Seek a Way Out

The Zero Escape series began on the Nintendo DS with 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a mystery thriller about nine characters trying to escape a ship. The game featured branching decisions, puzzling escape sequences, and huge twists that turned the story upside-down. Despite its commercial failure in Japan, the series was well-met with critics, leading to a sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward, on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The game built upon the intriguing plot of the original and brought new characters, more escape rooms, and a bigger emphasis on science fiction. Again, the game didn’t sell well, which led to series creator, Kotaro Uchikoshi, putting the series on hold indefinitely. Luckily, fan response and a desire to finish what he started led Uchikoshi to finally create the conclusive third game of the Zero Escape trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma.

Story

Zero Time Dilemma weaves a tale similar to previous Zero Escape games but puts its own creative twist into it. Again, a group of people find themselves trapped in a facility thanks to a mysterious character who goes by “Zero.” Everyone unwillingly participates a survival game in which six players’ deaths will allow the remaining three to escape. Meanwhile, Zero engages them in life-threatening decision games that often end in betrayal or self-destruction.

ZTD_Zero.jpg
Meet the masked mastermind, Zero.

Of course, that’s not all. The huge catch is that every 90 minutes, the characters are injected with a drug that causes them to fall asleep and lose their memories of that fragment in time. This unique concept manifests in the gameplay as well. You can experience nearly any 90 minute fragment in whatever order you choose. Since the characters don’t remember what happened beforehand, it’s almost like starting anew each time. Unfortunately, this makes development seem somewhat static. However, this unique style of storytelling sets up its own brand of intrigue. Each fragment is part of a large timeline, which you view as a massive flowchart. Certain sections of the timeline remain locked until you complete specific story elements. As you play more fragments, you can piece together the timeline and solve the mystery of this treacherous game.

Unlike previous titles, the characters are divided into three groups that rarely interact with each other. Although you get to appreciate each group’s rapport more, you miss out on individuals’ reactions to characters outside of their group. Regardless, the characters are entertaining and run the gamut of personalities. You play as the three team leaders: loyal and righteous fireman Carlos, kind but anxious Diana, and mysterious entity Q. Rounding out the rest of the cast are some new characters and some familiar faces from both 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Fans of those games will be pleased to see more conclusive revelations to these characters’ fates.

ZTD_characters 2.jpg
The characters of Zero Time Dilemma. Who lives and who dies?

Gameplay

ZTD is largely rooted in the visual novel genre, so storytelling is essentially half of the game. Experiencing the story is more cinematic than ever before, with fully-animated, voiced cutscenes replacing the lines of text from previous entries. After choosing a team and fragment from the menu, you watch that particular episode.

Within most fragments, you will encounter the second part of this game: escape sequences. This style of gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has ever participated in a real-life escape-the-room game or have played older adventure/point-and-click games. In these sequences, you must seek a way out of a locked room by searching the area, solving puzzles, and managing items. Each room features unique challenges, including spatial reasoning puzzles, codebreaking, math problems, logic riddles, and hidden-picture minigames. The game effectively utilizes the 3DS’ touchscreen for its challenges and point-and-click portions. Additionally, a memo function lets you take notes, which is almost required for certain puzzles. A room’s difficulty largely depends on a player’s ability to solve these logic puzzles, but they are all generally solvable without requiring outside assistance.

ZTD_Escape Room.jpg
One of many rooms where you must seek a way out.

The puzzle rooms are mostly enjoyable breaks from the story, but they share common pitfalls. First, most of the rooms follow a linear structure. Although you can technically access most puzzles from the get-go, there is typically one puzzle you are required to solve that will give you the solution to the next puzzle, and so-on. Some rooms are open-ended, but most only give the illusion of choice. Building upon this issue, some rooms require you to find certain items to complete a challenge. However, on some occasions, these items are too well-hidden, represented as only a sparkle or tiny item on the floor. These annoying pixel hunts serve as barriers for players who are just trying to solve the codes and escape.

