Five and a half years ago, a small DS game changed people's perspective on a niche genre called visual novels. That DS game was 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and its success in North America paved the way for many other revered entries in the genre, like Danganronpa and Steins;Gate, to make the trip across the pond.
999 was the first game in the Zero Escape trilogy, a trilogy that finally reached its conclusion this past June with Zero Time Dilemma.
Taking from its predecessors, Zero Time Dilemma follows a cast of nine characters forced to play a game of life or death, known as the Decision Game, in an undisclosed location. The only way to escape is for six of them to die. The kicker to this strange set-up is that they will lose their memory every 90 minutes. Who will live? Who will die? And how does this diabolical scheme affect the fate of mankind? To talk about the story any further than the set-up will spoil everything that makes Zero Time Dilemma so special.
Much like reading a book, you play a visual novel for its story and Zero Time Dilemma doesn't disappoint. While it does pull characters and threads from other Zero Escape titles, Zero Time Dilemma stands on its own. Spike Chunsoft did a wonderful job in weaving an enthralling horror mystery with a tinge of science fiction.
The fun of the story's twists and turns come from how you uncover them. Zero Time Dilemma is non-linear in every sense of the word. After a few introductory scenes, you are given full control over what scenes you play and in what order you play them. Being given the full web of possible paths encourages you to replay decisions to see how the slightest change affects the outcome. Plus, being able to jump to any node in the scene and the ability to fast forward through cutscenes keeps things from getting tedious.
The bulk of Zero Time Dilemma's gameplay comes from escaping rooms. At different points in the game, the characters will wake up in the middle of a locked room and must find their way out or to the next Decision Game. These rooms give players a series of puzzles to solve ranging from straightforward to absolutely obscure. These puzzles are great brainteasers, but a couple can be more frustrating than fun to complete. Don't be afraid to use a walkthrough when these puzzles stump you; some of these solutions are completely illogical.
Outside of the frustrating solutions, Zero Time Dilemma's only real fault comes from its presentation. While the models are impressive on both 3DS and Vita, the animation leaves a lot to be desired. I could look past it most of the time, but it could be distracting to look at from time to time.
This might not be a fault for some, but it takes awhile to get to Zero Time Dilemma's actual gameplay: the escape rooms. It took me close to an hour and a half to get to an escape room, which I can see giving people the wrong first impression of the game. It sure did for me.
Like a good book, I couldn't put Zero Time Dilemma down. The story sucked me in and the puzzles kept me engaged. I can't think of a better title for the 3DS releasing this summer. Sorry Monster Hunter Generations.