Game profile Zero Time Dilemma

Posted by Mark at 18:01
Much like James, I've been at the Zero Time Dilemma. And I have many of the same criticisms. (And some spoilers, be warned)

Whether it's due to a lack of budget or a lack of talent, as James pointed out, the developers haven't been able to achieve what they wanted to with the switch to 'proper' cutscenes. Many animations look suspiciously like motion tweens, with one motion clearly finishing before the next one starting, and some creative use of camerawork to disguise a lack of elaborate or fast motion, giving the effect of posed mannequins coming to life, rather than real people- and they also keep making this one facial expression and I can't tell what it's meant to be.

Also, the less said about the voice acting, the better.

It's also meant that writer Kotaro Uchikoshi hasn't been able to use the Visual Novel format as effectively as in the prior two games- concerns about the player using their imagination aside, it's meant that everything has had to be on show, or at least has to be hidden by the plot, which can only draw more attention to things, not less. Without spoiling too much, both the prior games in the series hid story beats from the player behind being a visual novel- in fact, 999's biggest reveal only worked because of its format which was able to hide it in plain sight.

The game's shift into three independent but related stories, coupled with the time/space-jumping shenanigans inherent to the Zero Escape series also reduces the latter half of the game into some quite dull admin as different timelines need to be wrapped up, particularly in the First Come, First Saved plotline, where you have to go through the same thing three times from all three perspectives.

Much like with James' appraisal in his own WWP, despite seemingly exclusively giving the game a bit of a shoeing, I'm definitely enjoying it, although perhaps more as something that completed the series, rather than in its own right.
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Zero Escape
Posted by James at 14:36

I haven't really been playing all that much, admittedly. Since picking up a 64GB PS Vita memory card I've spent far too much time organising downloads for a bunch of previously deleted games, scavenging for old saves (this was less successful) and shifting whatever content I'd managed to back up over the years from a computer back on to memory card.

Among all the micromanagement I did manage to play something - Zero Time Dilemma weighing 1GB meant it was still on my old 16GB memory card, and thus ready to go.'s quite a departure to what came before it, just in ways which don't seem immediately obvious.

It's still a narrative driven experience interspersed with bouts of point and click puzzling, but its differences change how it fundamentally presents its story to the player, right down to each and every scenario. And it's why I shied away from calling it a visual novel in the previous sentence, as I would have done for its predecessors, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue's Last Reward.

Unlike those games' first person narratives, Zero Time Dilemma is presented entirely in third person, with animated cutscenes replacing simple text screens and dialogue-in-textboxes.

This shift in narration is certainly unexpected given the series' visual novel roots. But the problem lies in the execution. 999 only had lines of text and simple sprites to work with, so it practically lived or died solely on the basis of its vivid writing.

Zero Time Dilemma replaces the text narration with animated characters and cutscenes, but it's also clearly been made on a budget. What results is the series' trademark tense and foreboding atmosphere is missing.

Animation appears wooden and stilted, making even something as simple as a talking character appear awkward. It's hard to feel shocked about a character's death when you're presented with a scene of some unconvincing blood (tomato juice?) spilling out beneath them. And the camera angles used - presumably to keep the on-screen graphic violence down to a minimum - don't help the narrative's cause either.

So while Zero Time Dilemma sees a return to 999's horror roots after Virtue's Last Reward diverged from them, it's just less effective at realising its scenarios. No longer is it asking the player to read some prose, listen to some music and picture a gruesome scene with their imagination. Instead it's giving them the whole picture, only it's a flawed one.

In a way the developers were in a catch-22 situation: The game wouldn't have existed without the support of western fans, and the switch in narrative style was likely made to appeal to western tastes. But the lack of budget behind the project has meant the game's original vision hasn't been realised.

While I'm not as engrossed into Zero Time Dilemma as I was 999, or even Virtue's Last Reward, I'm still enjoying it. It's just a shame it isn't as fully formed as its predecessors were - moreso as the game's a love letter to fans - but on the other hand you can't accuse Kotaro Uchikoshi of shying away from trying something new.
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Posted by Mark at 15:27
As someone who's just started the first game in this series- more on that in a future exciting installment of What We're Playing- this has come as timely news.

We've known for a bit that the new game is going to be called Zero Time Dilemma and is coming to 3DS and PlayStation Vita, and today Kotaro tweeted that press can get their first look at the game during an event at or around this year's Game Developers Conference.

Sadly a flight to San Fran in time for this is outside of BitParade's budget, so we'll just have to wait for its release this Summer, which rather disappointingly is digital-only in Europe.
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Posted by Mark at 12:12
Kotaro Uchikoshi- who wrote and directed cult hits 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue's Last Reward has just opened an English-language Twitter account! But it comes with bad news.

Long story is that it's a long way from happening- the games are expensive to make, he claims, and despite Western success the games didn't make money in Japan, so it's been hard for him to get a third title past management.

He's not letting that beat him, however, joking "If there is an great investor who thinks "Virtue is its own reward", I wish him/her to send me a message."- although he's already written off Kickstarter as "not quite persuasive enough".

While 999 never got any further than the US, VLR came out in the UK during 2012 on 3DS and PSVita- and for the next three weeks is discounted to 9.99 on the 3DS eShop.
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