Following most escape rooms, Zero tasks the characters with a decision game, usually tied to a complex scientific, statistical, or psychological principle, such as the anthropic principle, the Monty Hall Problem, and the prisoner’s dilemma. Each decision leads to a different branch point, further complicating the extensive timeline. Thankfully, you can return to any segment of the timeline at any time to redo a decision. You can even fast-forward through story elements to get to the branch point, making the experience user-friendly.

ZTD_Puzzle Machine.jpg
This reminds me of a puzzle.

Without spoiling anything, ZTD’s implementation of the timeline is extremely clever both from gameplay and story perspectives. The timeline is just as much a part of the game as any other element, and the culminations of these fragments is a thrill to play through. That said, there is one section that players may get stuck on once all the available story fragments are exhausted, and better communication on that particular progress prerequisite would have been appreciated.

No matter what order or which teams you play as, there are wonderful story sequences with clever twists throughout. There are multiple endings, with some being either graphically gruesome and others presenting juicy revelations for the entire series. Some end-game twists may come off as too convoluted (even by Zero Escape standards) and may disappoint some fans looking for more in the trilogy’s conclusion. However, ZTD answers many questions and ties up loose ends from all three games, which fans won’t want to miss out on.

ZTD_Flowchart.png
The timeline is so extensive that the game gives you two flowcharts.

Graphics and Sound

ZTD utilizes fully animated and voiced cutscenes, which is a huge step-up from text-heavy static screens. The characters don’t move that much, which is to be expected from a dialogue-heavy game, but the models look pretty good and resemble an anime-styled Telltale Games presentation. During action scenes, the framerate drops and the cutscenes devolve into PlayStation era FMV sequences. Regardless, having these extensive cutscenes helps this game feel more modern.

ZTD_Sigma
This is quite the predicament.

The game has options for both English and Japanese voice tracks, which will appease players of either camp. The voices are good for the most part, although there are some volume issues with certain characters like Zero, whose voice is very hard to hear. The creepy music contributes to the game’s tone while mild techno tracks during escape sequences help get the brain running. Longtime fans will be all too familiar with the five discordant tones signaling death and madness, and the series wouldn’t be the same without it.

Playtime/Replayability

ZTD will take most players between 25-30 hours, making it shorter than the previous entry, Virtue’s Last Reward. Total playtime varies depending on how long players take during puzzle sequences. Although there are multiple endings and many fragments to complete, most playthroughs will go through each fragment and ending to get through the whole story, so there isn’t as much replayability as it may seem. It is very possible to replay it like rereading a good book, and playing fragments in a different order can make it interesting. For the most part, this game is only meant to be played once.

ZTD_characters.jpg
Can you put an end to Zero’s wretched scheme? What is the truth behind this deadly game?

Conclusion

Zero Time Dilemma has a great story filled with the ridiculous twists that Uchikoshi has become known for. This game gets scary and gory, earning its M rating, so only those who can stomach it need apply. Otherwise, players can strap themselves in for a thrilling tale filled with science fiction and horror. Mystery aficionados and puzzle fans will love this enjoyable mix of visual novel intrigue and escape room sequences. Fans of previous Zero Escape games owe it to themselves to play through the exciting series conclusion. However, players without prior experience may be lost in the midst of references and convoluted time plot. If you haven’t played a Zero Escape game, it is recommended that you play the first two installments, especially Virtue’s Last Reward. Once you are familiar with what the style and characters of those games, you will fully appreciate the madness that is Uchikoshi’s Zero Time Dilemma.

Score: 8/10

What are your thoughts on Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma? Have you ever played the other games in the Zero Escape series and what did you think? What are your favorite story-based adventure games or visual novels? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Advertisements

38 thoughts on “Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (3DS) Review

  1. Reblogged this on The News, Reviews & Personal Views Website On All Things Nintendo and commented:

    Hey everyone, Mr. Panda here with a review of the thrilling conclusion of the Zero Escape series, Zero Time Dilemma! This mash-up of mystery visual novel and puzzling escape rooms finishes what 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward began. With all-new and returning characters locked in a facility by a mysterious masked man, Zero, you are tasked to seek a way out. How does this game stack up to the time-bending thrillers that came before it? Find out in my review of Zero Time Dilemma!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beyond the basic premise (which has been advertised long before the game came out) and the names of a few characters, the review is spoiler-free so please feel free to read without worry. I generally try to keep reviews spoiler-free, especially for story-based games. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve played it! Thanks for the comments!

