ZERO ESCAPE: ZERO TIME DILEMMA
Console: Nintendo 3DS
Start Date: July 1, 2016
End Date: July 9, 2016
Like most people, I enjoy the occasional Room Escape game. These games are point-and-click adventures distilled down to their basest elements: find some shit, maybe solve a dopey puzzle or two, and then wrap it the fuck up. These games can be fun, but ultimately they’re little than more quick, shallow time-wasters for when you need something to do during downtime at work.
I also appreciate “Visual Novels” on a conceptual level, but have never been able to really get into them. The miniscule level of interaction inherent to these experiences has always kinda turned me off. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book, y’know?
The genius of the Zero Escape franchise is how it takes these two subgenres – both a little too flimsy to stand on their own – and combines them into a full, rich experience. The structure of the game is perfect – just when you’re starting to get a little bored with clicking through narrative segments, you find yourself in a puzzle-heavy escape room. And right when you start feeling eager to get back to the story, it happens.
Zero Time Dilemma is the third game in this series and, in my opinion, the best one yet. I will say that I kinda wish I had replayed the previous games before tackling this one, or at least studied their wikipedia pages or something. Because man is this a convoluted, confusing story. At its most surface level, it’s similar to something like Saw. A deranged murderer kidnaps a bunch of people, places them in an inescapable compound, and forced them to play twisted games for the chance to escape. That sounds simple enough, but eventually the narrative dives deep into the science fiction rabbit holes of time travel, alternate universes, cloning, etc. It also gets pretty deep into themes of philosophy and game theory. On top of all that – I can’t stress that enough – this story was created by Japanese people. That just adds a whole other level of incomprehensible wackiness.
In spite of all this, I still managed to follow the major story beats of Zero Time Dilemma well enough, but I couldn’t quite remember some of the finer plot and character details that I’d learned in previous games.
I will do my best to sum up the way gameplay works in the narrative segments. Essentially, the story is split up into a bunch of fragments…
…and your goal is to eventually fill in all of them. Many of those fragments represent alternate timelines, based on the choices you make. So, for instance, making certain choices might lead to a sad scene where this dog dies…
…while other choices might lead to a scenario where the dog is the only survivor:
Hooray for Gab!!
Your goal is not to find the “correct” timeline. Since the concept of parallel timelines is not only a gameplay conceit but also an essential part of the plot, your goal is to experience all of the timelines and all of the possible endings. Only then do you get a big-picture view of the story as a whole.
The challenge of the game is figuring out ways to navigate the story that might lead to a previously locked narrative fragment becoming available. It’s an interesting, all-encompassing meta-puzzle, and I had a lot of fun working my way through it. Only once did I become stuck enough that I needed to resort to looking up a guide on the internet – I won’t go into the details, but essentially there was a major step that I thought I’d already done, but I hadn’t done fully. There was an in-game indicator showing that this task was incomplete, but until I looked it up online, there was nothing to indicate what the indicator was indicating. That was really the only point of major frustration in my playthrough.
It’s important for this type of game to have characters who are likable – or at least interesting – because man do you end up spending a lot of time with these fuckers. Thankfully, I really enjoyed most of the characters in Zero Time Dilemma, especially Q, a mysterious little boy wearing a mask that makes him look like a Funko figurine of Jack Skellington.
My only complaint in this department is, why the hell does the character Mira have to look like this:
Come on, Japan. I know you guys love shit like this, but it would have been nice to be able to play this game on the subway without feeling like some sort of depraved pervert. The way I shielded my 3DS from public view whenever Mira showed up, I might as well have been watching bondage porn or something.
Anyway, during the course of all this nonsense, you are occasionally thrown into puzzle-based room escape sequences, and these are simply wonderful.
Honestly, I think these might be the best puzzle rooms that I’ve ever played through. The settings are really fascinating and fun to explore, the solutions are all relatively logical and clever, and the level of difficulty is perfect – I got stuck a few times on tricky puzzles, but never for so long that I needed to cheat and look up the solutions. In fact, I didn’t end up cheating one single time – that might be a first! And while some people might take this as a sign that the puzzles are too easy, I thought they were just right.
After about 23 hours of playtime, I finally unlocked all the possible endings.
Finishing this game was immensely satisfying, but also left me feeling cold and empty inside. I immediately wanted to dive into another similar game, but the fact is there are no other games quite like Zero Escape. And since the developer has stated that this will be the last game in the series, the puzzle of my blue balls will sadly remain unsolved indefinitely.
If you’ve never played any of these games, you obviously should, particularly if you’re a fan of point-and-click puzzles or deep interactive narratives. And now you are in a position where you can play all three of them in a row, coming away with a clearer understanding of the full story than I could even dream of. Go do that immediately, and always keep in mind:
Disney Infinity 3.0