Road 96 is a standout Switch indie title, as players control a young person trying to flee the country of Petria during a time of political turmoil, and each decision along the way changes the events, the outcome, and the people you meet on your journey. Developed by French studio Digixart, it’s clearly done well as we now have the prequel Road 96: Mile 0.
While the original is more of an open road, allowing for multiple choices and paths that almost demand multiple playthroughs, Mile 0 is slightly more linear, and the choices you make here impact the emotional core of the story much more than they shape the path ahead of you.
You take control of Zoe (who you may remember from Road 96) and her best friend, Kaito. The two teenagers live in White Sands, a series of deluxe houses for Petria’s rich and famous. But while Zoe’s dad works as a politician and owns a house there, Kaito lives in a basement apartment while his parents clean those same luxury houses. Of course, their friendship is put to the test, and it’s up to you to steer it with your choices.
Gameplay does mix between Zoe and Kaito, but this is firmly Zoe’s story. You spend most of your time as her, and the main hook of the story here is finding out exactly what Kaito is doing. Their friendship is strong, and it could even progress more, but Kaito is still mourning the death of his friend Aya, and he could also have links to Road 96’s terrorist group known as the Black Brigades.
Of course, whether you think they’re terrorists or not is a matter of perspective, and Zoe’s dad firmly aligns himself with the oil companies laying waste to Petria, so this political divide puts Zoe and Kaito’s friendship to the test. Your choices, and your performance, inform what happens, and just like Road 96, in Mile 0, you likely need multiple runs to see and understand everything.
For the uninitiated, this is a first-person narrative game where you explore the world of Petria and make choices as they appear over other characters. When talking to Kaito or others, you can see the next dialogue options, and you must choose how to steer each conversation. When choices affect your emotional state, there’s a marker, and you can choose to act in the interest of rebellion or stick to the system.
Not only that, but different dialogue options let you explore and understand Kaito’s past, his family, and perhaps even question if Zoe and Kaito’s friendship is, in fact, just a friendship. There’s a lot to discover, and I really enjoy poking into difficult subjects, trying to glean meaningful answers from anyone I speak to. They might not always like it, but it’s fun to see just how each character reacts to being pressured or put on the spot.
Along the way, familiar faces return, such as the news anchor Sonya who also owns an apartment in White Sands. Some cameos are substantial, while others are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances, but it’s really nice to see Digixart fleshing this world out. The new cast of characters is also fantastic, with an annoying rich kid a particular highlight, as well as Kaito’s put-upon parents.
Naturally, half the fun is experiencing the story for yourself, so I won’t go into spoilers. But I will say the emotional resonance afforded by keeping the narrative mostly to these characters is fantastic. Where Road 96 often left you feeling like a stranger, here you really get to the heart of the relationship between Zoe and Kaito, and seeing how that can play out over multiple playthroughs is fascinating.
It’s bolstered by fantastic performances and witty dialogue, much like the original, but it helps that both Zoe and Kaito are endearing and likeable characters. They clearly come from two very different places, and just how much they align on issues is tested constantly, but their friendship is a joy to see and experience, even when things get tough.
This isn’t the only change, though, as Road 96: Mile 0 also features psychedelic on-rail musical sections, not dissimilar to the type seen in Sayonara Wild Hearts. You take control of either Zoe or Kaito, on rollerskates or a skateboard, respectively, and navigate obstacles while collecting items, with the hopes of avoiding getting hit and losing your combo.
These musical ride segments are a nice way to break up the narrative, and the licensed music chosen is full of energy and life that fits the teenage protagonists. You also decide which path to take at several points during these musical rides, and this affects the emotional path of your journey. It’s a really nice way to add to the heart of the narrative, and the way Digixart dots these through the narrative means they never get stale.
However, on Switch, I find that controlling these segments is stiff and feels a bit unresponsive. It certainly isn’t as smooth as Sayonara Wild Hearts, and given that later segments get quite tough, it can become frustrating. Luckily, fail a few times, and you get the option to skip a musical segment and continue with the story, which I never used but is still a nice inclusion.
While I wish this was my only complaint, it’s all part of a larger issue. Once again, much like Road 96 before it, Road 96: Mile 0 feels like a game designed for PC first and then ported to consoles. You move around with one analogue stick while another moves your eye line and the reticle needed to choose dialogue options. Despite options to adjust sensitivity, this always feels stiff and awkward, making choosing dialogue options a pain.
You can use the D-pad to choose the dialogue options, but you still need to hover over the person to start each conversation. Plus, if your reticle is hovering over the dialogue options, but you use the D-pad to make a choice, when you press A the game chooses the option that the reticle is hovering over. So, I often find myself moving the reticle over someone to start a conversation, and then swinging it away so I don’t accidentally choose the wrong option.
This is particularly annoying in some of the mini-game segments, as one part sees you delivering newspapers, with others using controls much like the trombone sequence in the original, and trying to wrangle the cursor here is genuinely frustrating no matter how I adjust the settings.
I just wish certain dialogue options, and certain mini-games, mapped different choices or actions to certain buttons, instead of using a dodgy cursor for nearly everything. On PC, I’m sure a mouse is a perfect way to play, but I am simply begging for motion controls on Switch to make things easier.
Besides this, performance on Switch is disappointing, with framerate stutters, texture pop-in, and long loading screens. It’s clear there is a lot to load with huge dialogue options and constant voice acting, but given the somewhat contained levels and the cel-shaded art style, it certainly feels like a game that could and should be better optimised. It’s not going to get in the way of your enjoyment too much, but the load times often had me picking up my phone out of boredom, and there are a lot of them as you move between scenes.
I like a lot of choices made in Road 96: Mile 0, and it’s clear that Digixart is committed to this world and its characters, and I hope to see more of Petria in the future. The emotional core of Zoe and Kaito’s friendship – and the many ways it’s tested – is fantastic, while great performances and dialogue options really help to bring these teenagers to life.
The sardonic mirroring of American culture is still fun, and I really love exploring just how Zoe ends up where we find her in Road 96, while also exploring diving further into Petria’s past. But, while the musical ride segments are a fun distraction, they’re frustrating as often as they are fun, even despite fantastic choices of tracks.
Finally, this game struggles to run on Switch and strange UI choices only further dampen what could and should be a stellar game to play in handheld. I hope patches address some issues, and this is still completely playable, but it’s clear that Road 96: Mile 0 is better off being played on PC, which is a real shame. Adding motion controls might be a stretch, but considering the focus on dialogue options, the awkward controls here are a real sticking point.
Road 96: Mile 0 is a fantastic addition to the world of Petria, and one that puts an emotional story of two teenagers’ friendship at its core. Stellar performances, an intriguing narrative, new musical ride segments, and a fantastic soundtrack help to bring everything to life wonderfully. However, performance hiccups and UI issues occasionally get in the way of the fun.