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I still remember the moment I finished the first Zero Escape title with its true ending. It was a little past 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was lying down on my bed with headphones in my ears and my eyes glued to the DS screen.
The narrative and overarching storyline in Zero Escape 1 (a.k.a 999) was some of the most intriguing I’ve ever seen in a video game, and even after all this time it remains amongst my favorites.
The sequel, “Virtue’s Last Reward”, followed suit in similar fashion, and even though it’s an excellent game in its own right, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the original.
Now with the release of their third entry, “Zero Time Dilemma”, they have crafted a game that went far beyond my expectations.
Space Required: 1109MB
Voice Acting Selection: ENG/JPN
Length: 20~ hours
Before I start, I must first point out clearly that the enjoyment of the Zero Escape series is largely based on its story, and if you have not played 999 or VLR, Zero Time Dilemma will make very little sense to you.
While it might be difficult to play 999 at this point, it will be getting a PC/Steam port in the near future along with VLR, so it might be prudent to wait to play those titles first before diving straight into the third entry.
That having been said, the narrative and story aren’t the only things to enjoy here, as there are plenty of puzzles waiting to be solved.
These aren’t the friendly Professor Layton puzzles you might be familiar with, they’re more, “if you can’t solve this, you’re trapped here forever and all your loved ones will be killed”, kind of puzzles.
Given the stakes of these dastardly puzzles, it’s good that their difficulty is well balanced, and I never found myself feeling completely hopeless.
That’s not to say that they lack any challenge at all, as the nine pages of notes I took during my play through can attest.
There were a few times I felt lost and had to switch to a different perspective instead to come back fresh once more at a later time.
I did get stuck at a particular point long enough that I contacted the good folks at Aksys to help me out, but it turned out it was something obvious I overlooked in the UI more than anything else.
As for the story, I won’t get into any specifics and will simply say that it’s one that will require a good deal of critical thinking to fully comprehend.
Given that the general theme of the game revolves around the human condition and all the baggage that comes with it, it’s a complex story filled to the brim with sci-fi elements including but not limited to time travel, shared consciousness, aliens and more.
It manages to build on the various concepts and themes set by its predecessors, and pulls the narrative forward, kicking and screaming through its thorny valley of revelations and death.
Lots and lots of death.
There is a big emphasis placed in ZTD about making choices, so much to the point that they themselves call it, “the decision game.”
Each decision marks a branch in the story, and exploring every single possibility was not only intriguing but absolutely necessary to progress.
Luckily, the process of jumping between the different points in the game was as simple as three button presses, and with the ability to fast-forward through text I’ve already read, I never found myself being annoyed at having to do the same thing multiple times.
Like a good book, once I began playing ZTD I found myself lost in it, and managed to finish its 20~ hour campaign in the span of just four days.
Having finished my play through on the Vita, I can say that the visuals were quite crisp and colorful, and being able to see the environments in widescreen helped in navigating the escape rooms.
However, the built in memo functionality was difficult to use with my finger (I kept a notepad and pen next to me instead), and some of the puzzles that required very precise inputs were a bit of a hassle to handle from time to time.
This is something that could’ve perhaps been alleviated through the use of a capacitive pen, but I unfortunately didn’t have one on hand.
Despite the minor complaint, Zero Time Dilemma is a triumph in storytelling and world building with some of the most complex and yet satisfying narrative ever to grace a videogame. Whether this is the final entry to the Zero Escape series or not, the developers can rest easy knowing that they’ve managed to craft one of the finest visual novel series of all time.
Fun Tidbit – Both the English and Japanese voice acting deserves special mention as the performances are all around quite stellar. It always puts a smile on my face to hear D.C. Douglas doing his Albert Wesker like voice in another game!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.