game would be available only on the GameCube. In the end, P.N.03 was the only Capcom Five title to remain exclusively a GameCube game.
P.N.03 was the first of the Capcom Five released. Prior to its debut in Japan, Capcom distributed playable demonstrations to video game stores and released new screen shots to the media. Upon release, Capcom shipped 25,000 copies of the game in Japan. Under 11,000 units were sold, making it the country's 26th best-selling title during the last week of March 2003. The low sales failed to help Capcom meet its yearly sales goals. The North American release date was announced in July 2003. Few aspects of the game were changed during the North American localization. Capcom advertised a free t-shirt as a pre-order incentive in North America. A pair of promotional sunglasses modeled after Vanessa's was also released.
Commentators have called P.N.03 a commercial failure. Reviews of P.N.03 were mixed; it received scores of 64% and 63 on review aggregate websites GameRankings and Metacritic, respectively. Electronic Gaming Monthly's three reviewers characterized the game as shallow and repetitive, and complained that it lacked plot and character development. Mark MacDonald of the magazine criticized the developers' decision to prevent the player character from moving and shooting at the same time. In contrast to the EGM review, the reviewer for Edge wrote, "P.N.03 may be rather short and its premise simple, but grace under fire has rarely been done better." The writer favorably compared its gameplay to that of Space Invaders, stating that, like that game, P.N.03 "rewards skill above all else and mastery brings huge satisfaction". The writer cited protagonist Vanessa Schneider as one of the game's high points. In a 2009 retrospective review, the Edge magazine staff echoed its previous praise of the game while acknowledging P.N.03's awkward control mechanics. The writer commented that though the character can move fluidly, the player typically has a difficult time achieving that; the writer further noted, however, that the challenge of mastering the control scheme was part of the game's charm.
A GamePro writer under the pseudonym Major Mike called the game "a long, intense, thumb-busting shooter that tests trigger fingers and patience levels." While he noted that the environments and enemies were repetitive, he cited "strong aesthetics" and "a slick reward system" as redemptive features. He summarized that the game "may not be the deepest GameCube offering available, but for those who crave a shoot-em-up with old-school inflections, P.N.03 is A-OK." Paul Byrnes of GMR called the game "boring and repetitive", and believed that it was a missed opportunity. He noted its lack of flow, which he attributed in part to the player character's inability to move while shooting; however, he also cited the game's placement of enemies and a "clumsily staccato" set of character movements as factors. Game Informer's Andrew Reiner wrote that P.N.03's setting, animations and protagonist gave it an "undeniable allure" of freshness and originality. However, he disliked the game's control system and wrote that "blowing away robots gets old rather quickly". He considered its length, which he estimated at around four hours, to be its "most disappointing aspect".
Greg Kasavin of GameSpot wrote that "you'll almost certainly be unimpressed with the repetitive and cumbersome action at the heart of [P.N.03]." He disliked the way that the developers separated the game into brief sections, and, although he noted that the overall design was a reference to that of older games, he wrote that P.N.03 lacked the "extremely precise controls and smooth, colorful graphics" of the titles that inspired it. He summarized it as "a short, uninspired game that's yet another would-be imitator of Capcom's own Devil May Cry." Matt Casamassina of IGN wrote that "you want to like" the game, but that "you won't be able to ignore [the] design flaws and sloppy execution that knits this package together." He found its graphics and gameplay elements repetitive, and wrote that the fast-paced gameplay and "unresponsive control setup" resulted in a game that was "at war with itself." The reviewer concluded that the game "has no depth whatsoever." However, he summarized, "But the end experience not a disaster -- merely a disappointment. All said and done, its drawbacks in mind, P.N.03 lands itself solidly in average country."
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