Sometimes a game is so good, so gripping, that you simply do not want to put it down. Zero Time Dilemma is a fantastic conclusion to a series of great games that works perfectly on a handheld system. Why? Because I was holding it in my hands, nose close to the screen almost like I was carefully cradling a good book while I anxiously waited for the next scene to unfold much as I would turn a page in anticipation.
I was actually late to the party with the first two installments of the series. I enjoyed both 999: Nine hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors as well as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward - but I did not have the benefit of trying them out until they had been released for a time. When I did however, I seized onto both titles just as I did this one.
The reason I bring those other two titles up? Play them first. If you haven't yet, then you are missing out on something special. Additionally, because all three games rely so heavily on story to provide the entertainment here, the events of Zero Time Dilemma may seem unclear without that background and will miss nods and characters from the prior games. Especially since we hit the ground running as we are quickly introduced to nine characters who have been sectioned off into three groups of three.
We are then introduced to Zero, a man we know nothing about. In very Jigsaw fashion, he arrives wearing a strange doctor's outfit and says that the three groups are about to play a game - a potentially very deadly game - a Decision Game if you will. What kind of decisions? The kind that lead to only three of the nine people trapped here surviving.
If you are familiar with the prior two games, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. I absolutely refuse to delve into the story beyond the basic backdrop I just shared, because that would defeat the whole purpose. However, the framework around the story is that of an adventure game mixed with visual novel elements. There is a metric ton of text during your time playing the game, which is a great thing because the writing is just so good. One big change is that the still images of the prior game's cutscenes have been replaced with slightly awkward and stiff fully animated cutscenes. They do not look bad, but it was just a little jarring right at first for me because I did not expect it.
The story is told through fragmented timelines. These time twisting elements mean that you get some of the information out of chronological order, but in truth it makes the storytelling that much better when the seemingly disparate threads start to get interwoven with one another. Decisions cause the storyline to branch out. Thankfully it is easy to jump back and forth to replay something in a new way. However, if you were just reading text, it would be more visual novel than adventure, but you are frequently faces with escaping rooms and there are some puzzle elements that mix up the gameplay nicely. These puzzles seem better balanced than some of the previous games. There are still some tough ones in there, but they are all fair. Just be aware of the UI and your environment and you should eventually be able to noodle it out.
Once I adjusted to the animated cutscenes, I was able to sit back and appreciate how crisp and detailed everything was on my Vita screen. This is an attractive game - if you can get past the somewhat awkward and stiff animations that characters posses, aided by the sound and music design, I am happy to say that Zero Time Dilemma is a great experience. The voice actors do an impressive job of conveying their emotions throughout the game. This is harrowing stuff at times due to the content, but the presentation is outstanding.
Aside from the uneven animations, my only other complaint comes from the memo feature. I found it far easier just to keep notes on a pad of paper than attempting to write with my fingertip. This is not the best use of touch controls between the memo and the sometimes finicky puzzle inputs, but it is hardly a deal breaker either. Because at the heart of everything here however, is the narrative. I really cannot say enough good things about how well-written the characters and the stories are. I never felt like there was too much exposition, and despite the tense scenarios moments of levity are found within as well. The characters feel fully fleshed out, the story captivated my interest in a way that only good books usually can.
Article by Nick