Zero Time Dilemma is the third game in the Zero Escape series. I never played 999 but I did play Virtue’s Last Reward a while back on the Vita. I never actually finished Virtue’s Last Reward but I really enjoyed my time playing it.
If you have played any of the previous games, you will know that this is game with plenty of puzzles and dialogue options. 9 people are working on an experiment at a Mars Facility called Dcom. The nine individuals awake one day to find that they have been captured and locked up by a mysterious person in an unusual outfit by the name of Zero. The group of nine are presented with an early decision, where they must choose head or tails from a coin toss. Zero explains that if they are correct they will be set free and if they are wrong six of them must die if any of them are to escape the bunker. The nine characters are divided into three groups of three, all with very different personalities. The game is full of interesting character interactions, emotional dialogue and plenty of different routes the game can take. The game does a good job of acting as a standalone game but having played the previous games may enrich your experience.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is very much a puzzle game that is heavily reliant on its narrative, which is fantastic. The plot develops as you start to solve puzzles, interact with characters and make various choices. Like I said, you are separated into three different groups of people, and there are several different story paths you can explore. There are various endings, with one feeling like the ‘intended’ outcome. The others are possible scenarios that could take place. These branching plot developments really reminded me of the Telltale games, with your choices impacting how things differ further down the line.
Something that pops out during the story at various points is something called “The Decision Game”. These are moments where you have to make tricky choices within a time limit. Each choice you make will determine which way the story heads. You have to be careful because in some situations the wrong choice can lead to death, but you can go back and try things a different way and that’s really the brilliance of the game. This may sound slightly complicated but in essence it’s just a simple way of allowing you to explore multiple narrative paths, making the experience even more immersive. It allows you to learn more about each of the 9 characters along with Zero.
The other big section of the gameplay is the Escape Rooms, which I distinctly remember from the previous game. These happen in a first person perspective and you are trapped inside a room, of which you need to escape. You do so by searching the entire room for objects, items and anything possible to solve the puzzle. These puzzles can be incredibly challenging for what seems like something so simple by its appearance. The puzzles are often completed by interacting with things in a certain order or deciphering other languages. These segments keep things fresh and mix things up between long portions of dialogue. It can get very frustrating knowing that the key to solving the puzzle is literally just in front of your eyes. There are also in-game hints if you find you’re stuck at certain points. These occur when you interact with the same object multiple times.
It’s hard to say just how long the game lasts, as I have played it for many hours now and I still feel like there are many other paths to the narrative I could explore. The visual presentation has an animated graphic novel style that looks great. The animations can look a little dodgy at times, with stuttering frame rates, but the simplistic style works well. I enjoyed the clever use of camera angles and lighting to make the environments and narrative interesting to watch. I had mixed feelings about the characters, but that’s what makes the story so interesting. You’re supposed to feel attached to certain people and dislike others in my opinion. The music is done well and suits the tone of the narrative. It helps to create tension during crucial parts of the game, like decision points and escape rooms. I also thought the voice acting was pretty good on the whole, giving the characters more depth.
Overall, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is a great game with a fantastic narrative that feels immersive, unique and genuinely compelling. The game does a good job of balancing dialogue, decision-making and puzzles really well, with some interesting outcomes. The style of the game lends itself well to the structure of the game and I found myself wanting to explore each and every possible narrative thread. I would highly recommend this game if you’re a fan of the previous games in this series or love a detailed and well paced story with unique characters.
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