For the final game in the series I joined Jacob at the Left Behind Game Club to chat about Zero Time Dilemma. There was so much to talk about for the controversial finale of the trilogy. The differences between this game and its predecessors are very notable and interesting to talk about, for better or worse!
This pod is spoilery of this game and the entire series so be sure to play the games and/or listen to the previous episodes before you listen.
This episode aired on 02/11/2022. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Left Behind Game Club and give them a 5 star rating if you enjoy their content, it helps them out and they definitely deserve it! Have a scroll through their content and I can guarantee there will be some episodes for you. I will link the previous episodes in this series below.
I went into this expecting a visual novel akin to the Zero Escape series, a series that I have covered to completion on my channel. What I found was that the similarities are few and far between, and I think that if this is a visual novel, then it is on the very border of the definition of the genre. That is by no means a complaint. While a lot of the mechanical differences didn’t hit for me, the story (which has to be core of any game that identifies as a visual novel) succeeds in telling a thrilling murder mystery, in a world where the gritty, shocking atmosphere doesn’t get bogged down by the sci fi elements, but is rather enhanced by them.
+ The Story
Something that I think is important to note is that everyone may get a very different experience of the story depending on the choices you make. The game has a flowchart structure where you follow a route to completion, then go back and change your choice to see what happens in different scenarios. By the end, you will have the same information as anyone else, but the journey in which you got there could be vastly different. I personally believe I got all of the endings in an order that was specifically curated for my tastes (anticlockwise around the flowchart for anyone that is curious) and feel very lucky for doing so. Following this route, the story ramped up very far very quickly and I was hooked. The mysteries had me desperate to see what was going to be around the next corner.
Looking back, it must be some good story telling that it had me guessing so many theories. Some were close, some were mildly correct, and some were way off. Allowing you to have this variety of thoughts, and yet the actual answers being satisfying too is a credit to the writers. I think my favourite thing about this developer is the ability to allow your imagination to go wild, misguide you and leave you asking questions right to the end. They did that well in the Zero Escape series and they were successful here too.
+/- The Writing
While I was praising the writing of the story above, the writing of dialogue can go from great, to so annoying that I don’t even know why I am playing. The player character is a man named Date. Don’t get me wrong, Date isn’t the only one guilty of this. But obviously that doesn’t make it any better. It makes it worse, because you don’t only have to endure it from him but others too. I do like his character sometimes but it gets overshadow by how perverted he is. The occasional lewd joke, sure, why not. But every scene has something. Some have multiple, and it is just not funny. It comes across as juvenile to me and makes me grateful that I didn’t stream or record this game. That way, I could just roll my eyes and move on instead of having to take in what was being said.
+/- The Characters
The Characters are such a mixed bag for me. Some of them feel very over the top to be almost caricature-ish. It is impossible to explain why without spoiling the game so I won’t go too deeply into it, but Mizuki and Mayumi were great to me. Iris and Ota not so much.
AI, Eye, Aiba. I had no idea what this game was about when I started. All I knew is that it had a title that made no sense to me. The game very quickly explains the deal with AI and I was into it instantly. I am very attached to my eyes – something happening to them is probably one of my biggest bodily fears – but I do think I would give one up if it meant I could have an AI. Also, her physical form is frickin adorable.
– The Somnium Puzzle Sections
Where the Zero Escape series had novel sections and escape room sections, AI has a little more variety. The bulk of the puzzle sections though are the Somnium puzzles. In these sections you are exploring various dreamscapes, investigating for clues and progress by interacting with objects. So far this sounds like something I would love, but it is completely ruined by the time mechanics. Every Somnium has a 6 minute time limit. Every action you do costs a certain amount of time. Some interactions give you modifiers that you can choose when to use (for example one modifier might make an interaction take exactly 30 seconds, another might make it take an eighth as long as it was going to). If you happen to get a bad modifier then your next action will take double time or more. At first I thought this could be neat. It is something new that I hadn’t seen before. But actually playing it doesn’t work on so many levels. Firstly, if I am in a dreamscape, that is super interesting! I want to be able to explore without consequence. Secondly, it is not intuitive which actions are going to help you progress, sometimes its something completely unexpected. Thirdly, what if I want to try out all of the silly interactions? Well if that’s the case then be prepared have to go through the convoluted retry system or start again from the beginning. If you do need to restart you can fast forward text, but that is no fun to me. In the end I gave each Somnium one try, then as I was running out of time I would pull up a guide because I found replaying so tedius. Finally, these puzzle sections are where the story branches happen. The trouble is that there is no way of knowing what interaction you make is going to take you down what path. Like I stated before, I am very lucky that I got the story in the perfect order for me, but that was literally just luck becasue I had no idea what direction I was taking things. In the Zero Escape series you make blind choices that lead to different paths, but at least in that game you can base your decisions on who you would like to spend more time with. In this one, you don’t even necessarily know you are making a choice till you have commited by interacting with a random object.
+/- The Other Mechanics
As I mentioned before, this game is more interactive than many other visual novels. What would often be a novel section in other games can almost be a point and click section in this one. You can look around your environment, clicking on everything and hearing comments from your own character as well as others around you. I really enjoyed this to start with, but it gets repetitive. I bet by the end most people are no longer clicking on the background objects. The problem is, they do throw in some new lines every now and again, but you never know when. So you either go through the tedium of clicking on every object due to fear of missing out, or you miss out on some character quirks and jokes. This section is also used to ask characters questions which I enjoyed.
There are some other sections too. This game contains action. And with action comes quick time events. These were fine. If anything I think I would have preferred to just watch the action rather than doing the QTEs. I am not sure what happens if you miss them so I can’t comment on that, but if you have to start the section again that would suck, it would ruin the pacing just as much as replaying a somnium does.
Finally, since you are a detective, there are interrogation sections. Unfortunatly there arent much to them, but I did like them none the less. You will be presented with a question and a few clues and you have to pick out the relevant answers. It is simple but it is nice while you are in the process of putting things together. If you choose the wrong one then Aiba will tell you, so there is no failstate.
+/- The Audio
As mixed as I have been with everything else, I am also mixed on this too. I don’t find the soundtrack very memorable. They did reuse some sound effects from the Zero Escape series which took me out of the game a little bit. There are occasions where you have to sit through an extended section of pop music and I was sat there like ‘oh my god, is this still going’. The best part of the audio though is that it is fully voice acted, and I think the majority of the actors did a great job. I enjoy hearing what each character sounds like as it gives them their own personality, more so than if I was just reading all of their lines.
I have tried to be as spoiler free as possible because the less you know the better, but also I believe knowing the caveats in advance can help set expectations and should hopefully improve the experience for anyone reading. Despite all of the problems I had, I still recommend this game if you have the patience, because the mystery was great and I really enjoyed the story. I am curious if any of my problems have been improved upon in the sequel!