For players not familiar with the Zero Escape series of Visual Novels, Zero Time Dilemma has been a long time in the making. Although both of the previous titles in the series, 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue's Last Reward, did well overseas, the series had troubled sales in Japan. As a result, the 3rd title in the series, the one that would tie all of the remaining plot points together and conclude the story, was confirmed to have been put on hold in 2014. After much fan outcry, "Zero Escape 3" was finally formally announced last year at AnimeExpo 2015.
Much like the other Zero Escape games, Zero Time Dilemma is a mixture of a Visual Novel and a Puzzle game. Players proceed through both story and puzzle sections of the game, making choices and finding secrets to help them progress through the story. Zero Time Dilemma changes thing up this time by swapping out the "Novel" portions of the game with something closer to the "cinematic" storytelling that companies like Telltale Games are more commonly known for. In addition, the title takes the ability to instantly revisit any portion of the story from Virtue's Last Reward and expands upon it with the "Fragments" system. With each choice that you make, more possibilities open up for the story to unfold. Players can then choose to play through any of these individual fragments, making even more choices and even more possibilities, and potentially opening up new fragments to play through. At any time players can check where each scene sits on the global flow chart and can warp to it once already viewed, regardless of which fragment it's part of.
One other thing unique to Zero Time Dilemma is the fact that the nine participants in the game are each divided into thre groups: C-Team, D-Team, and Q-Team. Each of these teams are named after the first initial of each teams "leader." Because of the addition of 3 separate teams, players can find themselves in control of three separate characters throughout the story. Choices you make with one team can and will affect choices that you'll be able to make with other teams; naturally, in order to unlock certain fragments, you're going to have to make specific choices for each of the three teams.
All in all, there are seven "good" endings and an unknown number of "bad" ones. I haven't had the chance to complete every ending yet, but it's fairly clear just how many of the good endings there are by looking at the save screen. The fragment system is really powerful, and, without spoiling anything, there are plenty of choices where, if you have certain knowledge, you can find some VERY interesting results in the story. It goes without saying that players should absolutely play the previous titles in the franchise first before even thinking of touching this one. Zero Time Dilemma includes characters from both 999 and Virtue's Last Reward and does not hesitate to talk about certain revelations from those games as if the player has already experienced them.
Puzzle rooms are more or less the same from the previous titles; if you've ever played an "escape the room" flash game on Newgrounds, you know what to expect. You search a room for various items, combine them or use them in the environment, solve various puzzles to unlock new items, all until you find a way to get out of whatever situation that you're stuck in. Some puzzles might require you to write something down or make some calculations; as a result, the game supplies you with the option to write memos down on the screen. The puzzles I've played thus far in the game feel similar in difficulty to the puzzles I cleared in the other two titles. Whether or not the puzzles will get harder the closer I get to the true ending remains to be seen.
Zero Time Dilemma looks to be closing out the series strong. Although the new story sequences are hit or miss when it comes to their animations, the ability to actually see what was otherwise described in the previous two games helps the title stand out from its predecessors. Although the title is developed by a Japanese studio, it's worth noting that the game is very much targeting a western audience. The English voice acting is top notch, and the character's lip-sync was even modeled after the English vocal lines. The Japanese vocal track is also included for players that prefer to use it, but I'd argue that the English audio is the way that the game was meant to be played. That shouldn't be a surprise to fans of the series, since perhaps the only reason that this title got greenlit in the first place was because of western sales. In fact, the title even releases in western territories before Japan.
Zero Time Dilemma releases in the West on June 28th for both PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, with a Worldwide PC Steam release on June 30th. Look forward to our full review, reviewed using a Nintendo 3DS copy, coming soon.
This preview was produced using a Vita review copy of the title provided by the Publisher. All screenshots in this article were sourced from the title's Steam page in an effort to avoid spoilers.