The Zero Escape games are a trilogy of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999), Virtue's Last Reward (VLR) and Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD). Since explaining almost anything, even things like character names are spoilers, I'll make a general series review and individual quick reviews to sell it to newcomers.
tl;dr: The Zero Escape series sparked a new interest in the visual novel genre. Especially the first two games, they both make you question the life you currently lead.
Story: Each game has its own story, even ZTD, a direct sequel to VLR. They each offer a unique atmosphere, and while you're trying to figure out what is going on in each game, the approach in trying to solve that is unique to each game. All of the games has a series of unpredictable twists, that are sure to blow your mind.
Music: Composed by Shinji Hosoe, who did music on Street Fighter EX, Tekken, Ridge Racer, the music here is amazing. The music does a good job of capturing the mood in each scene, whether it's frantic, insightful or even solemn.
Voice Acting: I played each game with the English dubs and for the most part, they are all convincing and suit the characters. There are some exceptions but overall, I'm satisfied with the voices. I hear the Japanese dubs are also fantastic. Note that 999 on the Nintendo DS does not have any voice acting in any language.
- Exposition dumps: There are going to be many times where the game comes to a halt for the character to explain something, despite being in a time sensitive situation. You, as a player, are never playing against the clock however.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999)
Memorable cast: Each member is unique from one another, in personality and in problem solving. It's fun seeing how they interact with one another, and how each character is developed throughout the game.
Realism: The setting and references are a lot more grounded and realistic than VLR/ZTD, which dive much more into sci-fi. Many topics of discussions in 999 are things that the general population would likely be familiar with but told with an alternative theory. Environments you'd explore are all familiar by nature, and helps you immerse into the game.
Less is more: While the story is not as elaborate and downright insane as VLR or ZTD, the game is much easier to digest. It also helps that it is a standalone game.
- Changes from the Nintendo DS version: 999 was originally a DS game and obviously, changes had to be made when it was remastered for modern systems. I read up on the DS changes after beating 999, and the DS version is. Although the remaster has a great dub and QoL updates to speed up the following play throughs, the DS version offers the definitive experience.
This is a great starting point for those looking to try out visual novels. The a-ha moments are very clever, along with the puzzles. 9/10
PS: I highly recommend playing with this spoiler-free guide. It is too easy to get certain endings earlier than intended: https://old.reddit.com/r/ZeroEscape/comments/3z5uj9/999_spoilerfree_guide_for_newcomers/
Virtue's Last Reward (VLR)
Significantly larger scaled game: While 999 took me roughly 10 hours to beat and ZTD took about 20 hours, VLR took over 40 hours. This is including skipping all the filler. VLR is a very robust game, where you
Puzzles: There are 16 escape rooms like in 999, but these puzzles are all significantly more challenging. Prepare to be tested and bust out your pen and paper (I took 11 pages worth of notes, compared to 1 in 999 and 4 in ZTD). There is a satisfaction that comes from solving a brain stumper on your own.
Bad – Characters/group dynamic: While most characters are fleshed out and interactable for the most part, there are a few characters that you rarely interact or talk with for the entire game. Some characters are clearly more prioritized than others here.
Illogical puzzles at times: The puzzles, while much more challenging (but fair) for the most part, there are a handful of complete BS puzzles that are frustrating to no end. An unrelated example, let's say you had to work with numbers as a starting point, the game would give no indication on whether 0 or 1 is the starting point. You might get lucky and be on the right track, but you can easily be on the wrong track without any real indication. Even setting it to Easy mode (which gives hints) will not help in these odd cases. It might be worth looking up a puzzle guide for these rare instances. You will know when the puzzle is completely BS.
Extra dialogue only in Easy mode: Really? This makes no sense, given that the extra dialogue aren't always puzzle related. There are a lot more fun character interactions that are not shown when you're playing on Hard. The problem is that there are different rewards you get in-game depending on the difficulty. As well, you are cheating yourself out of a good experience, as some hints downright tell you the solution.
VLR gives you A LOT of food for thought. While VLR is the bigger game and presents the bigger thought provoking questions, I think it reached too high, and got too bloated and convoluted at times. There is A LOT going on here for you to keep track of, but for the most part, it does pay off on all ends. 8/10
Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD)
Fragment system: Previous games follow a flowchart, that you play through. ZTD however, lets you play majority of the scenarios out of order. This can lead to many cases of the characters referencing a situation that you have not seen yet. Due to this, there is no buildup to the story. There's a reason for it, and it eventually all clicks, but it took 15 hours to get there, which is way too long for the payoff. It was hard to understand the importance of anything, like reading a book, but reading the chapters out of order. As well, while the puzzles make use of a lot of clever mechanics, the mechanics do not integrate into the rest of the game, unlike 999 and VLR.
Puzzles: Puzzles are significantly easier in general compared to VLR and there are only 13 this time. Unlike 999 and VLR, where the puzzles required some calculations, a lot of puzzles here are like I Spy with the items and memorizing a pattern that you see in another screen without any further interpretation. There are a few clever puzzles but it is overall a step down from past games.
Graphics/animations: Holy crap, it is awful. Characters move very awkwardly, like a Resident Evil 1 character, numerous clipping issues and extremely low res textures. The lipsync is off the mark too, with many scenes where the character's mouths are moving in a silent scene, and others where the mouths are zipped up during a monologue. This would not be as big of an issue, if the game didn't move towards a cinematic approach, which highlights these issues even more than ever in the series.
Characters/group dynamic: Whereas previous games allowed you to solve puzzle rooms with various members, less so in VLR, in ZTD, you are locked in with the same group each time. While it doesn't affect gameplay, it does restrict the character dynamics with other characters.
Significant characterization changes: For some reason, they felt the need to drastically change all of the personalities of returning characters. Someone that would be jovial and optimistic would now be a selfish moron or a genius would now be a complete idiot. It seems very unnecessary and kills any buildup the other games have set.
As ZTD is a direct sequel to VLR, it is clearly meant for die hard fans wanting a conclusion to the trilogy. It's easy to criticize the shortcomings of ZTD, but this game was actually cancelled due to poor sales in Japan, but overseas fan support revived development with a significantly tight budget and deadline. Ultimately, it shows, in the lack of polish. However, the story, where it matters the most, is still great. Given their budget issues, the franchise seems to be a prime candidate to have a Kickstarted sequel. 6/10
The first 2 games are available as a bundle and typically go on sale for around $10. That is a steal! I highly recommend anyone that likes choose your own adventure books and puzzles to give this series a try. Although ZTD is a direct sequel to VLR and is universally considered the worst in the series, VLR has way more than enough story to stand on its own legs. ZTD isn't a horrible game on its own but when compared to two great games, it is very disappointing. Regardless, I think the first two games are a must play and is a game that will be in your head, long after you've beaten it.
- Just finished Yakuza 0 and it’s now one of my favorite games.
- Good games I’ve tried in 2020 that you should give them a shot
- This week I played Beyond Good and Evil and The Last of Us.
More about Gaming NewsPost: "Zero Escape Trilogy (PC) – Great Thought Provoking Series with Mindblowing Twists after Twists (no spoilers)" specifically for the game Gaming News. Other useful information about this game:
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