By Jason Quinn / September 13th, 2017
|Title||Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
|Developer||Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd|
|Release Date||August 18th, 2017|
|Platform||PS4, PC, 3DS, Vita|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
Well folks, a year after Zero Time Dilemma’s original release, it has now come to the PS4. Even the previous games 999 and VLR are now available as a collection, so now you can play the entire series on one platform. Believe me, you definitely want to avoid Zero Time Dilemma if you never played the previous games. This a series that requires playing the games in order.
This review focuses on Zero Time Dilemma. If you want to read the original review, you can check it out here. This one will focus on any differences in the port, as well as where my opinions differ. To get the technical things out of the way, near as I can tell, this is straight up 1:1 port of the game. Comparing it to the 3DS and Vita versions, visuals are nicer, while models and textures look more crisp. Comparing it to the PC version, it’s almost the same. They added some better lighting. Nothing that would make a significant difference. The PC version with a controller is pretty much an identical experience.
Zero Time Dilemma begins with 9 people trapped in an underground shelter. They are split up into groups of three in order to play out a series of games. If one person dies, Zero, the villain reveals a password to open the door. The door needs 6 passwords, so 6 people need to die. The three groups then solve puzzles, and search this underground facility for any clues as to how to avoid their fate. To complicate matters, each group is only awake for 90 minutes. After which, they are knocked out and their memories are wiped. When they wake up, they must try again.
How this game plays out is probably its strongest asset and one of the reasons it’s so unique. In a typical visual novel, you go through events in a sequential, chronological order. In Zero Time Dilemma though, the story is broken into chunks called memory fragments. At the start, you have a number of fragments you can play through in any order at all. Since the characters begin most fragments with no recollection of previous memory fragments, they can experience them in any order. Thus, it’s up to the player to try to piece things together.
While this is an interesting idea, it does have an unfortunate side effect. The difficulty curve for the puzzles is all over the place. You can end up choosing a rather difficult puzzle right out of the gate, or get one that feels incredibly simple later on. Even so, puzzles are still satisfying to solve. This game, much like its predecessors, loves its “eureka” moments where the player finally figures something out.
Its honestly hard to talk about some of what I both like and dislike about this game without going into spoilers, but I’ll do my best. The quality of writing just doesn’t feel up to par with the previous games. The characters don’t feel as compelling. You learn about their past and motivations for being there. Due to the structure of the game, and one of the core plot devices however, the characters don’t grow naturally over the course of the game. You don’t see them evolve or see dynamics between relationships change. How can they change, when they just forget everything?
Due to Zero Time Dilemma’s structure, it can be really hard to follow the narrative and piece things together. The story is rather complex, and sometimes you just need to roll with what the game tells you and worry about details later. The game can reference things that haven’t happened yet, and there will be a big question mark there until you actually find it.
Towards the end, there is a moral dilemma over doing a certain something. Just a couple hours before this, they immediately brushed aside any moral ramifications of doing this saying that it’s a necessity. It really just felt like they didn’t want the game to just go right into an ending and wanted to instead have another tense decision, but in this game, the decisions themselves don’t have much weight. Instead it’s more about seeing what plays out as a result of the decisions. Let’s just say that the results of this last decision are exceedingly obvious.
The presentation of Zero Time Dilemma is lackluster, to put it simply. Character movements look unnatural and stilted. I couldn’t help but laugh at the violent scenes due to how exaggerated they are. Goofy facial expressions sabotage any tense or dramatic scenes. Voice acting is also lackluster. During a scene where characters are gunned down by machine guns, the voice acting sounds like they fell down some stairs. There’s also these weird pauses between characters talking that makes conversations feel awkward. All these criticisms hold true for both the English and Japanese voices.
There is plenty of good in this game however. Puzzles are fun, and figuring them out feels good. The structure of the game is very unique and piecing together what happens is honestly really fun. How you proceed through the game can change your perspectives on events, and it’s nice talking about it to someone that went through the game in a different order.
Zero Time Dilemma, like its predecessors, also delves a lot into metaphysical and pseudo-scientific concepts. I won’t go into detail, since it would be spoilers, but video games are the perfect way to explore a lot of these concepts. The game’s narrative might be confusing at times, but once I managed to parse it and put it together, I couldn’t help but be impressed by it.
I appreciate any game that really tries for something new and interesting, but maybe fumbles a bit. As flawed as this is, this doesn’t feel like a soulless sequel that was just pushed out to make money. It didn’t feel like the writer was scraping the bottom of the barrel and just tried to cobble together something. For this at least, I can respect this game.
Does this game provide a satisfying conclusion to the series? Well, yes and no. It certainly provides closure and a hopeful ending. Even now though, there are some things that happened that I don’t quite understand, and it’s honestly not worth it to try to puzzle through it. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes not even relevant to the core story. I can say that I enjoyed it, but I also don’t think it was as good as it could’ve been. 999 is one of my favorite games of all time, and VLR is honestly not far behind it. I can’t say the same for ZTD though. The presentation feels amateurish, the narrative can be hard to follow, and its big moments just didn’t have the impact that 999 or VLR did.
Overall, I think this is a very flawed, but still good game. It’s a roller coaster, like its predecessors. Only maybe this one doesn’t go as fast, and there’s some creaking that’s got you a little worried. Which version you should get is probably up to you and just which systems you own. They’re all more or less the same. They even all cost the same, $40. If you played the previous games, I can recommend this so you have closure. For newcomers, don’t let this shaky third entry dissuade you. As a whole, the Zero Escape series has some of my favorite memories in video games, and is worth getting into.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
3DSAdventureAksys GamesPCPS4Spike ChunsoftVitaZero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma