Spoiler-Free Review: Zero Time Dilemma

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Zero Time Dilemma is the third and final game in the Zero Escape Trilogy, a visual novel series written and directed by Kotaro Uchikoshi. The previous games in the series were 2009’s Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (often shortened to simply 999), and 2012’s Virtue’s Last Reward, (VLR) and this sits in between both as both a prequel and sequel to VLR (Those who have played it to completion understand exactly why). While not a Sega game, we at Sega Addicts thought this was a very important release for both us on the staff and our reader base. It will be releasing for Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and Steam. It marks a bit of a departure from the visual novel genre, as everything is now fully rendered in 3D “cinema” scenes, which end up working surprisingly well in the game’s favor. Many fans have been eagerly waiting for this game to release since its supposed cancellation and revival, and after four long years of waiting we are finally given our closure to an absolutely magnificent series.

As is customary in Zero Escape, the game stars nine people trapped by the mysterious mastermind Zero in a facility and forced to play a death game with one goal: To escape. Unlike the other two games, (Which both featured their own “Nonary Game”) Zero Time Dilemma introduces something called the “Decision Game”. All nine players are divided into teams of three and split up into different wards of a bomb shelter, and they have to kill at least six people in order to gain passwords to escape. The teams aren’t allowed free reign to do whatever they want, however, and are given a time limit of 90 minutes before the bracelet strapped to all of them injects them with drugs to make them forget everything they have experienced. When next the teams wake up, they will have no memories of anything else that have happened, which not only sets up a really interesting story but also has a great effect for the way the game is played. Familiar faces from 999 and VLR such as Junpei, Akane, Sigma, and Phi join the cast along with series newcomers in easily the darkest game in the series. This game’s cast easily was the most relatable and realistic from any game in the series, and seeing their interactions was an absolute blast.

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Unique to this game is a story that features three protagonists, and the ability to switch between them whenever you wish. The protagonists of this game are Carlos, a firefighter with a strong sense of justice, Diana, a kind-hearted nurse, and Q, a young boy who suffers from amnesia. Because of the previously mentioned memory loss, the game is played by choosing from out of order fragments, and once a fragment is completed it’s added to the large timeline. You can use the global flowchart and jump to any moment you’ve previously experienced, allowing the opportunity to redo choices you’d made and see different outcomes. It’s nice to see this feature return from VLR, and it makes the timeline easier to navigate while deciphering just what order the events took place. One thing that pleasantly surprised me is that each fragment is completely unique, and there are absolutely no fragments with repeated segments. Previous games had branches that would occasionally repeat events, and while I never had an issue with it I know many will be happy to hear that is gone. One of the big reasons I think the fragment system had such an impact was because I’ve honestly never seen such a brilliant way to tell a story in anything else.

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Something very important to mention is that while this game was said to be perfectly fine to jump into for people who haven’t played a Zero Escape game, I’d have to somewhat disagree with this. There are plenty of mysteries exclusive to this game, but at its core I feel that an understanding of the series history is important to understanding the stakes of what’s going on. Not only are the other games amazing and worth checking out on their own right, but understanding just what exactly characters are talking about things like jumping to other timelines and the “morphogenetic field” can really affect how much a player enjoys the game. The game also has a rather sudden beginning, and people not used to the world of Zero Escape might be quickly lost at just how much is happening in the game’s first few hours. The story is told absolutely beautifully, and features some of the craziest twists I’ve ever seen from a video game. Mr. Uchikoshi has always been one of my favorite writers, and it’s easy to see just how much love he put into this project.

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Like with VLR, this game is getting released on both 3DS and Vita, but this time around the graphical difference between versions are a bit larger. Even though I played through and completed this game on Vita, I made sure to give the 3DS version a good amount of attention. The verdict I have come to is that while the Vita version is graphically superior, the 3DS version still looks good, so those of you who were regretting preordering the 3ds version can put your worries to rest. On the topic of graphics, the models actually look pretty nice in my honest opinion, and fit well in the new presentation.

I’m very pleased to say that this game features the absolute best soundtrack of the entire series. Many were worried that the game would just use mostly straight rips from the previous games, but the amount of work put into this game’s soundtrack is incredible. Composer Shinji Hosoe returns for the final installment, and has provided both original and remixed music to the game. It was amazing to hear the remixed versions of my favorite Zero Escape tracks, and gave me such a magnificent feeling of nostalgia. Both new and remixd tracks sound amazing, and perfectly fit the feelings Uchikoshi was trying to convey for each scene. Whether making you feel tense while trying to Seek a Way Out of an escape room or having your heart broken.

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For the first time in the series, this game is having a worldwide release, so all copies of the game will feature both English and Japanese audio tracks. I played this game with the English voice track, and I was really blown away by how high the quality was. It was always nice to switch to the Japanese track on occasion (which can now easily be done at any time with no load screens), but I found myself loving the English voice cast. There can be the rare awkward line, but Zero Time Dilemma features an absolutely amazing dub and I vastly prefer it to the Japanese voice track. The Japanese voice track is still fine, but I for the most part I think the characters just sound better in English.

