Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Oct 232020

Today’s game is another one that stretches the classification of “spooky” quite a bit, but I decided the story has enough horror for me to finally finish the Zero Escape trilogy this October by playing Zero Time Dilemma.

Zero Time Dilemma serves as both a sequel and prequel, since Virtue’s Last Reward ended on a cliffhanger relating to events from the past. At the time, that both annoyed me and left me eager to see how it would all work out in the third game.

Unlike its predecessors, Zero Time Dilemma isn’t exactly a visual novel. All of its scenes are cutscenes instead.

However, it’s structured in the same way, so it still feels somewhat like a visual novel.

Once again, nine people are trapped and forced to participate in a deadly game overseen by a mysterious person named Zero. This time it is the “Decision Game,” with a variety of different situations you’re put into and forced to make choices. They’re split into three groups, and you play as each team rather than sticking with one main protagonist.

The orderly flowchart from the previous game is gone, replaced by “fragments” that connect together into a larger flowchart.

At first, I didn’t like the fragment system at all. I made a choice with each team and expected that to lead to the outcome of that combination of choices, but instead I unlocked a whole bunch of different fragments in different timelines, and I didn’t like it.

But over time, it grew on me. It’s easy to turn on the game, pick a new fragment, and play through it. It also helps mimic the disorientation the characters feel due to losing their memories between fragments.

Like in Virtue’s Last Reward, certain fragments unlock pieces of information you need to progress in others. Sometimes this is information the player enters, while other times it simply unlocks new cutscenes because the characters themselves have more information.

A fragment typically involves an escape room sequence, with puzzles to solve, that then culminates in the choice you need to make for that fragment. These are fun, although some of them lack the urgency they had in the previous games. Their pacing is also a bit strange; I felt like a much smaller fraction of my time was spent in escape rooms and was surprised when I got a trophy for completing them all, since I still had a fair number of fragments I hadn’t seen yet.

Between that and the switch to cinematic cutscenes, I really felt like I spent most of Zero Time Dilemma watching it rather than playing it.

So now let’s talk about the story. I liked the tone a lot. Virtue’s Last Reward often felt to me like it was trying too hard to be funny, but Zero Time Dilemma had a much darker tone again (with a lot of horrible deaths in various branches based on your choices), which made it a fitting choice for October after all.

I enjoyed learning more about the characters over different fragments and seeing how various details start to come together. And in general, I enjoyed the plot. There are some great moments and a few really surprising twists that I didn’t see coming at all. The biggest twist even resolved a few things I’d thought were plot holes up until that point, which I appreciated.

Click for implied major Zero Time Dilemma spoilers
Mainly lines related to Q, like how characters would reference him in some scenes, but then see “him” in other scenes and seemingly not know who he is.

Yet it wasn’t quite the thrilling conclusion I expected after the Virtue’s Last Reward cliffhanger, and it’s hard to really explain why. Overall I enjoyed playing Zero Time Dilemma, but (even though there are several aspects I liked better than Virtue’s Last Reward), the story didn’t impact me quite as strongly as the first two Zero Escape games.

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  3 Responses to “Celebrating All Things Spooky: Zero Time Dilemma”

  1. I am a big fan of the zero escape series, including ZTD, but I do have to say ZTD was the weakest of the three for me. I agree with a lot of your points, and I was surprised to have finished the escape rooms with so much story left. Still plenty of twists, some a bit nonsensical but still fun, and I am happy I got to go along for the ride.
    Also, getting my first ending early in the game made me laugh so hard I cried. And while the game was dark, I appreciated its humor when it was there.

    • It was so close to moving up into second place for me, but it just didn’t have that force or impact that it needed. Still, I enjoyed it, and finishing it left me feeling sad that I’ve played all of them now. I guess Somnium Files is what I have to move on to!

  2. […] some ways it reminded me of the fragment system in Zero Time Dilemma, except handled in a much better […]

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