Why You Need To Play The Zero Escape Series

On Tuesday, publisher Aksys Games will release Zero Time Dilemma, the third and perhaps final entry in the Zero Escape series. You probably fall into one of two camps: Either you're breathlessly counting down the days until then, or you've never played Zero Escape. If you're in the former group, know this: I beat Zero Time Dilemma last night after several marathon sessions. I'll have a full review up on Kotaku at some point. Short version: It's excellent.

For now, though, I want to talk to those of you who have never played a Zero Escape game before. Really, what are you thinking? If you like stories, or emotional resonance, or video games that explore the form of interactive entertainment to craft intricate, complicated narratives that can only be told through video games, you need to play these things.

The Zero Escape series comprises three games: 999 (DS, iOS, maybe soon Steam); Virtue's Last Reward (3DS, Vita, maybe soon Steam); and the upcoming Zero Time Dilemma (3DS, Vita, soon Steam). All three are text-heavy puzzle games that combine science fiction, horror and escape-the-room scenarios. They have a heavy dash of Saw and a whole lot of gruesome deaths, all of which are affected by the choices you make both big and small. Each game has a bunch of different endings ranging from mawkish to terrifying, and they're all connected, so you'll see most of them before you're finished.

What's special about these games is how they slowly construct intricate narratives and then use those intricacies to subvert your expectations in the best possible way. What's also special is that they feature genuinely interesting characters who evolve and change over the course of the series. What's even more special is that, thanks to some great writing, the Zero Escape games strike a wonderful balance between darkness and comedy, seamlessly transitioning from intense debates over quantum physics to awkward jokes about breasts.

I strongly recommend that you play these games. They're gripping, horrifying, fascinating experiences that have kept me up for more than a few nights over the past half-decade. A quick caveat: Despite what series director (and overall genius) Kotaro Uchikoshi has said about Zero Time Dilemma being designed for newcomers, you will not appreciate the newest Zero Escape nearly as much unless you've played the first two games. Start with 999 — play it blind your first time through, then use this flowchart to get the true ending — and then dig into Virtue's Last Reward, which is way better. Then play Zero Time Dilemma. OK? OK.


Comments

    Checked it out on the iOS store, $8 seemed a bit steep, even with the lovely write-up here that sent me looking for it.

    I'll keep my eye out for it though!

      I wouldn't recommend the iOS version, the escape rooms are great which aren't in that version. Hit up Amazon or a ds emulator.

      I'm going to second @jupiterofthemonkey by saying skip the iOS version. Instead of a game it is more a choose-your-path novel and hence skips completely over the escape-the-room segments to focus on just the story. Now that *could* be okay if there wasn't dialogue during the escape-the-room portions that helps flesh out character backstories and motivations.

    I played through to just past the first choice moment in VLR 4 or 5 years ago and haven't played it since. My biggest problem was that while parts of it were interesting, most of the characters and plot points aren't and tend to be your standard "Strangers trapped in a similar situation" tropes. Maybe it gets more interesting beyond that but every time I think I should start playing it again I get a wave of apathy that makes me play something else instead. I like these types of games but the Zero Escape games themselves just aren't my thing I think.

    Looking for games to practise my Japanese before Persona 5. Is there voice acting with a Japanese option in any of them? Option for Japanese text? I'm sure the upcoming vita version will but yeah. Cheers in advance

      I just checked my copies of the first 2 on the DS and neither had options to change from English to Japanese (and neither have vocal audio).
      The new one that's about to come out DOES have both English & Japanese options.

        Awesome cheers for the response. I was gonna lay these games anyway, just a bonus for the third game

      Virtue's Last Reward is English text with Japanese voice acting only for PAL releases, English/Japanese dual audio for NA. 999 is English text and... beeps.

    Oh man, I didn't even realize it's release was this close. I cannot wait! Now it's just a choice on whether I'll get it on 3DS or PC (I'd get it on 3DS if EU was getting a physical release, but since we're only getting digital... decisions decisions...).

    everyone should play the zero escape series. you can never EVER guess how these games will end. if i say anything more about it, it would spoil the game. everyone play it.

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