You wake up in a room with two strangers and you all have devices strapped to your wrists equipped with an unknown chemical ready to be injected at the word of a mysterious maniac. Welcome to the Decision Game of Zero Time Dilemma.
If you're a fan of Danganronpa, 999, or Virtue's Last Reward then you'll definitely want to pick this one up. Very much in the same vein as those titles, Zero Time Dilemma has you fighting for survival while trapped in a hidden bunker with a group of strangers. Your ultimate goal is to escape but there's a catch. The only way that your evil captor Zero will give you the passwords to the single exit is by killing six other players in his twisted game. As soon as six of the nine people have died, you will have enough codes to unlock the door and break free. Each group contains three members and the teams are unable to communicate with each other yet they often make decisions that directly impact others.
The characters in Zero Time Dilemma all have their own backgrounds and as you continue to sink hours into the game, you'll uncover more about what got them into the predicament in the first place as well as their relationships with other characters. Some back-stories get really dark and quite creepy such as a mass murderer that cuts the hearts out of strangers in order to physically feel them because they deeply lack an understanding of human emotion and what it means to "touch someone's heart".
The graphics and sound aren't very impressive to say the least. This is a port of a game that was originally released on handheld so this isn't exactly surprising. The art is cartoony which helps offset the overall dark tone while the character animation is rather unnatural and the backgrounds have some detail but are severely lacking for a PlayStation 4 game. The same can be said for the sound. The effects repeat frequently and sound like they were lifted from a free library as they simply don't go with the onscreen action most of the time. The voice acting is fine and doesn't take away from the intense atmosphere; that is, as long as you can get past the stereotypical weird sexual references that are found in almost all Japanese games nowadays.
In Zero Time Dilemma, you are constantly faced with making decisions in order to see just how deep you'll go to escape. Much of the campaign is played in the form of escape rooms. In real life, escape rooms can be a fun hour-long puzzle-solving adventure with friends, hopefully with cookies to greet you when you reach the exit. In Zero Time Dilemma, finding the keys to the exit is a matter of survival. It's not as simple as opening a series of locks, either. Often, you'll be faced with an impossible decision in order to progress.
Do you press the button that opens the door to your room but sprays acid into the other teams' rooms or do you just wait until time runs out and hope that none of the other teams press that button, hopefully saving you all from death? Do you trigger a gun that has three out of six bullets loaded when it's aimed at another member's head, knowing that as soon as the sound of a gun is heard, it opens the door of an active incinerator that another team member is locked in? The decisions can be very difficult to make, especially when the results may be deadly and there's a countdown involved.
Solving the puzzles in the escape rooms is a ton of fun and I must say that if there were a real life Zero Time Dilemma style escape room in my city then I would try it. The level of difficulty is just right and it doesn't get too abstract in order to progress. If you think critically and observe your surroundings in detail, you'll find the next clue. You might also have to improvise such as use a coin to loosen a screw or attach a hose to a broken showerhead to funnel water to a device across the room. Other than putting objects in the right places and combining them, you'll also be solving puzzles akin to a Professor Layton game such as fitting pieces into a small area or searching for piano keys hidden in objects. When you find a written note, it will have just the right amount of information to point you to the next objective without completely spelling it out. This combination of gameplay creates a satisfying puzzle-solving experience.
The biggest unique aspect of Zero Time Dilemma when compared to similar games is its story progression. When you make a decision, you can almost immediately go back and see what would have happened if you chose an alternative route which may open up a new path with more decisions and timelines for you to observe. A huge diagram can be found in the main menu that charts your previous decisions and where they lead. At any point in the campaign, you can exit a given path and switch to another alternate reality.
Your ultimate goal is to unlock all of the seven main endings (excluding the many game overs that can be achieved when you kill your party). In order to get each ending, you'll have to play and replay events, change up your decisions, and sometimes hope for luck to kick in. Just playing through the same section again may mean that the dice you just rolled showed a different number the second time around or the bullet wasn't in the chamber of the gun when you shot it. As a result, chance plays a role almost as much as decision-making. Overall, the replay value and campaign length is substantial if you want to stick around and see the entire plot unfold.
I have to mention one thing that really bugged me a few times in Zero Time Dilemma. In general, the controls are done well and you can interact with items naturally. However, there were a handful of times when it was difficult. For example, moving pieces around to form a shape can be cumbersome when you're trying to rotate parts that overlap each other.
Additionally, you're often faced with an input box that gives you the freedom to enter whatever you want. Usually, the answer should be someone's name but good luck figuring them out before you've memorized how to spell them from reading the captions. They're not listed anywhere in the menus and I spent a long time searching around until I had to look it up on the internet. Instead, it should be a bunch of pictures for you to choose from. Also, would it have killed them to have a menu with a little bio of each character? Now that I mention it, that would have added to the story substantially if it was filled out the more you got to know everyone.
Fans of escape rooms and puzzle-solving games that don't mind a more adult and dark tone will have a lot of fun with Zero Time Dilemma. It may have dated graphics and sound but that shouldn't stop you from playing it through to see all of its endings.
- + Puzzles feature a good level of challenge
- + Unique storyline progression
- + Intense decision-making that has a substantial impact on the story
- - Dated graphics and sound
- - Controls are frustrating on a few occasions
- - Could have used a menu with character bios