Reviews// Zero Time Dilemma

Posted 21 Jul 2016 12:26 by
I'm going to get something out of the way - if you've played the previous two games in the Zero Escape series and loved them then stop reading and just go and buy Zero Time Dilemma, you will love it, it is a worthy finale to the series.

Now we can get to a review for those who might be new to the series or just curious to read what I thought of Zero Time Dilemma, the finale to the Zero Escape series, is made up of three main ingredients - a visual novel (which now features fully animated cutscenes with voice acting instead of the more static dialogue scenes from previous entries), emotionally charged choices that effect the whole narrative and incredibly satisfying puzzles of the 'room escape' variety.

The previous two titles from Aksys games and Spike Chunsoft were 999 - 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue's Last Reward, both of which have a similar set up to Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD) - nine individuals wake up in a mysterious location, split into teams and are told by the mysterious Zero that they have to play a game in order to escape the situation they find themselves in. This game can and frequently does turn deadly.

ZTD takes place sometime between the first two games and stars a mixed bag of characters, several of which are from the other Zero Escape games. Junpei and Akane return from 999 are joined by Carlos, a fire-fighter with a tragic past and a strong moral compass. Sigma and Phi who return from Virtue's Last Reward and are joined by Diana, a young woman whose destiny is tied to both of her teammates. The final team is made up of Eric, a weak willed and unstable man who is in love with his teammate Mira, a cold and callous woman with a secret. Finally you have the mysterious Q, a child who wears a large spherical helmet that cannot be removed.

The players in place, the decision game is initiated with a sudden death round. Each team must vote for one of the others. The team with two votes will be executed - this decision sets off the multiple time lines you'll be exploring as you try to find your way out. The game is structured as a series of non-consecutive vignettes, and each of these fragments will fit in to the overall timeline, you just won't know when until after you finish each segment.

This uncertainty of place in time is maintained by minimising contact between the teams and every ninety minutes they are each injected with a drug that erases their memory of the past hour-and-a-half section. This means that whilst the player knows roughly when in the timeline certain actions were taken the characters are usually forced to re-live the confusion from previous segments and they begin to doubt themselves and each other.

Moving through each team's available vignettes will often result in being locked inside of a room, each room has its own set of puzzles based around unique types and having a physical notepad nearby will be helpful. My approach to solving the rooms is to first look over everything and pick up loose items as I spot them. These items will usually give you the initial clues towards what to do.

If a number of items are either useless on their own or plain strange-looking I then try combining them to see if they will make something more immediately useful - a good example of this is a series of items you pick up during one room appear useless until you find a note giving a clue. The clue instructs you on how to fit the items together to make a key and this key unlocks the final (previously uncrackable) safe in the room.

Upon finishing a room you are usually given a choice, these choices often prove deadly to at least one character. They key art used for the game is an example of one of these choices - Sigma is locked in a chair with a gun pointed at his head, Phi is trapped in an incinerator that is on a timer. Diana has to choose whether or not to pull the trigger, this leads to phi being burned alive, or pulling the trigger which will open the incinerator door freeing Phi. However, half of the bullets in the gun are blanks, the other half are live rounds - So there is a 50/50 chance that Sigma will live if the gun is fired, but a 100% chance that Phi will die is Diana refrains from shooting Sigma. Three potential consequences, each branches the timeline.

The tension generated by these narrative beats is further enhanced by the game's soundtrack, which subtly emphasises the mood that the game wants you to be in. I'm not completely certain but I think some of the tracks have been lifted directly from the previous games, so for those of us familiar with the game the various tracks will also trigger a nostalgic response. This further plays on the franchise's treatment of time and the gleeful pleasure the developers take in making us examine our past deeds within the game.

When the credits roll there is a message at the end that thanks the fans for making this game possible. Throughout development there were problems stemming from the franchise's poor reception in Japan leading to rumoured budget cuts. Thankfully the passion from the team at Spike Chunsoft shows through and culminates in a game that is not just a fitting end to the franchise, but a love letter to the fans. Whilst the story can be understood and enjoyed on its own, the game really sings if you are familiar with the recurring characters and the overarching lore that has made this three game arc something truly special.

It sounds like the first two games may be coming to PC and 999 will be getting a Vita release sometime soon, so if you are new to the franchise and you want the full experience you'll soon be able toget it. For returning fans and those wanting to jump in at the deep end then I highly recommend picking this up.

+ Brilliant cast of characters.
+ Some of the puzzles will have you scribbling notes like a maniac.
+ Complex, yet tightly woven narrative.
+ Emotionally engaging and occasionally heart wrenching.

- There are a few technical issues with character models, but nothing game breaking.

SPOnG Score 9.5/10

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