The Final Part of one Crazy Trilogy
With three games, the Zero Escape trilogy was something I was excited to embark on. I already took a look at the first game, 999, and the second game, Virtue’s Last Reward (VLR for short), which was a lot of fun to do. If you haven’t read those already, I highly recommend doing so since I’ll be referring back to the other games in this look at the final game, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD for short). Even if you haven’t played the other games don’t worry, I will have a brief section of the review for newcomers of the franchise and if this series is for you. With that, there will be three sections: a section on this game as a standalone work, a spoiler-free look at ZTD that will refer back to the previous game, and a more detailed look at ZTD with spoilers. Let’s dive in!
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma as a Standalone Experience
As the trailer states, in this installment of the series nine people are gathered to participate in a brutal death game called, “The Decision Game” run by Zero. At the start of the game you are given a chance for everybody to make it out alive by winning a coin toss (a conceit that seems really stupid, and is, but at least it makes sense by time the game is over), but on a loss the roughly 12 hour experience begins.
9 people enter but 6 must die before any can leave. This will have you making tough choices as you try and keep your favorites in the running. Will you manage to save everybody, or anybody at all? You’ll be in for one wild ride.
The core gameplay has you playing as one of three groups (you choose and then bounce around each as desired/needed): C Team, Q Team, and D Team. The first part of each segment begins with a cutscene which is fully voiced in English or Japanese with subtitles while the second half typically comprises of an escape-the-room style puzzle.
You’ll be in for a dark and bloody time if you choose to start here. An emphasis is placed more on story than puzzles in this game as well. While this is still a visual novel, the cutscenes make this more of a cinematic experience, even if they can be a bit janky at times.
If this is your jumping on point for the Zero Escape franchise I would question why you chose to start here. While the game is certainly accessible to newcomers, there is going to be a lot of things you are going to be in the dark about. That being said, one could view this as an advantage because you won’t have any clue who the characters from previous games are or the motivations of anyone. This’ll make the mystery aspect of the game even better.
Something to be aware of, this final game in the series almost didn’t get made. While the story is complete and there is excellent gameplay here, there are going to be things that simply aren’t polished. Some of the story will feel underdeveloped, and most notably, the janky animations will sometimes take you out of the experience. I’d say this needed a few more months in the development oven but the team did what they could with the extremely limited budget.
However, at a $39.99 price tag you absolutely should not jump onto this series here at all. The game will only leave you feeling cheated and disappointed if you start here. While I’m sure some can, and have, started here only to have a great time, this won’t be the typical experience. This really is made for fans of the series and that’s about it. I would recommend picking this up on sale though if you plan to play the first to games because it is 100% necessary to get closure on the story. Thankfully, Steam has a bundle of all three games (it’ll show two things but one of them is the first two games in one) so just save yourself the trouble and pick that up.
Zero Time Dilemma – Spoiler Free Look
Coming from the first two games ZTD is going to feel alien in a lot of ways. Gone are the visual novel segments and in their place cinematic cutscenes. The flowchart still exists, but now there are three of them (five if you want to debate semantics here), all of which display information differently and sometimes even exclusively (despite all being the same). Lastly, you don’t play as any one character but rather jump from a set of three groups: C Team, Q Team, and D Team.
Let’s go ahead and start with these changes before I discuss much else about the game. While the cutscenes were appreciated, you can’t pause them. I did like that change despite this though. All the games, aside from VLR, had each character voiced and played similarly to this any way so this was a logical choice that was made, according to the developers, to make the game more accessible for modern gamers. Everybody has a voice in this one, and despite the jank, this added more than it took away.
The flowchart is a different story. This was a mess to navigate. You have the team select screens, fragment flowchart, and then of course the familiar global chart. My problem is that the information is often hidden and it can be really unclear what you need to do or where to go next. The story is told out of order based only on where you choose to go with little context initially. If this were easy to use I wouldn’t mind, but as it stands this was a serious downgrade in terms of quality and practicality.
