Revisiting a visual novel masterpiece.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games on PC
Zero Time Dilemma was the first game in the Zero Escape series to make its PC debut, so it’s no surprise that the first two games would eventually make that platform jump too. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a two-pack consisting of the critically acclaimed 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward.
If you’re new to the series, all you really have to know is that the Nonary Game is a game where you will put your life on the line. In 999, nine participants are trapped on a sinking ship with only nine hours to find a door with a ‘9’ on it in order to escape. Though Virtue’s Last Reward is a sequel to 999, the stories are pretty detached from each other, and that game has nine new participants engaged in a similar game. In both cases, we’re confronted by an evil mastermind named Zero, and a lot of crazy sci-fi things happen.
The important thing to note about Zero Escape is that this is a visual novel series, sprinkled with escape room puzzles. Gameplay sections are broken up into chunks of voiced text and intense puzzles with lovely music playing in the background. These games also feature multiple endings and it’s impossible to reach their true endings during your first run. This means that you’ll need to score at least a couple of bad endings before you finally unlock the true path that leads you to the full story and experience this series has to offer. It’s all worth it, though; I’ve often said that the Zero Escape series tells a wonderfully engaging plot that can only be conveyed through the video game medium. If you’re fine with reading through copious amounts of text and banging your head against the wall while trying to solve some deceptively challenging escape room puzzles, Zero Escape should be right up your alley.
That said, how does The Nonary Games hold up as a port of the first two entries? My experience with Virtue’s Last Reward has remained largely the same as when I first played it on the Vita. The voice acting remains solid, both in English and Japanese, and this game still features some of the toughest puzzles the series has to offer. All in all, it’s a pretty barebones port of Virtue’s Last Reward. However, we all know that this isn’t the highlight of The Nonary Games. The real meat lies in the 999 port, which features voice acting, new reading modes, and a Flowchart function similar to the ones we got in Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma.
The most interesting addition to 999 is the ability to swap between Novel and Adventure mode. Novel mode gives you the same reading experience from the DS release. The cute character sprites and backgrounds fill up your screen, while lines of white text overlay that presentation. You’ll get to read the dialogue lines (now fully voiced in this mode), as well as the more ‘novel’ bits where the game describes Junpei’s thoughts and emotions, the brevity of what’s going on in the story, along with elaborate descriptions of your surroundings. It’s essentially the original DS experience where you feel like you’re reading an actual book in between character dialogue.
Adventure mode removes all of that excess writing and only presents you with voiced lines. This means that you’ll no longer have to read about the grotesque remains of the Ninth Man as he breaks the rules of the Nonary Game at the very start of the story. Instead, everything is presented in more modern visual novel dialogue boxes, similar to the ones we see in Virtue’s Last Reward and other games in the genre like Danganronpa. It’s a pretty thoughtful feature, especially if you just want to quickly get into the important points of the story without having to read the extra information. That said, the game will force you into Novel mode during key points in the story. This was likely done so that you wouldn’t miss vital information that would help you make certain choices in deciding how the story proceeds, or important descriptions that provide you with useful clues about other characters.
I recommend playing in Adventure mode, as that gives you the most essential and condensed 999 experience without much compromise. With the way that the game switches you into Novel mode, this also ensures that you don’t miss any important clues.
The Flowchart feature is another cool addition to 999, and it’s a fantastic way of letting you track your in-game progress, along with how many endings you’ve unlocked. It worked extremely well in Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma by letting you jump to specific events you wanted to replay, and it’s handy in 999 as well. The original DS release was a bit of a chore to play through because of how you had to go through the same bits of dialogue over and over again. Even with a fast-forward function, it’s definitely a pain to have to sit through repeated dialogue (and sometimes puzzles) to get to the new stuff. The Flowchart could potentially spoil the experience by revealing the game’s flow and how many possible outcomes you can get from a decision, especially for newcomers, but it’s not really a problem as long as you don’t look at it until you beat the game once.
999’s shiny new port also comes with full voice acting, which can be a bit hit-or-miss. The English voices sound solid for the most part, but there are quite a few instances where the performances just feel a little too ham-fisted or overacted. I suppose a big part of the problem also comes from having played the original 999 rather extensively, where character ‘voices’ were simply robotic blips and boops. It’s easy to form your own impression of what a character should sound like, and when the new voice acting doesn’t quite jive with your initial impression, the experience can be a little jarring. The Nonary Games does provide dual audio tracks though, so you could always swap to Japanese voices if you’d like. It just seems like a bit of an oversight to not provide the option to turn off voices completely and go back to the robotic blips for players who might prefer that.
The few in-game cutscenes and background animations definitely look a bit dated in 999, and upping the resolution on PC certainly didn’t reduce the roughness of their looks. 999 is an old game, however, so that’s probably to be expected. The character sprites and artwork are all gorgeous and crisp, just don’t go in expecting a full HD remake with redone backgrounds and animations.
Overall, Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a really solid compilation that offers a great visual novel experience on PC (and the PS4 and Vita, for that matter). Even for longtime fans who are familiar with the series, the HD facelift that 999 has received is certainly worth a second look too. 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward aren’t the most graphically impressive games around, but the series still boasts one of the most engaging and well-written stories we’ve seen in video games, and newcomers who didn’t get a chance to play them on the DS or Vita would be remiss to pass it up now.
Score: 4/5 – Great