PS Vita, 3DS, Steam | 2016
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is, I’m heartbroken to say, just an okay game.
The Zero Escape series of games boasts a pretty unique and compelling mixture of Japanese visual novel and puzzle solving. Just like the previous two Zero Escape games (999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward),
Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD) opens with a motley crew trapped in some abandoned facility, forced to play a game where the stakes are literally life and death. It sounds corny, but in practice it’s pretty effective and compelling. In this iteration, the game’s narrative hinges on chance and probability; you can “escape” on a coin flip not five minutes in.
Every choice made in the game’s narrative branches the story, and the player is encouraged to go back and play out other choices to unlock different looks at outcomes and character stories. Most choices are followed by a puzzle room of some kind, and players must solve a series of simple-to-baffling escape-room-style puzzles in order to move the narrative forward. It can be an awesome flow when done right; a cliffhanger to motivate the solving of puzzles for one more bit of story. Unfortunately, the puzzle-to-story ratio throughout the game is uneven at its best and downright maddening at its worst. Add in a new “amnesia” mechanic, which allows the game to present the story Tarantino-style in seemingly random order, and each piece feels like a short, nonsensical look at a piece of a narrative that isn’t particularly interesting or engaging paired with 30-45 minutes of arbitrary puzzle solving.