You awaken to find yourself and 8 other people trapped. You find yourselves split into 3 groups. You each have a strange watch attached to your arm, which you cannot remove. A mysterious figure in a cloak and mask appears before you. He calls himself Zero. He tells you in order for you to survive, you must play a game: The Decision Game. This is Zero Time Dilemma.
STORY AND GAMEPLAY
Zero Time Dilemma is the third installment in the Zero Escape series from Spike Chunsoft and localized by Aksys Games and is a direct sequel to both 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward. Chronologically, it takes place between the two games at a government facility known as Dcom. There, each team has to play a game, known as The Decision Game, in which your or your teammates lives are at stake. Never knowing if you or a teammate will die. You all came to Dcom of your own free will, but a few of the participants, however, have an hidden motive: to stop the spread of a deadly virus known as Radical-6. A virus that will kill six billion people.
Zero Time Dilemma’s story brings the series back to it’s horror/suspense roots while keeping the more science fiction-y elements introduced in Virtue’s Last Reward. The story is written so that people who have yet to play either of the previous two games can jump in and enjoy the story, but players of the previous games will have a better understanding of the story and pick up on some of the various easter eggs to the two previous titles. The game is split up into 3 parts, with each part following one of the three teams. After every round of The Decision Game, each member of whatever team’s story you are following get injected with a sleeping and a memory loss drug, so when they awaken they have no knowledge on what has transpired. This plays into how the game is played as each section of the story is split into memory fragments. You can choose to play whichever team and whichever memory fragment in any order you’d like, so every playthrough will be different. Each round of The Decision Game further branches out the story by showing you both outcomes of the game. Some of these decisions will lead you to various endings and game overs, while others further the story. As you progress through the story, you develop a sense of where each fragment is placed in the overall story. I am not a fan of timeline jumping. I hate seeing sequences out of order, which was one of my biggest problems with Beyond: Two Souls. However, in Zero Time Dilemma, there is an actual reason behind it aside from memory loss drugs. You’ll have to play the game to find out why.
The game itself, like it’s predecessors, is split into two sections. While 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward were visual novels, Zero Time Dilemma is not. So instead of having the novel sections, where you read the story as you would a book, here there are cinema sections where you watch the story unfold through cutscenes. The second section, as with the first two, are the puzzle sections. The puzzle section are, in essence, escape rooms. You are trapped in these rooms and you have to search the room for clues and tools to help you solve the room’s puzzles in order to escape. The puzzles and rooms range from fairly easy to holy-crap-if-there-was-a-time-limit-I-would-die. Maybe that I’m just that terrible, though. You will have to switch between all three teams in order to complete the story. The story, at least to me, feels on par with, if not better than 999. There wasn’t any specific character that stood out as the worst character. All of them were written extremely well, which makes you appreciate and feel sympathetic to some of them, where when certain things happen in the story, it kicks you right in the feels. So hard in the feels.
Graphically, the Vita version is superior, which makes sense because of it’s higher resolution over the 3DS. There are certain details, such as the logos on Sigma’s shirt, that appear as a blur on the 3DS version. There is also one room where you need a specific clue to solve a puzzle, and the clue being small, on the 3DS version you can’t really see it while you can see it ok on the Vita. You can see a comparison of the Japanese versions down below. The 3DS version does have some slight slowdown in some of the more graphically intensive cinema scenes, but even with these two flaws, the 3DS version is more than adequate enough to enjoy the game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent 32 hours on it. The game continues the series’ tradition of having some of the best music in a video game. All the English voice actors in the game do a fantastic job and, thankfully, there are no repeats of a certain child character who was the most annoying in the last game. To be fare though, that wasn’t the actor’s fault. In some of the mid to late game story fragments, when some of the character’s go off on emotional monologues, there is some of the best acting I have heard in a game recently. Acting that you wouldn’t think you’d hear in a smaller budget game, especially a handheld game. Acting that, like I said before, kicks you square in the feels. The only issue I had with any of the voices was the level of Zero’s voice. At times, Zero’s voice is hard to hear, almost to the point where you can not hear him. This is more of a problem on the 3DS version, but does happen on the Vita version. Turning down the music does help a bit, though.
While not a perfect game, Zero Time Dilemma, serves as a fantastic ending to the series. Long time fans will be pleased and newcomers can experience one hell of ride, which hopefully gets them to play the other two in the series. Personally, I am a bit sad that this is the end, but if it had to end, I’m glad it ended high. It delivered what is probably one of my favorite stories and experiences in a video game. An experience and feeling that only three other games have ever done, and I’ve been playing video games for 25 years. Thank you Kotaro Uchikoshi, Spike Chunsoft, and Aksys Games for the experience.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma will be released on June 28th for the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS with a PC version coming two days later on the 30th.