I recently wrote a piece on one of my favorite video game series, Zero Escape. Since writing that I’ve played the third game in the series for the first time.
The third game is called Zero Time Dilemma. It’s available for a variety of platforms, thankfully. I played it for 3DS, but it which platform you use shouldn’t affect the experience. (It’s also on sale right now in the Steam sale!) Once again, this is really difficult series of games to talk about without spoilers. I think the games are best experienced blind. But it’s particularly difficult to talk about the third game without spoiling the first two. So there will be vague spoilers here. You really DO need to play the first two games to appreciate this one. Luckily, they have re-released those two in a single package called The Nonary Games, available on multiple platforms.
I suspected that I knew when and where ZTD would take place within the world of Zero Escape. I was correct. This game is set up at the end of the second game Virtue’s Last Reward, so the third game really is a necessary final puzzle piece to the story of the series. From a narrative point of view, I found this pretty satisfying. After VLR, with the story left hanging, I had a feeling of disappointment, especially as no third game seemed forthcoming. This game leaves provides some needed closure.
The three games of the series take place at different points in time, but don’t occur in chronological order, so this third game actually takes place prior to the second. (But you have to play VLR first, you REALLY do.) And here is where I’ll get into spoilers. This series is all about jumping through different timelines, alternate histories, the branching decision tree of the multiverse. That’s the reason the story works so well as a video game, since you can die and then simply reload at an earlier point and do something different. And you have to do that to progress, because the characters are doing the same thing you are. I will also just say that this series has one of the most unique takes on time travel I’ve ever encountered. So that’s an aspect of the story.
Ok, but what about ZTD. First of all, it’s a significant break from the first two games in format. The first two games both consisted of visual novel segments and puzzle segments. These types of segments alternated, with the characters forced to enter rooms where they had to solve puzzles to escape. Only by moving through those rooms could they ultimately escape the sadistic game that Zero was forcing them to play. (Hence Zero Escape.)
One of the interesting things in this game series is that the mastermind “Zero” is different in each game and the purpose and intent of the game he’s forcing the characters to play is also different. This is especially true of ZTD. The ultimate goal for the players is still to escape, but the requirements to escape are much simpler. There are nine people trapped by Zero. When at least six of them are dead, the remaining players will receive code words to open the exit door. That’s it. The players aren’t required to enter puzzle rooms or work together in any way. They simply have to survive and others have to die. In addition, every 90 minutes they will be injected with drugs from their bracelets that will put them to sleep and make them forget the previous 90 minutes.
Which leads us to the most unique part of this game: you don’t play it in chronological order. After the initial intro, you are given a series of thumbnails of segments to play. You don’t know when those scenes occur or in what order. You can choose to play them in any order, although many are locked until you have done whatever is necessary to unlock them. And the characters don’t really know what’s going on either, since they most likely have had their memories wiped of whatever came before. So you might see a scene where a character is missing and no one knows why. And only later do you find out how that character died.