I didn’t see it coming, but here it is: Zero Time Dilemma is the third and, sadly, the last instalment of the wonderful Zero Escape saga. This game files under Visual Novel, a kind of gameplay that is not very well known in the western part of the world. It’s pretty difficult for us, used to a very interactive kind of games, to sit back, relax and enjoy a product that is more like reading a book that actually playing a game, yet the saga always distinguished itself for its great way to mix a compelling story, well-designed puzzles and nice characters.
From the entire saga point of view, this game is actually a prequel of Virtue’s Last Reward, and besides offering a whole new set of enigmatic challenges, it actually shed some light on some points that actually remained a little unclear after the previous two games.
If you are new to the saga, here is how it works: a mysterious character, always called Zero, traps 9 participants inside a secured and distant location. They are forced to play a game if they want to survive. Since there are nine participants, the game is also known as Nonary Game and it assumes different forms from one product to another: sometimes it is called AB Game (Ally/Betray as in the Last Reward) but it is always a Decision Game.
In a form or the other, you may have to choose who lives and who dies in order to exit the facility. It is not as easy, though, since escaping from death does not necessarily means that you won the game. Also, Zero in not always the same person and, since the saga spans a period of 170 years, different persons alternate in impersonating this apparently devious character.
In Zero Time Dilemma 9 persons are held captive within an underground shelter. Apparently, this shelter sports 3 equally built wards, each of them holding 3 persons. Those wards are connected to an elevator shaft, your only way out. The access to the elevator is a locked door (called X-Door) and it only opens when you collect and input six passwords.
Now, if you consider that passwords are revealed only upon a person’s death, you soon understand that you need people to die to secure your escape. Trouble is that you didn’t find yourself thrown in this facility all of the sudden: you were part of what you believed to be an experiment and by the time the Nonary Game starts you had already spent 5 days together, establishing relationships and making new friends. Will it be so easy to decide who lives and who dies….? The game often puts you in front of moral choices and deciding which button to press will never be easy.
In each and every one of the games, the players wear a bracelet which can be unlocked only if you win the game. While in the previous game the bracelet could grant you instant death when you had zero (or less) life points, here it is used only to put you to sleep when certain conditions are met. This means that killing another player is not a matter of betraying and let his/her points go down, but you need to willingly put them in danger.
As strange as it may seem, this could be for the best of the mankind, since the entire plot revolves around a catastrophic incident which exterminated the entire humanity. The saga, therefore, revolves around time travels but unlike all the other products out there no one is actually, physically travelling through time. Only his/her consciousness goes back and forth and only certain persons are able to shift from a storyline to the others.
Playing this game means dealing with quantum computers, morphogenetic fields, quantum physics and difficult concept like the one known as Schrodinger’s Cat which, as “universally known” (LOL), can be at the same time alive or dead depending on the observer.
So, in the end, you start the game and decide which fate you want to explore first, then you move to another one and afterwards you come back again since as you progress different storylines will pop up for you to explore until the entire picture is finally before
As usual, the game puts you in front of bad and good things, often alternating tragic moments with lighter ones. And there is always room for The Doctor, as you can see in the following screenshot.
In the end, I believe that Zero Time Dilemma, although a very good game, fails in surpassing its predecessor. Nonetheless, it remains an excellent title and the entire saga really stands out against millions of similar products. As said, I know that visual novels are not very appreciated over here, but I believe that this saga really rocks and I hope more and more players get acquainted with it. It takes time and patience, but solving the puzzles is very rewarding and studying (yes, studying) the story can get you closer to a whole different world were your beloved cat, even if dead, is alive in another space-time continuum.