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Unlike the previous two games, which were visual novels, this game features “cinema scenes” to tell its story. The cutscenes are fully acted out in 3D, so no portraits talking this time around. I feel this actually helps the game fully convey everything Uchikoshi’s team wanted to show. This removes any limits that visual novels give to a story like this, and because of this the game can get as brutal and graphic as possible. There are scenes that will make you incredibly uncomfortable, and I don’t think these would have had half the impact without the cinematic approach to storytelling. However, there is one issue with rendering everything in fully 3D cutscenes, and that is due to the fact that so much of the budget is going towards that, the animation suffers a bit. It can be a little jarring at times, but I never personally found too much of an issue with it. To this reviewer, it was a minor flaw at most, but I know others will probably disagree with me.

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The game is split up into cinema scenes with choices, and puzzle rooms which are now called “Quest Rooms”. There were apparently two new professional puzzle designers on this game, and I feel that it really shows. The puzzles in this game are the most fun I’ve ever had with puzzles in a Zero Escape game. They control exceptionally well, make you think extremely hard, and have really catchy music to go with them. If I had to have a single nitpick with them, it’d be that there are sadly a few less puzzle rooms in this game than in the previous entries. I won’t provide an exact number because I don’t want to spoil any of you, but it was honestly a bit of a bummer. Not to mention that since the puzzle rooms are played out of order, there isn’t really a final puzzle room (like VLR’s Q room, for example). However, I know that less puzzles is probably due to budget and time constraints, so this is a bit more forgivable in my eyes.

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Zero Time Dilemma features seven named endings and a large amount of “bad ends”. However, for the first time in the series I felt that every single game over and bad end had new information, and all were important. Some team’s bad ends continue on for the stories of other teams, and it’s because of this clever storytelling that I just felt absolutely absorbed in what was happening. The endings will shock you, leave you puzzled, and have you begging for more. If this game hooks you, it will not be able to let you go. The game’s true ending left me absolutely speechless, and I needed a good day just to process everything that had happened. After thinking about it, I think I really liked everything that happened. I don’t wish to say too much since I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s something that you won’t see coming, and will keep you thinking for days to come.

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I have been waiting for Zero Time Dilemma for three years, and anyone who knows me knows just how important this series is to me. Virtue’s Last Reward is one of my favorite games of all time, and I was worried a bit that this might fail to live up to all of my hype. I have a few questions still, and I know there were flaws, but Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is simply one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. Even VLR wasn’t able to affect me as much emotionally as this game did, and I can’t get it out of my mind. This is the kind of game that is one in a million, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The story is an absolute masterpiece and will keep you on the edge of your seat for days. If you can get past some very easy-to-overlook flaws, then this game will give you one hell of an experience. If you love the Zero Escape series, you need this game; if you’ve never heard of it, then start on 999 and get ready for some of the best games you’ve ever played. The beauty of Zero Time Dilemma is that it manages to be such a different and unique kind of game compared to the previous entries but still has what makes the series so great. The decisions it makes you go through will test you on a moral level and make you reflect on just who you are as a person. I’ve never had to make choices this hard in any video game I’ve ever played, and I can’t recommend this game enough. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I experienced in my time playing the Decision Game, and I’ll never regret the memories I’ve made with this magnificent series.

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  • Zero Time Dilemma is better than 999, and I still can’t tell if it’s equal or better than VLR. It’s so different from the previous entries, and it’s hard to really compare it to… any game really.
  • If you get addicted to this and haven’t played the other games, I highly recommend 999 and VLR.
  • A better name of this game would be: Zero Escape: Ain’t Life A Bitch?
  • Buy/Rent/Avoid: Buy this game. Holy shit do you need to buy this game. This game is a masterpiece, there’s no denying it.
  • C-Team ended up being my favorite of all of the teams, and Junpei was favorite character of them all. Seeing how the events from 999 affected him was so fascinating.
About the author

Cullen Black

I'm currently in my third year of university, and run a youtube channel in my spare time. I'm also a new member of the SegaAddicts team, and I can't wait to make good content for you all!
  • Great review! So relieved to hear the voice acting is good. Virtue’s Last Reward had an incredible dub. I was worried that wouldn’t be the case here. Thanks for setting the record straight.

    Any idea why some reviewers might be feeling like the voice work is horrible? I mean, obviously opinions, it just seems like a strange thing for critics to be so divided on.

    • I’m not really sure on why tbh, I’m sure they just went in with low expectations which lead to them not liking them. I only found a few awkward lines in the dub, so I really don’t know why people would think the whole thing is shit.

    • maru

      It might be because the Japanese trailers came out before the English ones. It’s all too easy for people to absorb the acting in one dub and then proceed to bash another because they’re not exactly alike.

  • Kufuu

    Cool and chill review is cool and chill.

    Nice to hear you liked out Junpei turned out. I was a little skeptical about the edgelordiness cause it’s really easy to write a really bad one but if he’s a nuanced edgelord then all is well.

    • He’s surprisingly a lot less of an edgelord then I expected. He comes off as more of a cynical man who’s gone through a lot of shit.

  • maru

    I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m even more hyped for this game now because of your review. Thank you!

  • iRhythm0704

    Loved the review! Now since the release is only a day away, I’ve wanted to ask you if it would be better to focus solely on one team or alternate between three teams so that the progression is equal? What do you think?

    • Sorry for the late reply! Definitely switch it up between fragments. After every fragment played I’d always try to switch teams.

    • DrCullenPHD

      Sorry for the late reply, responding to these can be kind of difficult with how it’s set up! I definitely recommend alternating between the teams, as it keeps things fresh and you can pace out the fragments you get of your favorite team 😀

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