It’s a massive relief to see that Zero Time Dilemma managed to wrap up the Zero Escape saga in a satisfactory manner. For a while it seemed like the franchise was doomed (much like a Fox commissioned TV show) for cancellation, leaving its ongoing tale unresolved. Thankfully the trilogy is now complete – even if most people won’t care, as the previous games sold poorly in spite of the critical acclaim they received. It always sucks when quality is not rewarded in terms of sales figures… just ask Okami.
Despite being the final chapter of the Zero Escape triad of titles, ZTD chronically takes place between the events of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Once again a group of hapless victims has been kidnapped by the mysterious Zero and are forced to compete in a life or death game (think the Saw movies, only with less torture porn and more plot.) Zero, who now sports a creepy plague doctor’s outfit instead of a gas mask, has this time trapped nine science experiment volunteers inside a bomb shelter that has been decorated to simulate a Mars base. The only way of vacating the compound is to input six passwords, but unfortunately for the participants codes are only revealed when someone dies.
Players are tasked with guiding the nine hostages who, at the start of the game, have been split up into three man teams. The roster of characters includes some Zero Escape favourites such as Phi, Junpei, Akane and Sigma. New faces making their debut in this third instalment include Carlos the fireman, an amnesiac boy named Q (sadly not voiced by John de Lancie) and a busty lady called Mira – because it’s impossible to have a Zero Escape game devoid of cleavage.
Just like in 999 and VLR, in order to advance the narrative players are expected to clear the occasional puzzle room by using their handheld’s D-Pad and touchscreen. Scouring the environment for clues and useful tools is the order of the day, as is deduction of logic puzzles, sliding block brainteasers and mathematical conundrums. Wait, did someone say math problems? Yuk, I can now see why the previous games sold so poorly.
My rating for Zero Time Dilemma is a five out of five. Thank goodness that director Kotaro Uchikoshi secured sufficient funding to complete the game, because the end result is one of the finest trilogies I have ever played/watched. Why creative projects cannot attract cash whilst potato salad Kickstarters drown in thousands of dollars is beyond me. It’s a real shame that the series hasn’t courted more attention. Anyone who enjoys smartly written sci-fi really should give Zero Escape a shot; even if puzzlers or games with limited interactivity are not usually your bag. Looking online it seems like some other reviewers have been lukewarm on Zero Time Dilemma, although reading between the lines I think we can attribute those views to expectations being unrealistically high due to the quality of Dilemma’s predecessors.
Bibliophiles may disapprove of the contentious decision to replace the visual novel format of previous titles with fully animated cut scenes, but it worked for me as it gave ZTD the feel of an anime themed Telltale game. All that said the animation was a bit ropey during certain clips. Akane’s pigtail in particular looked like it was possessed by a demonic entity, which would at times cause it to pass through solid matter or defy the laws of gravity. Visual niggles aside, I really enjoyed the twenty hours I spent unlocking ZTD’s numerous endings. I highly recommend the game, although be aware that the story is inaccessible without knowledge of the previous titles. Europeans interested in checking out Zero Escape should ideally start with 999. A puzzle free remake of the DS original can presently be bought on iOS devices. Alternatively you can wait for the PC port to come out. Play now or wait? That’s quite the time dilemma.