I’ve done it, adventurers. I have completed Zero Time Dilemma, the final game in the Zero Escape Trilogy. Having now learned all the truths, all the secrets, and seen all the madness, now the time has come for me to share my thoughts not only about Zero Time Dilemma, but about the series as a whole unit.
Here’s some preliminary stuff we need to get out of the way. This is NOT a review. If you want an objective review of this game based on the gameplay and technical specs and all that, click this link right here. Everything to follow are my opinions and theories, not meant to be experienced by someone who has not experienced this trilogy in its entirety. This post is going to be so full of spoilers that it’s a little crazy. They will ruin the game for you and you will not be able to unsee them. If you have not played all three Zero Escape titles to completion, then something in this article will be a spoiler for you. Now if you’re cool with that, great, keep on reading. But if you don’t like to see spoilers, then you need to bookmark this or something and come back when you’ve finished the series for yourself.
This is your last warning. This article is unabashedly, unapologetically full of spoilers.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Just wanted to make sure that was clear.
So where the heck is Kyle?
If you read my review of the game, you will have seen where I mentioned that this game has one major plot-hole. You will also have seen how I said that I believe this plot-hole is open to interpretation, and that the way I look at things it is a non-issue. This…is that plot hole. Kyle Klim, the clone of Sigma that he treated as his own son, is nowhere to be seen.
At the end of Virtue’s Last Reward, in the super secret special ending that you unlock for getting all of the golden folders, Kyle’s body is inhabited by a person whose name is unknown. Akane explains to this person that Sigma cares very deeply about Kyle, and relies on him, and that Sigma would never journey to the past without Kyle at his side. But since Kyle didn’t exist in the past, his consciousness has to occupy someone else’s body. This is the mysterious person that is now talking to Akane. Akane goes on to explain that this person is integral to the success of Sigma’s plan, that they represent an uncontrollable factor that can drastically alter how everything shakes out.
Then comes Zero Time Dilemma. Kyle is nowhere to be seen. Sigma literally does not mention his name. After Akane made SUCH a big deal out of how Sigma needs Kyle to succceed, there’s no sign of Kyle anywhere. What gives, Aksys? How could you make such a clear and terrible oversight? And if you interpret that scene literally, they really did mess up in excluding Kyle from this story. But when I first read those lines, I interpreted them in a specific way. And now that I’ve seen ZTD in full, I think my gut reaction, my original interpretation, was correct all along.
“Kyle” is the player.
Think about it. This segment where Akane talks about Kyle is a secret ending, unlockable only if you go out of your way to solve all of the game’s secondary hidden puzzles without any help or hints to speak of. This scene may very well be something that not everyone who played Virtue’s Last Reward actually saw. It’s special, a prize, and to expect everyone to have found that prize might be a bit presumptuous. So to have that secret ending actually be present in Zero Time Dilemma might be something that throws off those who missed the ending. Now sure, they could have done that, but this is a company that wants to be more inclusive with their games. They added fully cinematic cut scenes specifically to expand their audience. So the folks at Aksys don’t seem like the kind of people who want to leave anybody out. They want to fool you, sure, they want to pull the wool over your eyes until just the right moment in their story, but here’s the thing: they want you to experience that story in full. So making the contents of a secret ending a pivotal part of the game’s story might not go along with the way they do things.
Now let’s look at Akane’s dialogue itself. Specifically, how she says that this mysterious character currently in Kyle’s body is the person who Sigma really needs in order to succeed. This character inexplicably knows information that (s)he should not IF they are really a character in the game. This person also apparently has powers beyond what those characters possess, as they have the ability to jump unhindered to whatever time or place they want to. Akane specifically tells them that they are an uncontrolled variable, that they are crucial to the success of the plan, and that they’ll have to go back to the past if they want to know what really happened.
YOU are the only hope.
YOU have powers and knowledge that the characters do not.
YOU are the one that Sigma needs in order for his plan to succeed.
It makes sense, right? This is a secret ending, a special reward. So use it to talk to the player. Butter them up, tell them how important they are, encourage them to finish the series. If, indeed, this mysterious consciousness that Kyle supposedly switches with really is the player, then there IS no plot hole. Kyle’s not “in the game” because he’s you, playing the game.
I know this interpretation may not be a popular one amongst fans, but I honestly think it is the version that makes the most sense. Particularly since Aksys covered themselves so thoroughly when it came to resolving every other plot point. It seems ludicrous that they would forget to have Kyle in the game…unless this interpretation is correct. They didn’t forget. They just didn’t mean what a lot of us thought they might.
