Zero Time Dilemma (PC) Review

By Adam Riley 28.08.2016 11

Review for Zero Time Dilemma on PC

What a legacy to uphold! Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma comes off the back of the simply stunning 999 and almost as good Virtue's Last Reward, as well as coming to fruition thanks to avid fans refusing to let the topic drop. They wanted answers, and Spike Chunsoft has decided to have one last throw of the die to bring people's desires to life. The question is, though, whether or not the hype surrounding this third entry is justified or if the wheels have started to come off. After some disappointment levelled at the PS Vita edition, Cubed3 now takes on the PC release.

Hype is a very dangerous thing, since it makes it so much harder for the final product to live up to the lofty expectations that have been built up. This might be part of the reason that Zero Time Dilemma proves to be so ultimately disappointing. Maybe in its own right it would have been received more positively, instead of being classed as the runt of the Zero Escape trio. Right from the off, that may be an argument that holds some weight, since there is the re-introduction of characters in past entries, littered with the usual mix of newcomers that spice events up. The big bad, in Zero, is also ever present, teasing the nine captives with the promise of escape…with a major caveat present: six must die for the special X door to open, leading to freedom. There are no real warning signs when the adventure commences, so indeed the idea of this being better as a standalone title might be valid. Might. It becomes clear later on that it is not the case at all, sadly.

The concept was wonderfully laid out in 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS, and then developed to streamline the process of replaying events to obtain differing outcomes in Virtue's Last Reward on Nintendo 3DS in order to uncover all scenarios within the gripping story. Everything was looking peachy, and tantalising story threads were left dangling at the end of the second adventure - would there be a prequel or sequel? Maybe both coming eventually?

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PC

Then it seemed like a third entry was not going to come to fruition due to poor sales in Japan. Thankfully, though, a spirited reaction from fans in the West helped Spike Chunsoft make the decision to get Zero Time Dilemma green-lighted. All was well with the world - PC, 3DS, and PS Vita releases ahoy. Finally, all those questions would be answered and a satisfactory conclusion would be delivered!

Well, not really, in reality. Sure, there are elements that are wedged in to tie things to the previous games, and there are tenuous threads that do relate to questions posed in the past, but there are plenty of questions left unanswered and an overall sense of dissatisfaction when the adventure is over (and it will be over quicker than ever before, as this entry seems far simpler to progress through), especially given the haphazardness of the Global Flowchart that it relies so heavily on.

In Virtue's Last Reward, the concept of a chart to keep track of what avenues had been explored was genius, rectifying one of the annoyances found in 999, but here the developer has an over-reliance on said chart, but not only that, also breaking things down even further into 'Fragments' for each of the three teams in what was previously deemed the 'Nonary Game.' It all becomes quite messy once multiple timelines need to be navigated due to teams being put to sleep after 90 minutes, and their memories sometimes wiped, other times not, all the time waking up in random locations no matter what.

Most of the time will be spent trying to figure out how to open up a new pathway through the flowchart, rather than soaking up some extremely well written prose. In fact, the writing is rather sterile compared to the previous games, so sometimes it is favourable to skim over the endless chatter and use the 'jump back' feature to play through and aim to get another scenario by changing a decision previously made. The main problem is that everything feels so frustrating after a while.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PC

Playing through, at first it all flows well enough, albeit with too many conversations that bear no relevance to the core story, and with puzzles that do not seamlessly fit into proceedings, and are either too simplistic or the opposite extreme, being completely devoid of logic to the point of hair-pulling annoyance. Well enough, indeed. Then a wall is hit, and many will not have a clue where to go or what to do, and that is where the wheels come off, and constant reference to the flowchart is required, in addition to checking out individual teams' fragment pages. Even then, checking everything out, it may not be abundantly clear what to do or where to go, or even what needs replaying, if anything actually does.