      Like

  2. Great concise review! Nice job giving an overview of the game without revealing any spoilers! I’m a big fan of the Zero Escape series and this was the epic conclusion to the trilogy I was hoping for. It’s even more convoluted than it’s predecessor but it certainly keeps you on your toes. There were some plot devices that felt a bit forced, but I was overall pleased with the cast of characters and their development, especially some returning favorites. There weren’t as many escape puzzles compared to previous games, but I really enjoyed the fully animated, voiced cut scenes. It tied up most loose ends from Virtue’s Last Reward, though I think the epilogue could have been more fleshed out. This game has inspired me to try a real-life escape room.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your nice words! Zero Escape is a fun series that I’m glad was brought over here. I agree that I’m satisfied with the way it brought things together, though there was more I could have hoped for with the conclusion. Regardless, I did like the characters, both old and new, and was surprised throughout, especially during a certain section. I’d love to try an escape room in real life as well, and have always been a fan of those kinds of experiences in old Flash games and with games like The Room. Maybe one day!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m really shocked this series of games did poorly! It seems like an amazing concept with a fantastic execution. I’m finding more reasons to purchase a 3DS. I love puzzle games; they’re second only to RPGs in my order, and this game seems to have elements of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am too, given the higher popularity of visual novels in Japan compared to the west. Ironically, the games sold fairly decently in the west considering that it’s a mature visual novel on portable systems that didn’t have a high stock in stores to begin with. Perhaps it was this overly mature graphic nature that prevented it from selling well in Japan. I’m not certain, but I’m pleased that 999 was able to get a full trilogy released. The entire Zero Escape series is indeed fantastic both story-wise and gameplay-wise. This has plenty of puzzles in the now-popular escape-the-room style. If you love puzzle games like Layton, you’ll enjoy Zero Escape. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you ever play it! If you have a Vita or a PC that plays games, I believe Zero Time Dilemma is on those systems as well, and is basically the same game. Thank you very much for the great comments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a PC that can handle it (I’ll just commandeer my husband’s)! But I’ve been considering getting a Vita since there are so many great games on that.

        I’ll definitely let you know what I think when I get to it. I have a gaming backlog about as extensive as LightningNightNova hehe, and it’s growing as I’m becoming less of a curmudgeon about newer games. This is what happens when you follow awesome gaming blogs!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, if there’s any way to play it, I do recommend this game! I also recommend its predecessor Virtue’s Last Reward, which should be easily obtainable digitally, as it leads into this game. If possible, you may also want to play the first game, 999, though that might be only currently available on DS, though I’ve heard about an iOS version being released. My backlog has always been huge, but I’ve been making lots of steps in getting through it. It always seems like there’s more to play every month though! Thank you again for your nice comments!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wonderful, 999 is an excellent place to start and is a unique experience! Its sequels improve upon it, but I’m very fond of the original story, especially as a way of setting up the Zero Escape trilogy. 999 was recently released and rebranded under the Zero Escape name, so it should actually be pretty easy to find, at least online where DS games are still sold. I wish you the best of luck obtaining and playing it!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words! This is horror, but not in the kind of survival horror way that Resident Evil is. It’s more like a psychological horror where the crazier people get in their situation, the scarier. And these people get scary when you push their buttons! It’s certainly entertaining though!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I do wish I had that watch though! I’d like to know what you think after playing this, especially since you’ve played the previous two. I forgot quite a bit too, but if there were anything that were really important, they would remind you in-game. Hope you enjoy it when you play it! And enjoy your cool watch, haha! Thanks for your comments!

      Like

  4. To be completely honest, I found Zero Time Dilemma to be the weakest game in the trilogy. I am a stickler for how a game finishes, and I felt the ending of this game was a tad anticlimactic, as I felt it only raises more questions than it answers. Plus, it seemed as though many plot threads introduced in Virtue’s Last Reward either went unresolved or were resolved, but in unsatisfactory ways. In other words, it’s a decent continuation, but weak as a concluding installment. It doesn’t help that this game’s Zero is by far my least favorite. I don’t know, there’s just something about that character I don’t like.

    It’s also the easiest game in the trilogy by far. Want to know how I can tell? It’s the only game I managed to beat without a guide.

    Despite all my criticisms, I do admit that the weakest Zero Escape installment is still miles ahead of most of the AAA industry when it comes to interesting storytelling. I thought Carlos and Diana were great new characters, and it was cool seeing many familiar faces return (and I liked that we finally got to learn about Phi’s origin). Plus, there were many moments I genuinely enjoyed. When the Monty Hall problem showed up, I said something like, “I SO know what to do here!” Funnily enough, I tried to get it wrong on purpose (by not switching) to get the other cutscene, but I still ended up winning. Also, for the second game in a row, I managed to correctly guess who Zero was long before the reveal (and just like last time, I ended up being right in a way I didn’t expect). Just like the previous games, I found it was also a surprisingly effective way to learn about scientific concepts and thought experiments. Ironically, it manages to be a far better educational game than many edutainment titles (i.e. Mario is Missing)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually also felt that Zero Time Dilemma was the weakest of the trilogy, but that’s just because the other two games are amazing. Like you say, it is still better than a lot of other games, especially from a storytelling perspective. I agree that there could have been more to the ending, but at the very least, there is a text-based epilogue in the notes. I know that’s not enough, but hey series started with text, so it may as well end with it.

      As for difficulty, I felt that they were all about the same difficulty. Maybe I just really like these puzzle rooms, but I didn’t feel like there was a problem with any of them throughout the series. I loved the old characters in this one, especially the scene you mentioned, which was one of the best things I had seen in the series up to that point. I do agree that the series has always been somewhat educational ever since the beginning. The characters seem so know-it-all though whenever they bring up something, like Monty Hall or anthropic principle, as if everyone should know this stuff, haha.

      I didn’t guess Zero in the first two games, but I did correctly figure it out this time around, as well as a few other revelations. All in all, I enjoyed this game, and it’s deserving of praise. I love the first two games more, but this did a fine job in finishing what it started, especially when you think that it didn’t have to happen or might not have been able to happen. So happy that Uchikoshi did finish it though. Always glad to talk to a fellow fan of Zero Escape! Thanks for your wonderful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind words as always! I mean, it depends per game whether I like the cutscenes or not. Zero Time Dilemma is for the most part, a visual novel, meaning you’re either reading or watching something unfold (in this game’s case, watching cutscenes). So I’d consider this different from other games that have cutscenes complementing the gameplay. Here, watching the cutscenes and making decisions that lead to branching points is both the story and gameplay, as is the case in most visual novels. Having puzzle escape rooms is icing on the cake. Think of this game as a choose-your-own-adventure experience where the cutscenes show the results of your decisions. In ZTD’s case, there are a lot of unique decision points and branches to keep track of in the timeline, so it gets exciting seeing how the timelines differ. ZTD does something else truly unique and special with the timeline, which I won’t spoil. I recommend trying them out sometime, starting with the first game. They’re like good reads!

      Like

  5. Great review, I still haven’t got it, I’m trying to make someone lend it to me 😛 Mostly because I’ve heard the questions raised in all the games haven’t been completely explained, so I feel like this will a bit of an anti-climatic and disappointing finale, but heh who knows.
    Ace Attorney is a big fave of mine in the adventure genre type <33 Higurashi and Corpse Party are pretty good too, oh and Saya's Song…and lots others! x)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are a good number of questions explained, unless your questions are very specifically about characters in 999 or VLR. Though to the game’s credit, they are referenced and talked about briefly. I came out of this game with far less questions than the question-raising ending of VLR so that’s something to be pleased about. I’d be happy to know your thoughts once you do play it! Ace Attorney is one of my favorite game series ever, and I can’t wait for Spirit of Justice to come out next week!

