Spike Chunsoft’s fantastic trilogy of the Nonary Games aka Zero Escape have made their way to the PS4. Earlier this year, in March to be exact, Aksys published The Nonary Games for the PS4 that included the cult hit Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) originally released on the Nintendo DS, and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward (VLR), which saw a release on the Vita and the 3DS. 999 remains one of my favorite games on any handheld platform, I went as far as to complete all six endings and found the game as intense as anything else I have ever played at times.
Zero Time Dilemma was first released on the 3DS and Vita last year, and now makes a successful, albeit very basic, port to the PS4, sporting enhanced visuals and practically no other differences. If you picked up The Nonary Games, this is a very logical addition to your collection given that it’s the final piece of the trilogy, although I would have to say it is the weakest one in the series. The first entry remains the best, but seeing some of the characters from that game persist through Virtue’s Last Reward and into Zero Time is pretty special given the hell that they’ve been through.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the idea is that a group of people with seemingly little or no connection to one another are trapped in a facility and have to play a very dark game to escape. In 999, they were trapped aboard a large, slowly-sinking ship, while Zero Time Dilemma has them underground in a large bomb shelter. Each ‘contestant’ in this heinous game wears a bracelet that can be remotely activated to inject a poison into them should the rules of the game be broken or certain conditions be reached. By the rules of the game, not everyone will get out alive, but exactly how many beyond the minimum die is up to the player(s) to figure out. In the case of Zero Time, the group of nine find themselves trapped in the bomb shelter and they are split into three groups of three, with the rule being at least three players must die during the course of the game for the remaining ones to escape.
Where Spike Chunsoft really excels at with this series is in the tension. The situation is tense enough, but having to make life and death decisions at a regular pace and trying to figure out who might betray who is really intriguing. You will get to play the story from many angles, and a large tree-system shows you the paths you’ve taken and available paths. As with the other games in the series there are multiple paths and many endings. The groups have to work together — or not — in order to reach the escape elevator. Players can switch between the different teams, which can get a little confusing due to having to keep your timeline straight, but it offers a really compelling view into the virtual minds of the NPCs. Puzzle design is mostly good, with various object hints and spoken word clues given that you have to piece together to basically go from one room or area to another.
Where Zero Time Dilemma disappointed me some was in its presentation. The mysterious Zero, the character running the ‘game,’ remains a mystery, but I thought he was too out-front early on and some of the intensity went out with that. Granted, it’s the third in the series too, so the originality of it has lost some of its shine as well. The artwork — that slick, cel-shaded look — I think does more of a disservice to the atmosphere than not honestly. I’m not saying the graphics need to be as old school as the original 999 on DS, but the cel-shaded look is a little too shiny or glossy, and, I don’t know, for me it just compromised some of the tension the game works hard to build otherwise.
Generally speaking though, Zero Time Dilemma is a great game and a must-play for those that escaped 999 and VLR. Like many third acts in trilogies across all kinds of media, it’s not as strong as the first or second act, but it’s still solid and I recommend it.