Zero Time Dilema (Review)

  
  You can just about get away with playing Zero Time Dilemma without playing any of the other games, I strongly advise you do go and play them, understand the characters and the series’ concepts, as there are strong connections to elements of past games – some of the characters and story ideas won’t be as coherent to a newcomer. With that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Zero Time Dilemma is set a few years in the future on the last day of 2028, where a test lab is situated in an underground bunker of the Nevada desert. Nine people are introduced to us, people who thought they had signed to be part of a scientific logistics test for living in a colony on Mars, but instead, are forced to play the Decision Game, a deadly game of choice hosted by, no, not Ant and Dec, but a person dressed up as a Plague Doctor called Zero (probably just as nightmarish, right?), a name familiar for anyone who has played the previous games. He asks the nine participants one quest, is the flipped coin red or blue? Which leads to the opening of Zero Time Dilemma‘s non-linear story progression.
Amusingly I picked the right choice the first time around and the outcome led me to the game’s first of many endings, then it told me to go back to the scenario to take the choice again, this time picking the other colour and getting the outcome that kick starts the Decision Game. From this point on, the story is split into three perspectives, one for each of the teams, C, D and Q, that are formed when Zero locks them into their own specific zone in the bunker. This style is new to the series, since before it has always been done from the view of the main character, now, you get a personal approach to these groups of characters, getting to see exactly how they cope with the dire situation.
Zero Time Dilemma has an inventive way with the structure of its storytelling – it is done in an open and unfixed method using fragments as key points to jump to. This allows to switch between teams at different parts of the story whenever a fragment comes to an end. On the negative side, this does mean that the story can feel disjointed, as information is coming at you in the “wrong” order, but it eventually all makes sense, and the concept fits with the events that happen after every decision game, where the participants are injected with a memory lost sleeping drug, waking up later without a trace of what has happened. This translates into the player being just as confused as the contestants, but, at least for the player, the game offers a flowchart of all the events and where they fall within the grand scheme of things.
This disjointedness falls into Uchikoshi’s planned plot, and while it seems to be fragmented in regards to delivering a coherent story, Uchikoshi manages to make the pieces fit together, building on Virtues Last Reward‘s story ideas to hit the player when it clicks as it comes to its closure. Virtually all the characters are well written, and while I find one of the returning character’s personality a little out of wack for them, each brings something interesting to the table, slowly revealing that everyone is not as normal as they might seem. As for a closure for the trilogy? There is certainly rewards here that connect a lot dots and relationships between events and characters, newcomers and returnees, across all three games, but the finale, overall, might be the weakest of the three games for me, not that means it is poor, just I was expecting a little bit more for such a long and larger-than-life story arc across three games.
Having the experience unspoiled is how this game should be played, so I’m going to shut up after my last words. My final thought about the story is that it keeps the series’ tradition of exploring probability puzzles and psychological theories. Uchikoshi has a good way of writing this into the game through the use of the puzzle rooms, areas of the game where the narrative is given a break for the gameplay. The rooms this time around are better designed, with only one puzzle causing me a huge problem that I had to go read up on it, as I was completely misinterpreting what the hint was trying to tell me, but in terms of what they are, puzzle rooms remain identical to previous titles with no core changes. 

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