Zero Time Dilemma (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 12.01.2017

Review for Zero Time Dilemma on Nintendo 3DS

Fans have cried over it, clamoured for it, and petitioned for it with Operation Bluebird on social media. The two previous games, though perhaps not commercial successes, were received with countless accolades from the specialised press, including Cubed3. Many a player can call themselves big fans of both 999: Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors and Virtue's Last Reward, and after much delay and a chaotic development, the closing chapter to this critically acclaimed series have finally landed on Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and the PC. However, as our other two reviews have shown on PS Vita and PC, even with Cubed3 staff counting among the hardcore fans of the previous two games, Zero Time Dilemma didn't quite meet expectations. This third Nintendo 3DS review is still a necessity in order to explore what, exactly, doesn't satisfy the demand of consumers.

After the events of the previous two titles, with the second game especially hinting at the then-upcoming game that would eventually become Zero Time Dilemma, there was already a pretty good idea of how the story would take shape, considering Virtue's Last Reward's plot, which shall not be detailed here to avoid spoilers, since the dark story is the primary source of pleasure in this franchise. However, it appears that, perhaps in a move to surprise players, the plans laid out in the previous games did not go well, and thus anything one would have logically expected was thrown out the window completely. While this does not suffice to make it a bad game, it generates an unsettling feeling right off the bat that makes the overall atmosphere a bit awkward and different from what fans of the previous games would have expected.

This is largely the result of one big change from the norm, probably the primary issue that players have with it, which is the change in how the story is presented. A small recap of how things work, without spoiling any of the story, is in order: both previous games presented their stories as individually continuous narratives where player choices created successive branches in the overarching plot and eventually lead to different endings. Getting the full picture, understanding the complex scenario and ultimately completing the game, required multiple playthroughs. That things happened in a logical and chronological order helped keep track of events, and that made the experience functional and so enjoyable. However, this is almost completely thrown away in Zero Time Dilemma. Rather than making choices that lead to different chronological paths, this story is presented through scenes completely out of chronological order. Player choices during those scenes, or whether some interactions with the environment were performed at all, causes other scenes to unlock, which unveils more of the overall story.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on Nintendo 3DS

This is... a mess. Only after completing a scene is it possible to see where it played out in the overall chronology of events, but in which branch, etc, is always tricky to deduce, and this is so puzzling that it takes the upper hand from the actual story, which, while not really being bad, was also not anticipated after the last episode. It doesn't help that the requirements to unlock certain scenes are, more often than not, completely obtuse, although that's not entirely new to the franchise. The first game had no diagram showing the order of events, so choices to be made were not always obvious, but the smaller scope on the humble original DS kept the story in check, not allowing the obfuscation to get in the way of enjoyment. It happens here, though.

Another element that makes the plot harder to grasp than it should be is that characters are now split into groups. This works against the story-telling, because it's almost always the same characters interacting with only two others, as the nine in-game characters are split into teams of three that essentially never meet between scenes, at least until the very last few. Where in the past, player choices that put character couplings in danger could lead to their becoming antagonistic towards the main hero, now such choices don't carry such weight. Moreover, fewer relationships and bonds are formed between the nine characters, as some never even speak to one another, and not having a main protagonist means the player can't really relate to a hero who would form relationships with the other characters. Such a change in the recipe from previous entries would not be entirely unwelcome, to keep things fresh, if it didn't work against the franchise's concept that choices should carry weight further into the future. Here players make choices without knowing what immediate effects they'll have toward whom, due to the characters' memories being wiped out after nearly every scene by a drug inside the series' iconic bracelets.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on Nintendo 3DS

Unfortunately, these elements detract from what is otherwise an unexpected and slightly unsatisfactory ending to a much larger story that spanned three visual novels. Visual novels are usually crammed with details, but the Zero Escape trilogy is almost in a category of its own in this regard, hence why the devoted following is vocal about the things they don't like. However, certain things were still good, even if they weren't discussed nearly enough. The escape sequences are as good as ever. Brain-racking puzzles are as delightful as they have ever been, though perhaps slightly fewer in number than those in Virtue's Last Reward, and leave the player with an unmatched and gratifying sense of cleverness upon figuring out the solutions, more so than even the likes of Professor Layton—where puzzles are smaller and usually not directly tied to the story itself, so they don't carry the same sense of urgency.

The characters themselves are, as usual, relatively well written. There is a lot of mystery, but, more than anything else, there are some very poignant scenes in there, and even tear wrenching even that rank very highly among the most emotional scenes to be found in a video game, and these simply must be experienced first-hand. Slightly offsetting at first, but not so after a while, are the character models and their animations. While the intention to make the game into a more cinematic experience is commendable, it did not turn out all that well on such a tight budget. Character movements are stiff, camera movements are very limited, and the models are at times far from the delightful designs introduced in both previous entries. It is weird at first, but most players will likely become accustomed to it. The title is best with the Japanese voice acting, since the lip movements follow that dub and the English voice acting is not quite as good, at least for some of the cast (some of the English voice cast still manage to do a good job).

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on Nintendo 3DS

Ultimately, though, the choice to go with a more cinematic visual experience over a cheaper, but more efficient for a visual novel, style of presentation akin to the two previous games was a bad one. It's a bad way of managing limited financial resources and development time. Nobody ever complained about how things were done before, so it would probably have been best left alone, rather than ruining something that worked well. The sound is solid overall, though most of the soundtrack is recycled from the previous games. If the graphics had been more in-line with its predecessors, the money saved might could have helped include more original audio.

Performance is another issue, though only on the Nintendo 3DS version. It is a very impressive looking game on a purely technical level, especially on such humble and aging hardware. Ditching stereoscopic 3D altogether allows for some of the most detailed character models and environments found on the system, but the game drops frames a lot during crowded scenes and action sequences that contain lots of particle effects. Certain lighting effects, like the spinning red alarm lights, are also quite well done. In fact, the game is visually most impressive on the 3DS, and not so much on the other systems, since those other systems are capable of better. Here, however, it pushes the system, and it's reflected in the occasional performance dips. These framerate drops typically only occur during cut-scenes, so they don't damage the gameplay, but it does come across as especially jarring. Moreover, due to its point-and-click nature, it's perhaps best enjoyed on the PC with a mouse pointer, or on 3DS with a stylus to interact with the game, rather than on the Vita, since some interactive objects can be pretty small.

Screenshot for Zero Time Dilemma on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Make no mistake about it, Zero Time Dilemma is a disappointment, but it's mainly because fans of the franchise are such devoted ones. Taken on its own merits, without looking back to how the series was, it is certainly not a bad game, and has some excellent qualities that leave it an overall good experience, and definitely not a bad one. Is it an indispensable finale? Probably not. Zero Time Dilemma is in a strange position, where newcomers will not likely be bothered by the things that irk long-time fans, but neophytes will also not be able to grasp the full story and its intricacies without going back and playing the preceding games, which were masterpieces. At the end of the day, it's hard to recommend to anyone but fans that want to know how the story ends, but they should keep their expectations in check in order to get to the good parts through the messy parts and still have a good time out of it. Indeed, it's tough, after two great games that ended in a cliff-hanger, to simply ignore the finale, despite its flaws.

Developer

Chime

Publisher

Aksys

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

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   

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