Playing as a group of characters was a good change of pace though. Instead of following only one perspective you get to see glimpses of everybody’s. While I won’t mention it here for spoilers, this even made a certain aspect of the game all the better when it tried something VLR totally failed at previously. What you need to know, is that the third-person viewing made the story stronger as well as providing a small change to the typical formula.
So how does ZTD stack up to the previous games? Well in some ways it is worse and others stronger. As I mentioned there were a lot of changes made and it didn’t help that the game almost never got made. This was a fan-funded project, and as such, the developers did what they could. Some content got cut and compromises simply had to be made to get this final installment; so just keep all that in mind.
Like 999, the puzzles are going to be on the easier side of things most of the time. The exception is when you play as D-Team, which has the returning members of Sigma and Phi from VLR, which leans on some of that knowledge a bit. There is a moment with C-Team with returning members Junpei and Akane, that have a nod to the AB game as well.
This leads to the occasional obtuse puzzle but nothing as bad as VLR at all. In fact, the flowchart is perhaps the worst, “puzzle” in the game since it is not easy to read or navigate at all. At one point I became stuck for over an hour just trying to find where to go next. I had all the info I needed to progress, was even told exactly where to look for the place I needed to go, and still I couldn’t find it. This is going to be the largest frustration easily.
Let’s talk about the teams a bit more real quick. As I mentioned, you’ll see some returning faces in D-Team and C-Team. The new faces will be: Carlos (C-Team leader), Diana (D-Team leader), and all of Q-Team with Mira, Eric, and Q.
For returning members Sigma and Phi are going to be as strong as ever. I don’t really have anything to say on them other than they are consistent. When it comes to Akane and Junpei that’s another story. Junpei has become the edgeiest edge lord of all. This may be a big turn-off for folks but trust me when I say this is justified, albeit a bit cringe-y. Akane is also a math genius for some reason. This hilariously undercuts parts of the first game a lot but I don’t think this was intentional at all.
Carlos is your American firefighter hero character who wants to keep everybody safe. There is a moment in the game (though explained and it is obvious why this happens) where he breaks that mold but it was done so poorly that it almost ruined his character. Diana is a kind-hearted soul who may remind you a lot of a certain somebody from VLR. Despite being new, she should feel familiar.
As for Q-Team, this is easily the weakest of the bunch. The new characters aren’t that great aside from the masked boy. While Eric and Mira have interesting stories to tell, Mira’s detached nature and Eric’s on-and-off mood swings were kind of obnoxious. Eric is by far the worst because he whines about everything and just changes personality at a drop of a hat. His backstory somewhat justifies this but I never once rooted for this dude. In fact, I wrote off Q-Team as wholly expendable as I played.
Having to gather “X-Passes” to escape is another new thing tossed in here. Thankfully you’ll never need to memorize them since the log function actually works really well in this game, but to get them means sacrificing 6 or more people of the 9. This is kind of a whatever thing since the sci-fi nature of the game but it allows for some more interesting moments than you may initially think.
Overall this experience was better than VLR because it was shorter and far less tedious on the whole. That said, it lacks something that 999 had. If I had to rank these games ZTD would sit squarely in the middle but I still think each of them have their merits. So does this conclude the trilogy well? Yes, it actually wraps up all major plot threads very well. Even with the obvious cutting of some content, I was left satisfied with the story told meticulously across three games. Though, after VLR, I would have taken pretty much anything but the story did more than it had to here.
Another quick note, the English VA’s finally got credit for once. They didn’t in the other games and that was always so weird to me. I’m glad they got the credit they deserved here because they did an excellent job!
Despite the outrageous price on this game, if you can pick it up on sale and have played the others, you owe yourself to play this one. While there will be some frustrations and the changes made will definitely be jarring at first, you’ll find this is an experience that was well worth your while. Oh yeah, be sure to check out the post-game files after you beat this one or some stuff won’t be wrapped up for you (another compromise due to budget).
