The Zero Escape series is something I’ve been pretty invested in since it was originally released. It’s an amazing combination of puzzle solving and narrative that manages to bring in all kinds of philosophy and mathematical notions and ideas to create something truly unique. And this is coming from someone who’s pretty bad with the whole maths thing. But Zero Escape manages to present it in a way that feels rewarding to solve and gives you all the tools you need, even if it might get a little pretentious at times when the philosophy comes into it.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games from Spike Chunsoft, whom you might remember also made Dangan Ronpa, is a remaster of the first two titles in the Zero Escape series, 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. This allows players to access the original 2 games in a new and exciting way they may not have been able to previously, given the original titles were on DS and 3DS. But not only does it put them in a neat little package, but it gives them a fresh coat of paint that’s exciting enough to bring in old players, like myself.
999 is the first title in the series. You take the role of Junpei, a cat loving student who wakes up to discover himself on a ship full of traps, puzzles and doors. 9 of them! There’s 8 other characters, totaling 9, and you have 9 hours to solve the puzzles or you will die a horrible, gruesome death. The title makes sense now, right?
As Junpei, you get to traverse the ship, pairing up with players in a way to create a ‘digital root’ of 9 to pass through the various doors, leading to puzzles, narrative, and interesting takes on philosophical ideas presented in a way that even someone who knows nothing about these notions can come away having learned something interesting. Though a sense of urgency is very quickly given once all the players of the game realize their lives are very much in danger as the game isn’t afraid to show off a little blood and delightful descriptions of gore.
There are also multiple endings. I didn’t know this when I originally went into the game. I had a vague idea, given that there are different doors and choices, but I thought all my hard work and puzzle solving would land me at a good ending. I thought wrong and was quickly shown this when I hit a bad end at 1am in the morning, leaving me to be pretty dang spooked. The combination of visuals, descriptions and music come together to create a rather haunting reminder that no one is safe, and everything you do has a consequence as you chase down the mysterious villain who locked you and your new friends on the ship, ‘Zero’.
This theme continues in Virtue’s Last Reward, the sequel to 999 in which you play as newcomer Sigma. Again, you discover yourself locked in some kind of facility, with a group of people, all of whom have their own agendas. This game features the teamwork of 999 but with a twist. This game is a little different. At the end of each puzzle solving round, teams are sent into booths to vote on either ‘betraying’ or ‘allying’ with other teams in order to increase or decrease the number on their bracelets.
And, naturally, this comes with very real consequences for the loser. Which means death. There’s a lot of death in these games. Not quite as gruesome as the first title but still enough to send shivers down your spine as the people you thought you could rely on instead choose to betray you. Or you could betray them and watch them chew you out.
Again, the game is full of choices which all have consequences. Even moreso than the first, with there being a lot more paths to go down and endings to discover.
Across both titles, this is made very easy by the implementation of a sort of story tree. This is a very helpful addition that first appeared in Virtue’s Last Reward and has been worked into 999 as part of the rerelase. It essentially lets you pick and choose where you want to play from, making it easy to go back and take another path to achieve another ending. And you will absolutely want to do this, as it’s the only way to discover the truth behind what you’re doing and why you’re in the pickle that you are.
Though that’s just the first of many upgrades. The art of 999 has been reworked to be HD, as well as the music. And, perhaps most excitingly, voice acting has been added to the first title. This is available in both English and Japanese. This is the same with Virtue’s Last Reward as well, which is great for Australian players, as the original release only contained the Japanese voice track. If voice acting isn’t your thing, the option to turn it down has been added, along with volume options for music and sound effects.
A calculator has also been added, which is something that comes in very handy with some of the trickier mathematical puzzles, what with all the digital roots and things usually needing to revolve around the number 9 in some way.
Another huge change comes with the ‘novel’ and ‘adventure’ modes added to 999 in order to replicate the feel of the DS screens. ‘Novel’ mode plays the game like a visual novel, with all the exposition and thoughts you may have otherwise missed, which would have appeared on the bottom screen. ‘Adventure’ mode plays as more of a straightforward game, with the text automatically progressing in real time, which would have appeared on the top screen.
All in all, the additions make for an amazing experience, enhancing the plot twists, the puzzles and the narrative of an amazing series. Absolutely give it a go if you’re the sort of person who loves to learn something new while being a little bit spooked.