Connections to 999…or lack thereof
I didn’t do a lot of complaining about the story in my review of the game, mainly because I believe that most of my issues with the resolution of the story have more to do with personal opinions, things that don’t necessarily reflect the actual quality of the game. This is a good example of that. There’s nothing inherently WRONG with the fact that ZTD doesn’t really connect back to 999 very deeply. It’s just a problem that I see in a lot of mediums – games, movies, and books. When the first one turns out to be a success, the writer/director/developer/whatever goes on to make more. But the first story was designed to stand alone. So then when they make the second story, they design it to be part of a trilogy, but the connections to the first one are weak at best because the first entry was never intended to have more. So you end up with multiple trilogies where you have a first title that really kind of stands alone, and then second and third titles that go together because the creator decided to do a series.
That seems to be the issue here. It’s pretty clear that 999 was not created with VLR or ZTD on the brain. With Virtue’s Last Reward, it seems possible that characters from the original game such as Santa, Snake, or Ace could still be involved by being members of Free the Soul. We know that Ace knew Brother and was a member of the organization, and we might suspect that either Santa or Snake could be the enigmatic “Brother” – except for the connection to Left, but hey, maybe there’s a mysterious third sibling out of nowhere or something. The point is, because there isn’t a resolution to VLR, it’s up to the final game to decide once and for all if 999 has any lasting, significant connections to the overall narrative.
Turns out the answer they settled on is “nah, let’s not do that.” The only substantial connections between 999 and the other titles is the sort of rivalry between Akane and Ace that ultimately boils over into her rivalry with Free the Soul that connects her to the events of VLR and ZTD. When it comes down to it, 999 is just a cool way to introduce us to Akane, Junpei, and the bare basics of what would eventually become SHIFTing. And maybe that’s a bit unfair on my part – Clover and Alice come from 999 to VLR, after all. It just seems to me that Zero Time Dilemma didn’t add any new links to 999; anything connecting the original game to the series as a whole was already established in Virtue’s Last Reward. Anyway, talking about Junpei and Akane brings me to my next subject…
Can we get a little more closure?
Listen. I have shipped Junpei and Akane together since the moment she fell down the stairs in 999. I feel like a lot of fans did. And the series has danced around it so much. Virtue’s Last Reward made it seem like this very one-sided romance where Junpei spent YEARS trying to find Akane while she pretty much willfully ignored him. And I think there’s something positive to be said there for the fact that she’s a driven woman with goals who puts those goals ahead of her love life (a surprisingly feminist figure in a series where each game has to have a character with cleavage exploding out of incredibly unlikely outfits while the pervy red-blooded male protagonist asks everyone to bend over all the time). But when it comes down to it, by the end of this game those goals are effectively accomplished. World saved. Tragedy averted. Yeah, there’s still a terrorist to stop, but ultimately it’s pretty safe to assume that everything’s gonna be okay from here. Yet in spite of that, we get very little closure about the status of Junpei and Akane’s relationship.
I think a big part of that is the fragmented structure of the game. There’s so much jumping around between timelines and whatnot, and when it comes to story there are bigger fish to fry than their relationship. But I still think it wouldn’t have killed them to give us a little something more between Akane and Junpei at the end. A kiss, at least. I mean yeah, at some point they get engaged, but inevitably they end up dying in the history where that happened. So are they still technically engaged? I don’t know. I guess I’m just frustrated that this game that is supposed to be the END of the series as we know it ended on such an open-ended moment. Where is my Fire Emblem style text-crawl where I found out what happened to all of the characters after the adventure was over? I just want to see Junpei and Akane absolutely, 100% confirmed. It’s what I’ve been waiting for since the moment they locked eyes.
I know at this point it probably seems like I’m complaining. And really, I’m not all that dissatisfied with the ending of the game. But I’m using this article to get EVERYTHING out, good and bad, regardless of how petty or significant it really is in the long run. But don’t worry, I’m almost out of complaints. In fact, we’re about to address my last big one right now:
From SCIENCE fiction to science FICTION
If you read my review, this is another thing you will have seen me mention. This idea that ZTD challenged my suspension of disbelief on a level that the other games did not. Specifically, there are two plot points that really made that happen.
Point A is the transporter created by an alien civilization. Come on, Aksys. Aliens?
