Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is the third entry in the popular series, that has achieved cult classic status among the gaming community because of its unique mix of visual novel elements with well designed puzzles, that are backed by a captivating story and a likeable cast of characters.
The series originally appeared on the Nintendo DS handheld with the first game, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and was followed by the sequel titled Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward for the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS. Unfortunately, the game sold below the expectations of its publisher and hence a future sequel wasn’t being developed until fans decided to take an initiative of their own for the game’s sequel. This was dubbed as Operation Bluebird and it was a surprising success resulting in the development of the third sequel, which has finally seen its release this Summer.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma takes the series to outer space by setting it in a remote location on Mars. The 9 characters that are featured in the game are all part of an experiment that is intended to test the logistics of building a colony on Mars. As test subjects, they mysteriously find themselves amidst a bomb shelter on Mars after living in the colony for a few weeks, and are introduced to the game’s villain, Zero. As the third entry in the series, the game heavily references the previous two games making it essential to have played them in order to completely enjoy the story and the motives of some of the characters in the third game.
If you have played the previous games in the series, you will feel right at home with Zero Time Dilemma. It follows the same format of gameplay that the series is known for, with its mix of story telling coupled with little exploration and puzzle solving. The main quirk of Zero Time Dilemma is again the decision making process. It is basically the main pillar on which the rest of the game stands, and it is also one of the key aspects that set it apart from other visual novels.
Zero Time Dilemma features a branching story narrative where the players will have to make key choices at certain junctures, and depending on their choices, they will alter the chain of events or unlock new ones. Some of these choices can also lead to a game over screen but with the help of a nice flowchart diagram that keeps track of every such key sequence, the players can easily revert back to the moment where they made the decision to see what lies on the other side of the coin.
Each time a memory fragment ends, we are taken to a screen with the choice of selecting any of the three teams. They are divided as C-Team, D-Team and Q-Team. Each team has 3 members and depending on the choices made, some of them may survive or die. While this might sound like a confusing setup, the story of the game is laid out in such a way that the order of events don’t matter. We usually end up going back and repeating these fragments from each of the teams because it is essential to understand the story.
We have the ability to select any of the memory fragments in the flowchart that are often divided among a fully-voiced cutscene, escape room type of puzzle sections and a decision making segment that alters the outcome of the story depending on the choice of the player. Normally, going back to repeat some of these fragments can result in the same cutscene being repeated, but thankfully the game gives the player the ability to fast forward through it, which makes it easier to reach the crucial point in conversations where choices are made.
The puzzle sections are usually set in a variety of rooms and require the player to carefully investigate each of them. The puzzles are all tied to the clues hidden in the room. The game features an inventory system that appears much like those of the classic Resident Evil games. It allows the user to either examine or combine the key items that they have collected, and it is also aids in solving some of the game’s puzzles.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is visually pleasing to look at, at least with respect to the main characters. However, it is also filled with low quality textures and clunky animations that serve as a constant reminder of the game’s low budget. Still, fans need to be thankful that the game was even made considering the time it took for the sequel to be greenlit and see the light of day. The animation system barely does it job, as some of the more action packed cutscenes often lack the visual punch, resulting in a negative impact on the overall presentation.
Zero Time Dilemma is definitely not lacking any content as it can take several hours of gameplay before all possible storyline branches have been exhausted. There will be different type of endings depending on the choice that the player makes, but the real fun lies in witnessing the changes unfold and taking control of the actions of an interesting cast of characters. It took us around 20 hours to complete the game, but your mileage might vary.
Zero Time Dilemma is available now for Nintendo 3DS, Steam and PS Vita. This reviews covers the PS Vita version of the game.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma Review
As the third entry in the series, Zero Time Dilemma takes a lot of inspiration from the past games while lacking anything innovative to move the series forward. It is arguably a great game but it often feels less polished compared to its predecessors and the presentations suffers as a result.