You know what’s funny? I actually purchased Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma on the PC when it released with the intention of playing it sometime down the line because I heard the Zero Escape trilogy was awesome. At the time the Nonary Games Bundle that includes Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999), and Virtue’s Last Reward didn’t exist yet. I never had a chance to play the first two games, but I wanted to start with the third one then begin the trilogy proper. Though I didn’t get to start the series chronologically, even with the bundle already been released, it’s funny how things work out. But just like my experience with Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls, I’m going into this series without any past knowledge of events and connections between games. I know I’m going to be at a disadvantage overall, but at the same time it’ll be interesting to see how Zero Time Dilemma can stand on it’s own.
Red or Blue?
At the start, a group of people wake up inside a jail cell. Soon a mysterious man dressed up as an Assassin’s Creed plague doctor, who is named the second Zero, walks in from the shadows. A choice is given to the group, with a simple flip of a coin. One side red, the other blue. If red is chosen, the group is set free and if blue is chosen, a game must be played where the fate of Zero, the group and the human race is in the balance. I chose red, and after waking up outside, in a baking desert, the straps to the group’s wrists have been removed and after a cut-scene, I saw the names of the voice actors, Japanese and English, scroll up. I thought it was an introduction, but as more credits rolled, I realized it was the end. I reached an ending sooner than I expected. So that ends this review for Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma.
Of course I’m kidding as the meat of the game happens by choosing the blue side. You have to play the game Zero has prepared to watch the drama, tension and stress unfold between these nine individuals as their limits are reached. Interestingly Zero Time Dilemma doesn’t follow a linear path. After watching those credits, the game took me to a screen with the group of nine divided into teams, C,Q and D.
From here you can access each team as you’re presented with fragments, memories of the team while trapped inside Zero’s game. Each memory is a story portion that plays out, along with decisions to make and rooms to escape. I personally find the same fragments that each team encounters at around the same time, so I can see what happens in the those situations from different perspectives. Exiting each fragment mid-memory is also possible and you can pick up where you left off in the flow chart. Meaning you can replay parts that branch off to see other possible events at any time. After each of Zero’s games is completed, each person is knocked out by the injector on their wrist straps, and when they wake up they have no memory of the past ninety minutes. Which makes me think, how long have they been doing this exactly? There’s so much mystery in this diabolical “Decision Game”.
The longer the games progress, the more we get to know each character. There are background tidbits like one character with a sister complex, and weirdly, a pair whose minds have traveled to the future and consequently returned years later. It’s a robust group that has opinions, and motivations that can sometimes influence the decisions you try to make. When it comes to voicework, I chose the English option, and honestly I feel these voice actors did a fairly good job capturing the character’s emotions. They were clear, easy to understand and pulled me in most of the time.
The puzzles themselves are pretty involved and goes into point and click territory when doing “Seek a Way Out” portions where you have to escape the room you’re locked in. You’ll find items, insert them places, sometimes combine items, and solve mini-puzzles. Looking around feels a little slow and clunky with the analog sticks. The right stick moves the camera and the left stick the cursor. Moving both together in the same direction moves the screen faster, however. It definitely feels more at home with a mouse, but it’s manageable. Now I’m not the best at solving these seemingly obtuse puzzles, so my mileage hints toward the extreme end of a copious amount of time taken to complete each mind bender.
I will say though that sometimes the cursor isn’t too precise. For instance in the bio-lab there was a sink which I clicked on many times, but because I wasn’t precisely at a certain spot, I got stuck in the puzzle for almost 45 minutes because the game decided I wasn’t spot on enough on a click that would help me progress by finding a knife. On the positive side, each solved puzzle does feel like a grand accomplishment especially when there’s a breakthrough after being stuck for long periods of time.
As much as I got frustrated at some of these puzzles because I’m just not good at these kinds of puzzles, with certain exceptions like the healing room that included the piano and the changing wall backgrounds, and the awesome transporter room with alien devices, I still wanted to try and get past it because the story and cut-scenes are terrific. Once I passed a certain point, about a third of the way through, I really wanted to see this journey to the end, with its twisting and meandering paths. After getting to know some character backgrounds as the gears started to grind, you do begin to care for their well being and seeing them die feels like a gut punch. There’s some crazy events that happen during the story and a lot of the time I’m just sitting there on the edge of my seat at what Zero’s game can do to people who are hungry to survive.
That first death I saw with my own eyes as the music swelled, based on a decision I made, was a very impactful moment and lets you know that this is for real. Once this happens, like a line of dominoes ready to fall, trust breaks, Quentin Tarantino-like blood spews, and their human minds are rattled, even shattered. It’s difficult to see this happen because you tend to root for them, but my eyes stayed glued to the thrilling events.
Doing the Robot
The animations aren’t the best. Each character moves with the fluidity of someone in a full body cast at times. And in others, it looks like they’re doing the robot. While the facial animations are just as stiff, it’s actually the most natural looking out of all these movements. The textures are simple on the characters, who get the most texture work, but the backgrounds that include walls, shelves, boxes, and other objects are sometimes blurry. I actually didn’t mind too much because the interest is on the group and the story. In a word though, the graphics are serviceable.
As much as I wanted to put the controller down when trying to solve certain puzzles in Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma, every time a new memory was played out in the story, that got me hooked. New information became a juicy morsel that I wanted to bite, but that meant I had to go through something bitter first. It was my own personal dilemma, but I decided to clamp down and do the best I could, even if I needed some help along the way when I got stuck. Overall, I’ll recommend this for the way the story weaves its tale, especially the different timelines and endings that can happen, which add replay value. If you’re not a good puzzle solver like me, it might get frustrating, but if you can push through it, it can feel rewarding piecing together the group’s memories. After this, I will probably need to take a break, but playing 999, and Virtue’s Last Reward is most definitely still on the table so I can experience the entire scope of this seemingly dense and sprawling story.
The copy of Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma used for this review was supplied by its publisher Aksys Games.