Here’s my thing about aliens: they are cliche as hell. Anytime aliens come into something it just makes me sigh. “Great, another thing with aliens.” And I understand that from a purely scientific perspective, the possibility of life beyond our planet is semi-plausible. In the minds of some, it’s more plausible than the pseudoscientific morphogenetic field that makes all the time travel shenanigans in these games possible. But for me, when I see the concept of aliens in sci-fi it is an immediate dismissal and turn-off.
There are two main things that enabled me to endure the whole alien transporter thing, though. Part one is purely mechanical – the puzzles that rose out of the transporter scenario are my favorite puzzles in the game, hands down. I LOVED having to basically decode the number system of an unknown civilization, being given just enough information to determine the values of these numbers by comparing them against each other until you could narrow down the possibilities. It was awesome, and completing that puzzle was such a satisfying experience that by the time it was over I totally forgot I was mad about the “alien” thing.
Part two is that the transporter created the opportunity for my favorite story moments in the game. I loved getting to see Diana and Sigma’s relationship play out. To see them effectively “faxed” to one timeline while they also gave birth to two children in another. The fact that Phi turned out to be Sigma’s daughter this entire time. The fact that Phi’s special trinket from her mother was actually from herself in some kind of crazy ridiculous time loop shenanigan. The transporter made it possible to connect characters in ways that otherwise would be completely impossible, and those connections were incredible moments in the story. As such, I was able to continue suspending my disbelief and stay immersed into the experience.
Point B is something that I feel a large number of Zero Escape fans are angry about: Delta.
Let’s start with Mind Hacking. Morphogenetic field theory being used as a way for espers to travel through time makes sense, in its own crazy way. What the heck is the scientific basis for Mind Hacking? The whole “humans are a form of quantum computer” thing? Really? It’s just not working for me.
Delta doesn’t have the ability to SHIFT. But he says that he learned about SHIFTing by hacking the minds of SHIFTers. Still, that doesn’t explain how he learned about the circumstances of his birth. Whose mind could he have possibly read that knew all of that? He was “faxed” by the transporter more than 100 years before his conception. His sister was immediately “faxed” again to 2008, but he was left in 1904. The only people in the multiverse who would know the circumstances of Delta’s conception and birth would be Sigma and Diana, whose minds he wouldn’t be able to hack for at least 100 years. And this is, of course, assuming that they had SHIFTed from that timeline into their younger forms prior to ever being in the bomb shelter. Yet Delta’s entire scheme with Free the Soul and the bomb shelter and all that nonsense had to have taken time to develop, probably years (since Free the Soul was around when Akane was a child). How in the world did he even learn how he was born? And that he would have to be the one to create those circumstances so he didn’t cease existing? The facts just don’t add up, even when you look at the situation through the lens of the game world. Plus when you add in the fact that someone with this incredible power that he has displayed is more than capable of stopping one guy from triggering a nuclear war…I don’t know. Delta and his “complex motives” were the breaking point when it came to my suspension of disbelief.
While Delta is absolutely without a doubt my least favorite Zero, there was one thing I liked about him. Well, okay, two things if you count the sweet costume.
The snail story
Holy cow, the snail story. At first, I thought what I imagine a lot of people thought. “This is just grandstanding. Ridiculous rhetoric from the mind of a truly twisted soul.” But it turns out that the whole schtick about how one snail killed six billion people isn’t just some speech given by a psychopath to a group of hopeless victims.
This story is the story of their lives.
A woman running sees a fork in the road. One path has a snail on it, so she takes the other one. This puts her in the path of someone who murders her. A male suspect is caught and taken in just before he gets on a taxi. A genius surgeon gets into that taxi. The taxi driver gets into a deadly car crash that results in his death, the death of the surgeon, and the death of the little boy who the surgeon was meant to operate on. The suspect in the murder is executed for his alleged crime, and out of anguish his wife commits suicide.
Those are the basics, but other details in the game help us put the rest of the pieces together. The woman running on the road was killed by the Heart Ripper, who we know to be Mira. This woman was soft and kind, with a heart full of love. She forgave Mira even as the little girl murdered her. This woman, this first victim, was Eric’s mother.
We know Eric lost his mother as a child. We know Eric’s mother was a warm-hearted woman who was always encouraging Eric to smile. We know that Eric’s mother was the kind of woman who would go out of her way to avoid stepping on ants lest she hurt them. Sound like the kind of person who would avoid the path with a snail on it? If she thought she might accidentally harm it? And we know that while Eric was devastatingly plain in almost every aspect, something about him reminded Mira of her first victim and convinced her that he could make her feel the same way that woman did. It’s not a huge leap to assume that the reason Eric reminded Mira of her first is because her first was his mother. The connection is completed when Eric says the exact same final words to her: smiles look better on you.