Next up is spoiler section where I dig into a few more gripes and praises with more detail. It’ll spoil major moments though so only read that if you’ve played before because these games are a lot better if you go in blind. That said, I’ll leave the end of article stuff here. Let me hear your thoughts on this one in the comments. My donation button is below and thanks once again for reading!
Zero Time Dilemma – Spoiler Stuff
Seriously don’t read this part if you don’t want some stuff spoiled!
Ok, I gave my warnings. I have to get a few specific things off my chest here regarding ZTD. While it was awesome that there were some themed rooms based on famous math problems, which I vigorously tested for consistency, such as the Monty Hall Problem (most people know it as relating to game shows), one of these was particularly terrible.
This had to do with the rec room where your, “decision” in the decision game is to roll dice. If all three land 1’s, your group lives. If not, they all die horribly. What the heck is that? I get that I am supposed to just redo this a few times (it is random by the way, not scripted) until I get both outcomes but how is that fun? Further more, the purpose of this is so Akane can make Junpei look dumb and go on to explain the concept of the previous games with the morphogenetic filed and SHIFTing.
There were a few other little things like this in decisions and puzzles that almost had me quit the game altogether. It seemed like the worst bits were at the very beginning primarily when you played as D-Team with a couple in C-Team’s camp. Q-Team was fine enough. I just really hated these few moments where the game felt clunky and terrible. Some of this was resolved as I played but stuff like that dice decision nearly killed ZTD for me.
Some other stuff I thought was interesting had to do with Diana, who Luna is obviously modeled after in VLR. This gets confirmed later in the story but it was really obvious immediately to me. Still, this part of the story felt really good despite how convoluted it was. Diana shooting herself in one of the timelines is all the more tragic with the foreknowledge.
As such I went into the game with the goal to keep Sigma, Phi, Akane, and Junpei alive because in the other games they have to be. This informed a lot of my decision making which, once again, led me down the path to victory way too quickly.
Naturally, the game locked me out of progress because I needed to collect passwords like in VLR (thankfully the writing pad made its return and was better even) which managed to be less frustrating because I knew I’d need to keep them written down this go around. Further, the game bothered to flashback and remind you in case you forgot too, which was a great touch.
I mentioned earlier how the flowchart had me stuck many times. This is a common problem that leads you to having to play with a guide. Even then, most guides don’t even tell you some things which is beyond irritating. I got stuck after, “The Door of Truth” and not a single guide told me where to go next. I spent an hour in-game looking at the flowcharts only to give up and find a video showing me where to go next. I found it but, again, this is an example of something that almost killed the game for me.
Let’s talk Q-Team now. Mira is obviously super sketchy and so her twist of being the serial killer from Zero’s stories is not a shock. Eric’s abusive upbringing was a little better but he was just such an awful character. I had some sympathy for the guy but I just couldn’t root for either of these two.
That leads me to Sean and Q. Sean was a good twist since I just assumed he was Q. I guessed the robot part but the game managed to get me even though it shouldn’t have. There was a throw-away line (or seemingly so) early in about an old man, who happens to be Q, or Zero. That was a great integration that made the justification for playing third-person all the better.
Much like VLR the twist is that you are Zero the whole time, so as such, you never speak, but since Q is supposed to be a blind, deaf, mute it makes sense that he never actively participates. I actually figured out the twist of Q far earlier than the game meant for me (it nets you an achievement even) but not until after the revelation with Sean.
Unfortunately, Zero was a bit murky as a character. For the sake of having to wrap so much up he doesn’t have the best writing. He becomes the big bad that orchestrates everything with motivations that are many and complicated. While some really hated this, I didn’t mind too much but I get where they are coming from.
Off the top of my head, this is all I can really think of for just final notes. Not the strongest game ever but still fairly solid. I really enjoyed this franchise and making these articles!