      Like

      1. Well I do have questions about characters and events from 999 and VLR yeah, specially VLR considering it’s ending :’D
        I’m glad it answered some questions, I guess I’m just wary because final games tend it be hit or miss (^_^;)
        If/when I do play it I’ll be sure to review it. Specially I did review 999 and VLR 2 or so years ago when I started this blog, but I wanna replay them and review them again, since those reviews are so old xD;;;;
        AA fans UNITE! (≧∇≦)/
        I still haven’t played the 3DS games, but I am thirsty for them <3333

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It does answer VLR, and it references characters from both (though not much, but it’s something). Overall, it does conclude things, and it would be up to you if it is a proper conclusion or not when you play it. I’ll have to check out your old reviews of those games! And I’d check out any replay re-reviews too!

        I recommend Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies particularly if you didn’t like Apollo Justice so much like me. I’m very excited for more with Spirit of Justice! Thanks again for your comments!

        Like

      3. Ah okay, thanks! I feel more assured then, because it’d be hell to just be left with more questions than answers :’D
        Oh man…my old reviews are so bad ;____;
        I will definitely replay to rereview them on my current state because the shame is real xD;
        Aww, I liked Apollo! Heck Apollo Justice was as good as Trials and Tribulations, the last AJ trial made me all feely and hnnng over it, just like Trial’s~
        I want all the AA’s ღවꇳවღ

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It’s a perfect time to get into the 3DS AAs with the new one coming out this week! I like Apollo as a character, but I don’t like what happened to Phoenix during that game. Back to ZTD, like I said, I highly recommend it for anyone who has enjoyed the first two!

        Like

      5. Aaah, you’re making me thirsty for AA and ZTD all in one move, just how???? ;-;
        Hobo Phoenix was amazing in that final court hnng
        I’ll definitely try to find a copy or make someone lend me theirs then! ۹(˒௰˓)۶

        Liked by 1 person

      6. The Ace Attorney games are definitely worth it, though remember that they’re only available digitally outside of Japan. ZTD is available physically, but it was rare when it came out and is probably hard to find now. Luckily, ZTD is also available digitally. Good luck!

        Like

      7. Thanks!
        That about being digital only really sucks for Nintendo exclusive games, considering their locked to consoles and not to an account, reasons I don’t buy digital from them :’D
        ZTD luckily is for various platforms wooooo

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Super interesting! I’ve always been a fan of escape the room games (2keysgames are my fave) especially playing with my little sister. We also like find the object games with a scary twist, like the Ravenhearst series by BigFish. This seems like a combination of that, plus the Saw movie series, and it’s on 3DS, too! Maybe I’ll get the first one and play it with my sister to see how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a big fan of these type of mystery visual novel games! How you describe the game sounds pretty accurate actually. All three games are mystery horror novels with escape the room sequences all over. I highly recommend all three games. The first one is on DS, but it should be relatively easy to find (at least online) because it had a rerelease. Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma are both on the eShop so if you can’t find a physical copy (which is probably hard to find), then you can easily buy a digital copy. Please let me know if you try any of these games out and what you think of them! I’m excited you’re interested in these games, Lisa! Thanks for your awesome comments!

      Like

  7. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I don’t generally play games for their story. As far as my favorite visual novel? I had a pretty good time with Sakura Angels for…….. reasons. I’ll see if I can catch up on all the posts I missed since I’ve been gone for around a month.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you don’t play games for story, then yes, visual novels wouldn’t be fun. This is more akin to reading an interactive book, and as a fan of these kinds of games, I can safely say that the Zero Escape series is one of the better ones!

      Like

    1. The entire series as a whole is excellent! It’s best to start at the beginning of the series to fully understand and appreciate what’s going on. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’d be glad to hear what you think of the series after you play it!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s