So Mira kills Eric’s mother. A suspect is caught and taken in. That man is later executed, and his wife commits suicide as a result. We know from the details given in-game that these two people were the parents of Akane and her brother Aoi. This caused them to be ostracized in school, and Junpei, ever the hero, steps in to protect Akane from those who would torment her. This established their childhood connection that would eventually allow their esper abilities to work together in order to save Akane’s life from the incinerator.
Now then. Mira kills Eric’s mother, Akane’s father is apprehended just before he gets into a taxi. Instead, a genius surgeon climbs into the vehicle. The taxi driver and surgeon get into a crash and die, which means the surgeon can’t arrive to save the life of a little boy from a terrible disease. This is where Sean comes in.
Delta (as Zero) tells the story of the real Sean, a brilliant young boy who loved to read and was perpetually in the hospital for a rare and terrible illness. That young boy made a connection with an old man at the hospital, a man who would give Sean books to read in exchange for the stories that Sean told. Now Delta explains that Sean died as the result of a series of coincidences, and that the boy simply accepted his fate rather than raging against the world. A woman avoiding a snail gets murdered so her suspect is pulled away from a taxi that Sean’s doctor climbs in to and loses his life in a car crash…sounds a lot like a series of coincidences to me. I’d say it’s safe to assume that Sean himself was the sixth victim in this story. So now we have Eric, Mira, Sean, Junpei, and Akane all connected to one other courtesy of that snail.
I think it’s pretty safe at this point to assume that Delta was the old man who loved to hear Sean’s stories. I mean, the guy creepily made like a million robots based on Sean’s appearance and personality. This is also the same man who turned his own brother into a religious-zealot-clone army. It’s definitely in-character for Delta to pull this kind of stunt, and honestly I feel like Sean’s death was Delta’s breaking point. He says that he is so fascinated with human decisions, how their choices lead to all these different possibilities. The man watched Sean, an innocent and intelligent young boy with nothing but potential, die as the result of a ridiculous coincidence all started off by a snail. Delta cared for Sean, and to lose him for such a ridiculous reason…I imagine it was too much. I believe that moment was the moment when Delta became Brother, became Zero. When he became the kind of man who would callously destroy the lives of six billion people just to preserve his own existence and to get his jollies.
Naturally, Delta’s involvement ropes in his father, mother, and sister. So now Sigma, Phi, and Diana are all roped in with Sean, Mira, Eric, Akane, and Junpei because of this one snail that ruined Delta’s life and shattered his mind.
The only person left out by this whole mess is Carlos. His dad couldn’t have been the taxi driver, as his parents both died in a fire when he was eighteen. His sister wouldn’t have been in the hospital at that time. I really don’t know where Carlos ties in to the whole thing. Maybe he doesn’t and he’s the one truly random person there. But I doubt Delta does anything at random, so who knows. Carlos is in a way the mainest of the main three playable characters, so it’s interesting to me that out of everybody, he seems to have the least connection to the scenario as a whole. Perhaps it is the fireman’s love and devotion for his beloved sister that led Delta to choose him for the Decision Game. We may never end up knowing.
The fact that in this game, more than either of the others, the characters are connected in such extensive and fascinating ways is what I really loved about this wrap-up. I mean, let’s compare the snail story to Virtue’s Last Reward, where half the cast was present for no other reason than to serve as amplifiers for the two real espers in the game. The fact that even the obnoxious, horrible, and seemingly-irrelevant Eric actually had a significant connection to the story is truly impressive.
I know that was a whole lot of ranting for me to do just now, and most of these thoughts barely qualify as coherent. But this is all my raw, visceral reaction to the story. While I definitely had some issues with the way that everything ended up shaking out, I loved Zero Time Dilemma and I think that overall it was a great end to the series. While not every point was necessarily closed out in a way that I found satisfactory, I still have a huge appreciation for the fact that every question was addressed and every door closed.
Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers. What are your thoughts on the finale of the Zero Escape trilogy? What do you believe to be the best and worst parts of the ending? Are there any questions you still have? Any theories? Please feel welcome to comment or to send me messages/asks on social media, as I will gladly talk about my experience with the series and toss around thoughts and ideas. Thanks so much for reading!