Only when being forced to check a guide will realisation kick in that despite early events being cleared, the game demands that they be replayed in a particular order once more in order to unlock certain events later on. In instances like that, more often than not it is a palm to the head moment, thinking, "Why didn't I realise that?!" Not so here, since it is more like, "Huh, what? Seriously?" and then follows total frustration. Zero Time Dilemma is based on a broken model, ultimately. Who really wants to spoil things by relying on a walkthrough? Well, this either requires one to be used after a set time, or the entirety of the first half of the adventure must be replayed to try and figure out what was missed…

Even then, though, there are times where codes and passwords are required, or notes must be made on key conversations to unlock areas further into the story. However, many of these will be overlooked either because it is not apparent at the time, or the dialogue has gone off into its mundane territory once more, leading to minds wandering and facts being missed. Heavy use of the game's conversation 'Log' is required, although it is only useful for current conversations, not actually accessible when jumping to another timeline. None of this is overly difficult to overcome, in the end, but it should work far better than it does, and all feels fumbled together in a half-hearted manner not befitting the quality that came before it.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PC

Puzzles? Either overly simple or complicated to the point of wanting to give up, and never fitting in with the story. Visuals? The cel-shaded models do look delightful, but the characters all have extremely dead eyes that sometimes go into crazy-judder mode when startled or dying (there are lots of deaths, over the top ones at that), and the animation is so bad that even the development team must have realised something was off, opting to move the camera position away from characters when they start moving, focusing on the far distance and leaving just sound effects to do the grunt work. Story? Well, it answers some elements from the past entries, yet in a forced and unsatisfying manner that detracts from the overall interest levels, whilst also introducing a whole host of monotonous threads that do not relate to anything in particular other than acting as filler content, plus throwing up new questions that remain unanswered, and not even touching upon some key issues from Virtue's Last Reward. Gameplay? A broken mess of what was the strong point of the previous game - the flowchart - leading players to dead ends all because the game has not recognised that, even though some parts are complete, they were not done in the 'correct' order to unlock further routes… It is a bleak outcome, sadly.

There is enough substance to Zero Time Dilemma to make it playable, but there is equally so much that makes it not just third place in the series in terms of quality, but a long and distant third that shatters the dreams of those that adored 999 and VLR so much.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Sadly, despite an attempt to include in-depth story threads and bring in intriguing puzzles, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma falls down on too many occasions. Be it the convoluted yarns that do not tie things together well enough, puzzles that fluctuate in difficulty and interest levels far too much, as well as a poorly thought out flowchart system that leads players into numerous dead ends, either requiring sheer guesswork and random replaying of certain scenarios, or caving in and using online guides. With the previous two entries so loved, this drops the ball completely. Awkwardly constructed paths throughout that often give no clue as to how to proceed, shoe-horned story elements that try and match up with events from previous releases, and an overall lack of satisfaction felt when different plotlines actually reach their conclusion, leave this as a very underwhelming entry into what was a venerable series.

Developer

Chime

Publisher

Spike Chunsoft

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

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   

Comments

When you say shoehorned, do you mean in the way VLR was in the true end?  I felt like so many things came FROM NOWHERE just for the sake of a shock.

See, that didn't seem too bad for me, but if it bugged you, then this will really get on your nerves. I'm not saying don't play it at all. I'm still glad I experienced it, but it just left me wanting for something SO much better. This really does feel like a phoned-in performance, all round.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Completely honest and fair account of things. Sounds like your sightly more confusing experience of witnessing the true ending before other scenes - which I didn't even think would be possible - damaged it more.

I stand by what I said about it in my review - it's the weakest entry in the trilogy by far, but it's unmissable for fans. A "Dilemma" indeed! The main positives for me are the expanding of the relationships of the better and more familiar characters, like Junpei and Akane, Phi and Sigma, and Sigma and Diana. But others felt like filler, never to be mentioned again in VLR, which would be highly unlikely. I'm surprised. It seems like accounts in VLR weren't even taken into account in the making of this game, weirdly enough.

I'm more shocked at the generally positive reception it's got amongst critics. It almost feels like a case of singing its praises just because it's Zero Escape, or because we want to see it continue. To place it anywhere near the same level as 999 or even VLR is absurd.

The more you say that, Az, the more I'm wondering if I made a mistake - because in my frustration I did turn to a guide for a password, and perhaps ended up inputting the wrong code first Smilie I had a list that I'd been noting down, but...I was so frustrated in general that I actually can't recall now. I'd hit a massive wall and was going to give up on it. No game should lead to that.

And I totally agree - why is the lowest this has got a 7? I'm seeing critics praising the story, saying the puzzles are really engaging, etc. I don't get it. Did they even play the full game? I'm thinking not. Up until the massive wall, I was hovering around a possible 7 or 8 just because of the fanboy inside. Then it slapped me around the face, and I started to loathe it.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Well, even if you did make a mistake there, it's definitely not clear-cut on how to proceed the story on numerous occasions thanks to the uselessness of the flowchart.

