Developer: Chime Publisher: Aksys Games (Vita), Spike Chunsoft (PC) Reviewed on PC, also available on Vita
It all began in 2009 with a game released for the Nintendo DS called 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. It’s a mystery game where a group of nine has to escape to freedom by completing puzzles in a series of rooms to open the final door to allow all nine to survive the night. Three years later the next game in the series, Virtue’s Last Reward, was released on the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. The sequel takes place several years after 999 with another group of 9 people, emphasizing on building trust as well as being prepared to use that trust against one another in an interesting take on the prisoner’s dilemma.
Now the third and final installment of the Zero Escape series, Zero Time Dilemma, is out and we have your review for the concluding entry in the trilogy.
Without trying to give too much away, Zero Time Dilemma canonically takes place both before and after Virtue’s Last Reward. Not only are the lives of 9 more people are on the line, but also the entire human population after discovering the truth in Virtue’s Last Reward. There are plenty of characters that reappear as well as the three new main characters that you play as in this game: Q, a young boy with a helmet who involuntarily conceals his identity, Diana, a nurse who cares about the general well-being of the other eight people in the game, and Carlos, an American firefighter who’s trying to save his sister. The main characters in the game wake up in three adjoining cells separated into three groups of 3. They are told that they can only be set free after six individuals die, releasing a lock on the door to allow the remaining people left alive to leave.
It will be extremely difficult to go through much more detail of the story without spoiling anything from the game. It’s confusing for people who are just now getting into the series but the story is told primarily through a visual novel format and relies on multiple playthroughs to not only get the full story but to get the full experience. The game generally operates like so: you pick a fragmented memory, complete the puzzle, and then gain a new piece of the story. Rinse and repeat until you can piece together everything that really happened or alternative timelines, some of which leads to different endings altogether.
You do get an comprehensive timeline that branches off into every alternative timeline that you can stumble into. It also even shows you who you play as in each path. The more you play through the game the more that gets filled in. You’re basically going to be jumping to a different path, complete the puzzle, get more of the story, and then pick another point in a timeline to complete another puzzle until you finish the entire game. Puzzles range from pretty easy to incredibly hard. The quickest it took to solve one puzzle was less than 5 minutes while the hardest I’ve come across took me what felt like hours without having to look up anything for answers. They range from simple puzzles to complex math equations; when you get to this point even the notepad that the game gives you may not even be enough to keep all your notes on.
This game is available across several systems but despite the the hardware advantages and improved graphical options in the Steam version, this game was meant to be played on a portable system. Moving the camera, picking items, and solving puzzles feel much more natural using a touch screen than using a controller or mouse on a computer. You would also have the option to play it wherever you go as opposed to having to sit at home to play. Also there seem to have been some issues with the English audio mixing in the Steam version. It was impossible to understand anything that Q said without either turning down the volume all the way to mute or activating subtitles.
As a long time fan of the Zero Escape series, I can’t recommend the game enough. Newcomers however should be wary, however, or be ready to read a while lot of wiki pages to try to get caught up on the backstory and terminology. You’ll miss out by not playing the first two games. Also if it’s your first game in the series, I recommend starting with the Q Team, only because the characters Q, Mira, and Eric are all new to the series, whereas the other teams have members who have appeared in the games prior. However, each team allows you to play as another newcomer, so you’ll be given some info about the past games through conversation. If you’re looking for a bone chilling story with multiple endings and scenarios, Zero Time Dilemma is the perfect game for you.