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Video Game Review
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
PlayStation 4

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

AS THE third title in the Zero Escape series developed by Spike Chunsoft and written and directed by Kotaro Uchikoshi, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma leans on familiar strengths: It focuses heavily on puzzles to draw players in and relies on a deep storyline to keep them interested. And, in this regard, it does not disappoint. It could have tread new ground to lure those unfamiliar with the genre or with Uchikoshi’s preferences (as evidenced in, say, the excellent visual novel Ever 17: The Out of Infinity). Instead, it sticks to what its predecessors are best known for, and thereby succeeds in satisfying its target market.

In Zero Time Dilemma, you play as one of three characters in three separate teams, all trapped in a mysterious figure’s deadly game. One must find solutions to his puzzles and escape the many twists and traps he has set up. Failure can result in death; not just of your characters, but their respective teams as well. Through it all, you aim to uncover his plans, figure out his motives, and learn his identity before time runs out.

Needless to say, the concept provides the engine that runs Zero Time Dilemma. The atmosphere overall is tense and uncertain, and helps set the seriousness of the plot. The puzzles, while convoluted and seemingly random, all have a definite solution if properly thought through. Parenthetically, some choices may seem out of the blue and emanate too much from chance and blind luck. What these do, however, is underscore the game’s utter reliance on multiple playthroughs. You get your money’s worth precisely from employing trial and error; desired outcomes become clearer only after sequences and chapters are played through again and again.

To its credit, Zero Time Dilemma maintains a steady pace, moving forward regardless of what’s happening. That said, it crucifies players who can’t keep up with the plot or have little to no knowledge of the previous titles in the franchise. While familiarity with the earlier games is not mandatory, it definitely helps given Zero Time Dilemma’s constant references to past events. This, combined with the game’s constant need to “Tell and not show,” makes it difficult to wholly grasp the story or its twists and turns the first time around.

Significantly, the interface could use some improvement. The note system, for instance, is clunky and troublesome to use and more of a hassle than anything else; as a result, puzzles seem harder than they should be, requiring gamers to constantly check back on previous information. Then again, the hardware is at least as much at fault as the programming; analog controls and the lack of a stylus make writing and drawing more troublesome than necessary.

Thankfully, getting bad endings is not a problem. The game not only lets players save at any time; it gives them the ability to jump to any decision point they’ve already encountered. This means that redoing choices and unlocking alternate storylines aren’t chores; each successive playthrough becomes easier compared to previous ones.

All told, Zero Time Dilemma provides a fairly enjoyable experience that makes its run time of around 20 hours a relative breeze. It isn’t as good as Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors story-wise, and it certainly plays worse due to control limitations. For a console port, though, it plays smoothly and functions well; those who are partial to the PS4 won’t find it a deal breaker. It isn’t the best version available, but it’s well worth its $40 sticker price.

• A smooth port of Zero Time Dilemma’s Vita version

• Engaging storyline incorporating interesting puzzles

• Multiple endings, with equally compelling branching paths to explore

• Clunky notebook feature that could have benefited from reprogramming

• Extremely confusing plot

• Some endings may feel unsatisfying

Rating: 7/10