Spike Chunsoft is a famed visual novel developer, the creator of a lot of well-known games, particularly the Danganronpa series. Slowly coming to prominence, visual novels as a genre are not as popular in the West, which is a shame because it often allows for unique gameplay and engaging stories. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a perfect example of that; a fantastic collection of two adventures that many people probably wouldn have played. However after spending time with both of them, it’s safe to say that many more should.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a re-release of two games that came out on the DS and the PS Vita respectively. Both are hard to get nowadays so it’s exciting to see a more easily accessible way to play these games, with release on Xbox. Both are visual novel/puzzle affairs that follow victims trapped in a “Saw”-like death trap maze – The Nonary Game.
The first game is 999, which follows Junpei; a college student who gets knocked out and transported to a mysterious ocean liner. It’s here where he meets eight other victims who have all woken up in the same predicament. Each person has a self destructing watch that allows them to enter different doors on the ship, however only certain doors allow access to certain watches. They have to solve puzzles to gain access to more of the cruise ship.
The player will interact with the other victims, making decisions that will affect the outcome of the game. Often there are multiple paths through the ship offering different storylines and interactions.
The thrust of the game however is found in the puzzles in between these moments of decisions. These are escape room-like conundrums where you have to find different items, solve puzzle boxes, and piece together various aspects of the room to find the exit. There are a huge variety of different puzzles, everything from general trivia, to math, to science, to simple logic. These are incredibly engaging and hard enough to make you feel smart without being frustrating. Thankfully, they are wildly fun to solve.
What keeps the puzzles engaging is the deeply and grossing plot that unfolds the further you get. The writing is like a mix of Micheal Crichton and Stephen King; a fact as fiction, urban legend-fueled mystery that will have you genuinely blown away by the conclusions.
The sequel Zero Escape is almost identical in terms of gameplay although you can clearly tell that there was a much bigger budget in place. The visuals are better and so are the controls.
This one has much more of a sci-fi twist and is a little bit more anime than its predecessor. It again follows nine victims trapped inside the Nonary Game, although I won’t go too much into the details of the plot because it’s a direct sequel and may spoil some things. However it builds on the foundations of the first game’s narrative, in surprising and eye-opening ways.
The puzzles are just as good and may be even better than those found in the first. In fact they are much harder generally and this is reflected in the addition of an easy mode; more hints and direct help are offered to players who are having a tough time. There are also many more puzzles in the second game, considering the length is nearly twice as long.
While both games differ in art style, each are good looking in their own ways. In fact the whole presentation is generally deeply immersive and captivating. Particularly the music which I found myself bobbing my head to constantly.
The biggest complaint I can level at Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is that sometimes it goes a little too long without having a puzzle section. Some of the conversations/cutscenes can last nearly an hour long, although thankfully this doesn’t happen all too often.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games collection may not be for everyone; it requires a lot of reading and can sometimes feel like you’re just watching a TV show. However, if you are a fan of puzzlers or just generally excellent interactive narratives, this will be right up your alley. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is like a mix between a Telltale game and an old school point and clicker, taking the best from both of those genres. It’s something very different and worth trying.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is available to download from the Xbox Store