Monday, August 15, 2016

Zero Time Dilemma Review

A brilliant and nightmarish conclusion to the Zero Escape series.

I've always wanted a chance to talk about the Zero Escape series in more detail. The trilogy comprises of 999, which released for the DS in 2010, and Virtue's Last Reward, which released for the 3DS and Vita back in 2012. Both games are visual novels that revolve around 9 characters being locked together and forced to play a demented game. The game changes with every installment, but the game is almost always manipulated by a person known as Zero, who almost always has ulterior motives for the game. In the first game you played the Nonary Game, the second game had you play the AB Game, and now in Zero Time Dilemma, the conclusion to the trilogy, you're playing the Decision Game.

Zero Escape has been one of my favorite game trilogies in the past decade. If I was being perfectly honest, both of the previous games are some of my favorite games of all time if only because of the fantastic story elements and complex themes that are addressed over the course of three games. If you think that Bioshock Infinite explored complex themes and explored the meta narrative of video games, then you haven't seen anything yet. Make no mistake, the Zero Escape series is a dark and mature series that will test and challenge anyone that wants to play it.

Personally, I was extremely hyped for Zero Time Dilemma. After waiting four years and the game being put on indefinite hold, it's so bizarre to see that the game is actually complete and that we have answers for the entire series. As a conclusion to the franchise, it's a fulfilling one that any fan will enjoy. The game does have some issues, major ones at that, but they're ones that I'm willing to overlook for the sake of the overall experience.

As with previous entries in the series, Zero Time Dilemma is a visual novel with puzzle elements. You'll be able watch several cutscenes that can last for tens of minutes at a time and are broken up in one of two ways. You either enter an escape room, which tasks you to solve a challenging puzzle in a room, or you'll have to make a decision. The decisions can be major, where a single action can kill several characters, or minor to the point where you won't even know if the decision you made was a significant one or not. You'll have tons of decisions to make and not very many puzzles to solve, which is a good thing of you ask me. The weakest part of the series has always been the escape rooms that take you out of the narrative and force you to solve a puzzle simply because it's a game and it needs to have them in there somehow. The fewer puzzles, the better.

However, the biggest twist that happens in Zero Time Dilemma is that you can play the game in whatever order you want. There are three teams of three characters in the game, and each character has about 10-12 levels to explore, also known as fragments. Most fragments are unlocked from the beginning and take place across multiple timelines, so you won't fully know where you are in the overall narrative until you play them. It may sound confusing at first (and it is), but you eventually won't care about the order of the fragments as you continue further down the rabbit hole of facts, lies, mysteries, betrayals, and secrets.

Thankfully the story is an excellent one, but to say why would spoil not only the game, but the entire series up until this point. So for that reason, let's talk about how butt ugly this game is. ZTD looks baaaaaaaaaaad, and not in any defensible way. Every shot in the game has a character model looking very stilted or struck in some odd pose that doesn't look natural or even fitting to the conversation. Even worse is that when characters do move, their movements and behaviors are looped, so seeing a character move his arms the exact same way while standing perfectly still is distracting as all hell. This is even more apparent during the CGI cutscenes, where everyone looks awful no matter what they're doing.

The visual fidelity hardly matters though when you realize that the game itself is a visual novel, keyword, novel. Yes, the game isn't pretty to look at, but compared to the still images of 999 and the floating torsos of Virtue's Last Reward, they're still the best in the series. Frankly, any comments that I can make to criticize the game are moot unless I can spoil it, but I wouldn't dare ruin the thrill of experiencing the series for yourself for the first time.

Take it from me; Zero Time Dilemma is a fantastic game with a story to put all other games to shame. It may not be as good as the other games in the series (I personally find Virtue's Last Reward to be the best in the series, it's still a damned good game that deserves to be played AFTER PLAYING THE PREVIOUS GAMES. Despite how people have claimed that you can dive right into this game without any prior knowledge of the series, it would be a complete disservice to yourself for not playing two of the best handheld games of all time. Go out, buy all three games, and get ready for over 80 hours of intense psychological thrills.


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