Zero Escape is the kind 0f game that I never would have thought I would like. I don’t enjoy the horror genre, and I make a point of not watching any horror movies. I do read thrillers from time to time, but engaging with media where the point is to make me uncomfortable is not something I care to do. I also dislike science fiction – most sci fi tends to rely heavily on the same conventions, and once I’ve seen one movie about spaceships and aliens, or robots turning on their masters, I feel like I’ve seen them all. So a visual novel game that blends science fiction and psychological horror certainly does not seem like the sort of thing that would end up on my radar. Yet from the first moment I read about 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, I was hooked.
I loved 999 so much that I immediately went to the store and bought Virtue’s Last Reward after finishing it. My friends probably remember this period of my life well – I’d be playing my 3DS when we were all chilling in the lobby and suddenly lament that I’d been axe-murdered by a little girl for the third time in a row. I’d be on the top bunk in my dorm room at 2 in the morning, still playing VLR while my roommate slept below. When I finally got to the end of the second game and hit that cliffhanger ending, I headed straight to the internet to find out when the next title would come.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I read the third game had been canceled.
Okay, so there weren’t tears, but I was seriously disappointed. I had fallen for these games so instantaneously, and then to have the final game in the trilogy yanked out of my grasp so suddenly…the idea of never learning the ending, of never getting to resolve the series, really bothered me. And just when I thought I could learn to live in a world without the third game, it was announced.
If I’d had a blog when I found out about it, I probably would have just typed “skd vjhd fkvnjsdckjnwjdhvkjsndjvbwkjdnckjwndkhcbeejhbvkjsbdjjhcbkqjnkxhbskjdbvkjnrkjvbjdbckjanskjcbksjdbvkjsbdkjvnksdhbvkvjwnkdjcnlkjqnskhcbfjhvbnkjrnckhabskjcnaskcjbwkjhvbjhsbdkcjnaskcjbejwhrbvkshbdkvnjskdjcbnwkjnskcjqnskcbwkjdnvkhwbdikvnwodnckjnsdkcjbwdkvbik” for like 2000 words. Luckily, my excitement has been tempered enough that I can talk about the information that has come out about the game so far in an intelligible manner.
Like the past two games, Zero Time Dilemma will be focused on a Nonary Game. What’s a Nonary Game? Well, it literally means a game centered around the number 9. In the past two titles, it involved a group of 9 participants trapped in a location who had to escape through a door labeled with a 9. This involves solving complex puzzles all while traveling in specific groups, trying to avoid breaking the rules of the game. People die in the Nonary Game, and there’s always more to the situation than meets the eye.
They’ve already confirmed the nine participants in this particular Nonary game. Four are characters from past titles: Junpei and Akane from 999, and Sigma and Phi from VLR. The rest of the cast (as far as we can tell, anyway) are new characters: Carlos, Eric, Mila, Diane, and a mysterious boy named “Q” who is trapped in some kind of helmet that hides his identity. This character could be someone from a previous title, but it’d require a lot of explaining. That’s partly because even though this is the third game in the series, it actually happens BEFORE the events of the second game. Of course, in the world of Zero Escape, a little bit of pseudo science can explain pretty much anything.
The characters have been separated into three groups. Carlos is with Junpei and Akane; Diane is with Sigma and Phi; and Q is with Eric and Mila. Carlos, Diane, and Q are the playable characters in the game, and you switch between them to explore different parts of the facility. Having a cast of playable characters rather than one will be an interesting new element to the game. I’m curious to see how the “teams” aspect of the game will work. In past titles, you’ve been able to swap what characters you were interacting with. In this one, it seems like the same groups will stay together. Does that mean that Junpei will never see Sigma and Phi? Will Q never solve a puzzle with Carlos or have a conversation with Diane? I’m curious to see if the groups connect at some point or if the whole game is going to somehow revolve around their separation.
Now one interesting thing about this title is the narrative trick that’ll guide you through the game. Every 90 minutes, a bracelet worn by the competitors will inject them with a drug that erases their memory of everything that just happened. This means that the characters won’t remember any of the events in the facility. What this means for you as the player is that you’ll actually play events out of order. You might play one section only to unlock the section before it, so you can learn how the characters got into that particular mess in the first place. You won’t know where a segment falls in the timeline until you complete it. The start of the game may chronologically be at the end; there’s no telling until you play. I’m really excited for this mechanic because I look forward to trying to figure out the order of events and of seeing how this twist figures into the overall narrative.
Another compelling mechanic that has been announced about this game is the idea of randomized events. Sometimes, there will be events in the game that have a chance of going one way or another. The example given is a scenario where someone is firing a gun loaded with 3 live rounds and 3 blanks. Will a real bullet or a blank fire from the gun? Turns out, which one happens really is random. In this way, you can replay a situation and actually end up with a different outcome based completely on chance. Not only will your choices affect your progress in the game, but events out of your control will do so as well.
I’m really stoked for this game. Every announcement makes me more and more excited. If you’ve been reading this and you’re thinking “hey, this sounds kind of cool, but I’ve never played Zero Escape,” then I highly encourage you to check out the first two games. According to the developers, steps are being taken to make this game work on its own for folks who are new to the series. But do you really want to go in blind? Do you really want four characters from past titles to be there and not to know what all they’ve been through? Or what they are going to go through? While you might be able to appreciate this game for what it is on its own, I imagine it will be infinitely better to appreciate it for how it fits into the whole story.
If you too are a Zero Escape fan and are excited for the latest entry, be sure to let me know in the comments what feature that has been revealed seems the most exciting to you. In a little over two months, we’ll finally be able to get all the answers. And I imagine we’ll have a lot of fun solving puzzles and getting brutally murdered all along the way.