Is a couple of 6s I've seen, but in general, loads of 9s and 8s. Truly bizarre. It's sad - the more I compare it to the excellent 999, the more disappointing it is. How do we go from that to this?

Our member of the week

I did think it was a great game in its own rights, but it's just the way the story is told, out of order, that makes things more confusing than they needed to be. I can't say I ever ran into a wall where I couldn't progress, but I don't regret the purchase at all for finally being able to see how it ends, although I was expecting something better. I'm glad it got released at all, and I understand the limited budget hampered development as can be witnessed in various areas of the game, but still, you've got to judge the game by what it presents an not look for excuses. I wouldn't say a 5, but I will reserve my full judgement for my own review.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

I did try to judge it on its own merits, but in the end the way the story was, as you say, all over the place, and I had issues with the flowchart/fragments being somewhat illogical at times. It really did drive me to despair - and to the point where I didn't want to finish it eventually, forcing myself to do so to see if it had a satisfactory ending. And it didn't. It let me down again with convoluted attempts to explain things and fudging of details to tie things together. I started with a 7 in my mind...but it dropped to a 6 when I hit the wall, and then by the time I'd forced myself to go through everything to get more satisfaction, it actually killed my mood even more, dropping to a 5.

Alone it would have been downright confusing, and as a part of a series, it was just a huge disappointment, and a low budget is no excused when the DS game was miles better and I highly doubt that had a bigger budget.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]
Our member of the week

Well I do think that, for better or worse, trying to up the presentation was a bad idea. The first one was all 2D and worked well. The second incorporated some 3D but the characters themselves in conversations, as far as I can tell on the 3DS anyway, were pre-rendered 2D sprites and it worked well there too. Making the whole thing much more cinematic must have taken a large portion of the budget when sticking to the formula of VLR would still have worked just as well. Besides the animation of the characters isn't done all that well, so it didn't work out anyway, so sticking to their strengths from previous episodes would have worked best and cost less and in all likelihood would have taken them much less time, leaving them more time to flesh out other parts of the game that needed to be. I don't know why the project went that way, but the end result isn't quite as well done as one would have expected indeed.

There's one thing that didn't disappoint me, and it was the escape sequences. Those were as good as ever in my opinion, it's just a shame that it appears to me at least that there were less of those than in VLR.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

3D models in VLR (3DS and Vita).

The change in format is Uchikoshi trying to appeal to "Western audiences" and "casuals" that wouldn't normally be interested in a Japanese anime style visual novel. Ironically, I feel it had the total opposite effect, although I'd like to see sales comparisons to the other two. It's turned me off what I used to love so much about the series. It was at its best with 999, and 3D models didn't really detract from things in VLR. But ZTD was too much of a change imo.

Grabbed from the Wikipedia page and worth reading:

While previous Zero Escape titles tell their narratives through visual novel segments, Zero Time Dilemma replaces them with cinema scenes,[3] intended to feel familiar for Western players and "emulate the feel of a big-budget American TV show". To further this effect, the option to turn off the subtitles was included.[23] Due to this more cinematic approach, Uchikoshi was able to make use of his experience with writing the anime series Punch Line (2015).[22] The inspirations for the change in format were the Telltale Games adventure game series The Walking Dead (2012- )[3] and the Level-5 adventure game Time Travelers (2012).[25] Uchikoshi said that this would make for a lower barrier of entry for people not necessarily interested in visual novels,[23] and that mass appeal is important to Spike Chunsoft, as just a Japanese audience is not enough for the production of adventure games.[3] The non-linear and episodic nature of the game's chapters was done to appeal to more casual players and people new to the series, as they can uncover the story at their own pace without being "railroaded into doing one storyline from start to finish".[23] The use of fragments added some challenge to writing the story: Uchikoshi had to be careful when planning the progression of the story, as changes to one fragment would also affect the fragments surrounding it. When breaking the story up into fragments, he considered what would be the most entertaining for players.[22]


( Edited 31.08.2016 23:37 by Azuardo )

"When breaking the story up into fragments, he considered what would be the most entertaining for players."

Sorry to say, but he failed. It made things more convoluted and confusing.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

It did, indeed. I don't think straight-up trying to emulate an episodic style in a single game release is appealing in any way. Episodic releases work for the most part because the next episode is developed after the previous one, or is built in such a way that it is influenced by the previous episodes. But it didn't even do the episodic format in the same way. ZTD was all over the place and incoherent.

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