Zero Time Dilemma (PS Vita) Review

By Az Elias 15.08.2016 6

Review for Zero Time Dilemma on PS Vita

It just had to be the case that the future of Zero Escape would be in jeopardy after Virtue's Last Reward's cliffhanger ending. The follow-up to the brilliant visual novel-puzzle hybrid, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, presented more questions than answers come the end, but underperforming sales meant the proposed third game had to be put on hold indefinitely. It was thanks to persistent fans spreading the good word about the series that helped reignite the embers of development of the supposed final chapter, and so the ever-grateful creator Kotaro Uchikoshi was finally able to deliver the long-anticipated Zero Time Dilemma this year.

This new entry employs a vastly different presentation style to the visual novel and text-based format of the previous two games, with fully rendered 3D cut-scenes used to showcase the story. With hopes of enticing the Western audience a little more in mind, there are pros and cons to this change of format. Generally good voice acting makes up for the shoddy animations, and while there is a gritty real-time edge-of-your-seat approach, as the fear and unknown of what's going to happen to the characters plays out, elements are lost with the doing away of a strictly text-oriented adventure, such as the inner comical musings of the main character and multiple choice dialogue allowing for personalised reactions to the current situations that often err on the side of funny and titillating.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PS Vita

Unfortunately, such is the amateurish application of the stiff character models, weird hair physics and odd camera angles, that a lot is lost in trying to tell the story. Whilst it's great to see returning faces in a new angle and visual style, attempts to appeal to a different demographic, instead of sticking with the Japanese visual novel format that fans know and love, don't pay off.

Following complaints at the toning down of the gore in Virtue's Last Reward, Uchikoshi has gone all out with Zero Time Dilemma, and this, too, has mixed results - but mostly also because of how story progression is made this time around. Just as with the last title, a flowchart sees multiple branches trickle down into various paths as different decisions are taken throughout the game. The main difference this time around is that individual fragments must be picked to play out, and these can be done in any order, before others unlock over time. There is no single central character as such, with three teams of three characters instead separated into different sections of the facility they are trapped in being picked, and a story fragment then chosen, which usually consists of some cut-scenes, followed by a puzzle that sees the team trying to escape a locked room, and then a decision game, whereby a life or death choice is usually asked.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PS Vita

Plot-wise, each fragment lasts for 90 minutes for the characters, with their memories erased once the time is up (there is no time limit for the player; it all ends once the three-part scenario of story-puzzle-decision plays out). This means the flowchart can branch out almost endlessly, and it quickly becomes confusing for both participants and players just what is going on and where in the story everything is happening. After the events of Virtue's Last Reward, it doesn't take long to realise that multiple timelines are occurring, which is all relevant to the overarching narrative, but doesn't feel as satisfying as the format of 999, where one single path will play out until an ending is achieved.

Most of the time, each fragment ends in a grisly way, often with the death of characters, before being sent back to the flowchart to see it slot into one of the branches and then picking another fragment to play. That brings back the topic of the gore. It's great to see the more brutal side of the series return, but since it happens so much with almost every fragment, it loses its impact, unlike the other Zero Escape games. With 999, for example, death scenes or revelations of deaths would usually occur after being made to think about which doors to take, with players having to face the consequences for the rest of the game, right up until that path's ending. It was a lot to deal with, and it often made carrying on difficult in a positive way, since there was ample time to become attached to the characters beforehand, so the results were more impressionable. In this game, with deaths occurring left, right and centre in almost every fragment, with many new characters that aren't given a chance to establish themselves prior, the emotional ramifications just aren't there - at least, not until later into the game, when certain timelines start to become clear.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PS Vita

Puzzles are some parts simple, some parts challenging, and some parts ridiculous in the worst senses. Most don't cause too many problems and don't require as much brainpower as in the other titles, but the difficulty is usually only ramped up due to the tiniest thing going overlooked so comfortably. When it gets to a point where tapping on a very specific few pixels on the screen that can easily go unregistered is needed to trigger something, that's poor design. One or two specific puzzles are really tough to crack, as well, falling out of line massively with the others, and may require guess work or straight-up going online for the answer. For the most part, though, escaping each room isn't too troubling, and there are some pretty interesting and cool concepts at play. The bigger issue is that it isn't clear how to advance the plot when certain fragments are completed. There is no hint about how to unlock the next batches, and what is on display on the flowchart isn't explained at all. It leads to a lot of confusion, frustration and - again - going online to figure out what has gone missed.

Pacing is thrown off in the final third of the game, where there is a distinct lack of puzzles as the storyline falls together and explains itself. It means there's a whole lot more reading than any problem solving going on, but certain characters really make a name for themselves at this point, with some solid development on the personality side, putting things in motion for Virtue's Last Reward. There are some great moments, but the twist at the end is sure to rub a lot of fans the wrong way. Furthermore, despite being told that Zero Time Dilemma would answer questions from the second title, some very important characters and points are completely unexplained and never mentioned at all, leaving confusion, rather than closure. VLR is set up well enough - even with the crazy time travelling stuff - but there is a lingering feeling of disappointment that, knowing this may well be the last game in the Zero Escape arc, these overlooked details may forever go unresolved.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


Zero Time Dilemma is the weakest game in the trilogy, yet it's an unmissable piece of the puzzle that every Zero Escape fan needs to play. It isn't the satisfying conclusion hoped for, it has some uninteresting characters, and the pacing is off, but even with the unanswered questions, there is still a story here that warrants playing through, especially as it develops and wraps up the arcs of the familiar, better and more important characters in the overall narrative.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


Argh, really tough one, since it sounds like it could frustrate me enough to leave a really bad taste in my mouth, spoiling the previous games slightly. I was always unsure how a third game would be approached - future or jump back - but that was when there was hope a third, fourth, and beyond game would be made Knowing the struggle to get this one out, and seeing it underperform in Japan on both formats, makes you wonder if this is it...done...dusted. And, if so, from your review, I'd possibly rather avoid it than have even more unanswered questions.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

I still think fans of the other two games need to play this one, as it most definitely does clear some things up between 999 and VLR. Plus, these are such unique games in the genre that they shouldn't go overlooked. It might not seem like too much is left unexplained at first, but when you go back to the end of VLR, and after it was promised that what happens there will be explained in the third game, it's disappointing to see these things have gone totally ignored.

To clear up who I mean from VLR:

These two should have been explained, but they weren't. And now, if it's true that no fourth game will happen, it's a big plot hole. I can only hope a fourth one set after VLR does happen, but something tells me this is one of those where it's left up to the imagination (a bit of a cop-out if you ask me, because I feel we deserve explanations).

There are some really good characters in ZTD (a few lame ones, too tho), so do think it is worth playing, but perhaps wait for a sale beforehand, and don't expect something quite as good as the other two games.

Just spotted that it's out on PC as well - didn't realise that! Time to get my hands on it... Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Ah, yes! I'm liking this new trend of bringing just about everything to Steam at the moment. Very good for the industry.

Dang only a 6?  Im currently plowing VLR and the story is super sick.

Yep, 999 and VLR are awesome. This was a proper letdown coming off the back of those two. So keep those expectations in check and you might enjoy this a little better. Still good, but just not great like those two.

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