In my circle of friends, I am the only one that has not yet played the Zero Escape series. As anyone who has ever been the odd man out like this, you know that this is pretty inconsequential. You will get a systematic recap of the events ad nauseam from every member of your circle of friends who insists that with this telling, you will finally be convinced that your life is incomplete without it. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but if you need someone to write a breakdown of exactly what is going on and why people are excited/upset about it, I’m your man. The Zero Escape series is the exception that proves the rule, as I still have no idea what is going on in this game despite dozens of breakdowns. I actually am writing this while sitting in a room with one of my buddies that has played the game, and this is what I can gather:
In 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, there are 9 people stuck on a ship, and each of them has a bracelet with a number on it. Every character has a pseudonym based on the number on their bracelet, so Ace is 1, Snake is 2, etc. Some of the names don’t make sense, because the cleverness doesn’t carry over from Japanese. They have to go into rooms with numbers on them in groups of 3-5, and all of their numbers have to add up and reduce to the number on the door. So if a room has a “5” on it, then bracelets 1, 6, and 7 can go in, since 1+6+7=14, and 1+4=5. One of them is a killer and set up the whole game, and they are called Zero, who isn’t wearing a bracelet that is numbered 0, but is actually someone in the group with a different bracelet. The game takes multiple playthroughs to beat, since knowledge the player gains in each ending influences what you can choose in subsequent playthroughs. There’s something about the Tiatanic’s sister ship the Gigantic, and an ancient mummy curse. Then it turns out that it’s all about time traveling psychic projections caused by “morphic fields”, and you have to save a past version of someone so that everyone can be saved in the future. The second game, Virtue’s Last Reward is basically the same plot, but backwards.
What I also know is that the game has gotten really stellar reviews. Everyone that plays it swears by it, but not without initial resistance. I bought it for my girlfriend at the time a while back, and after 3 straight days of hearing about how the game made no sense and was totally trash, she suddenly got what was going on in the plot and declared it was one of the most clever games she had ever played. The high barrier for entry and narrative quality has made the series a cult hit, bane of GameStop employees across the USA as they field calls from meta-nerds looking for a copy of the rare titles. Owning an original cartridge grants a kind of legendary status, along the lines of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Ico.
Unfortunately, this also made the title commercially unsuccessful. It’s always sad to see a fan favorite series peter out or have to slum it on Kickstarter to get funding, which was almost the case for the series. In February 2014, series creator Kotaro Uchikoshi stated on twitter that Zero Escape 3 had been shelved due to poor sales (read cancelled). Fans took to the internet, and created the fan group Operation Bluebird to try like so many groups before to stop the plug from being pulled on their beloved franchise. It seems like this time, nerdrage won, and Aksys Games announced that the game was back on track during their Anime Expo 2015 panel. This was an anticipated announcement, as a teaser site that went up back in March featured a countdown timer leading up to their panel.
There’s still very little available on the game, as even the teaser site says nothing about what to expect other than “Coming Summer 2016”. IGN scored an interview with Uchikoshi, where they sussed out a little more information on what to expect. Here’s what he said:
“Your way of thinking, values, virtues will be intensely [shaken] during this game. This game is even more philosophical than the past volumes. Of course it’ll be entertaining too! I intend to answer every mystery left during VLR and the mysteries in ZE3 would be solved as well. This game will not end in a cliffhanger. However please take it as one break…if there are still fans requesting, I can not deny that there will not be new incidents arriving either. As a story [Zero Escape] will definitely end at Volume 3.”
In regards to the series story as a whole, this is what he had to say:
“I wasn’t thinking of doing a continuation during 999. However thanks to fans world wide giving the game a high praise it grew into a series. I am very thankful for this. Especially for Volume 2 and 3, my intentions were them being paired as a set so I really wanted to make Volume 3 happen.
Virtue’s Last Reward ended on a cliffhanger, so failing to complete the series would be Shenmue-riffic. Narrative games build their legions with both excellent storytelling and gut wrenching unanswered questions, so when they die it crushes more dreams than a cosplay star meets fans charity event. If you are a fan of visual novels and somehow haven’t played the series yet, pick it up. If you aren’t and want an interesting narrative experience, check out 999 on the iOS and Virtue’s Last Reward on the 3DS or Vita. I’ll have more news on this as it develops, so keep an eye out, and maybe we’ll even have a title soon!