Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma Review — Saying Goodbye (PS4)
Few video games have left me captivated by them, but I spent weeks discussing the stories of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward to anyone that would listen to me. I loved the pseudo-science of Kotaro Uchikoshi‘s stories, enjoyed the huge twist endings that I never saw coming despite taking notes during each of my playthroughs, and was on the edge of my seat during every tense story beat. For a while, it looked like Chunsoft’s planned trilogy of Zero Escape titles would never be finished, but thankfully fans showed their support and Zero Time Dilemma wrapped up the story last year.
Now, like its predecessors, the title is being re-released on PlayStation 4. While the PS4 version of 999 had the draw of having all-new voice acting that wasn’t in the Nintendo DS original, Zero Time Dilemma is more like the port of Virtue’s Last Reward. As in, it looks like the Vita version and has been relatively unchanged. Considering the game had fully voiced dialogue to begin with, and a pretty high production value for what’s largely a visual novel, that’s definitely not a knock against it.
For those that haven’t played Zero Time Dilemma before, but are thinking of picking it up after enjoying The Nonary Games, the choice is a no-brainer. You need to play this. The entire series, especially Virtue’s Last Reward, has been building up to this point, and everyone’s intertwining stories are finally coming to a head. This is the culmination of everything, and fans of storytelling in games owe it to themselves to check it out.
Since Zero Time Dilemma marks the end of the series, it’s only fitting that familiar faces round out the cast of yet another death-trapped game. Sigma and Phi make their return from VLR, while Junpei and Akane appear from 999. While the names are familiar, there are some differences here. As the events take place after 999, Junpei has changed considerably from the first game. His kind demeanor is gone, as he’s been through way too much shit, and has been chasing the love of his life for years to no avail. He’s incredibly jaded, and it’s a surprising new characterization of him at first.
Like the other nonary games, there winds up being nine participants that have to solve puzzles, and then work together if they have any chance at escaping. That means five original characters end up participating. While I never ended up loving any of the new additions as much of the returning characters, they all play their role here, and it adds up to create another memorable story.
As the final chapter, it makes sense that some pretty large reveals take place during Zero Time Dilemma. Some of these can be pretty confusing (even for Zero Escape standards) due to the game’s reliance on a disjointed narrative that has the player constantly warping between different timelines. Eventually everything starts to connect together, though, and there are some incredible, emotionally charged, story moments that entirely change the meaning of Virtue’s Last Reward, and end up shifting established character relationships. It’s a lot to take in, and I don’t think I fully appreciated all of the foreshadowing in the series until I returned to Zero Time Dilemma a second time on PS4.
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t much different about the PlayStation 4 version of Zero Time Dilemma. This is a bare-bones port that shares the same trophy list as the PlayStation Vita version, so players expecting something new, or some grand reason to replay it besides further appreciation of the narrative, will be disappointed. It also means that some of the textures look rough, since it was originally meant to be played on a Vita. It looks slightly better than VLR does on a television, but it’s still noticeable that it wasn’t designed to be played that way.
Despite largely liking Zero Time Dilemma, I do feel like it has some issues. My biggest beef with the game is that I don’t feel like it earns one of its shocking reveals at the end. It’s a completely ridiculous twist that I’ve come to appreciate more over time, but I still automatically groan about it when I think about it. I also find the puzzle designs, which continue the series’ legacy of trapping players in locked rooms, to be more tedious than the other two games.
While it’s arguably the weakest in the trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma is still a must for fans that need to know what’ll happen at the end of Junpei and Akane’s journey, and is still a great game in its own right. It doesn’t quite earn all of its story twists (and that’s saying a lot as someone who was fine with Sigma’s reveal in VLR), but it features enough of a payoff that make both Virtue’s Last Reward and 999 feel more meaningful in retrospect. This closing chapter isn’t perfect, and some low-quality textures can be distracting on PlayStation 4, but it does manage to put a bow on one of gaming’s greatest stories.
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma PS4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.