As a series about time travel and hopping between lots of alternate realities, Zero Escape sure knows how to mess with players’ heads. Its developers, Spike Chunsoft, know a thing or two about that in real life, too. Instead of releasing part one and part two of this superb visual novel series before the third and final installment came to PC in 2016, they went and did it all backwards, releasing Zero Time Dilemma first. Only then did the previous games come out as a double-bill in Zero Escape: The Nonary Games, nine months later.
That’s narrative tomfoolery of the highest order, if you ask me, and it probably means there are several people out there who played them all out-of-order. Which is a shame, as Zero Time Dilemma is all about big story payouts for those who have been following the series from the beginning. And golly is it good.
Some people aren’t very keen on Zero Time Dilemma, chiefly because it was the first Zero Escape game to ditch the flat, 2D art of its forebears for a possibly misguided adventure into 3D character models. Sure, it’s not the prettiest looking game in the world, but I think it’s a silly thing to get hung up on.
After all, the meat of the game (its clever, puzzle-laden escape rooms) are stronger than ever in my book, and that’s what’s most important. Themed around different types of room such as a study, lab, pantry and even a zen-like ‘healing room’, these life-size puzzle boxes are where it shines brightest.
They’re big, meaty logic puzzles that are all about slotting the right pieces together in the correct order, combining items to reveal new clues about other objects in the room until you’ve finally found the key that will get you out of there. Later puzzles even require you to change the entire layout of the room, and it’s immensely satisfying when everything slots into place. A lot of visual novels can be passive experiences, but Zero Time Dilemma gets your brain going as much as your text-tapping mouse finger.