Which Zero Escape Game Is Best?

I’ve been a fan of the Ace Attorney and Danganronpa series for the longest time, and one of the other visual novel franchises that kept popping up in my recommended was “Zero Escape”. After playing all three, I can finally see why.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily hold them alongside the best games of either Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, all three of the Zero Escape games are fun in their own unique way. If nothing else, they never failed to blow my mind with their bombastic twists!

I’ll be power ranking all of the entries in the series – pitting them all against each other in various categories, giving a score out of ten for each. Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, there will be major SPOILERS ahead for every game!

In case you need a reminder, the three Zero Escape games are:

  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999)
  • Virtue’s Last Reward (VLR)
  • Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD)

And here are a few of my related blog posts:

Plot

This category is simple enough – I’m looking at the plots and storylines themselves, and how much they resonated with me.

Best – VLR [9]

At first Virtue’s Last Reward seemed to go down a similar route to 999 (a bunch of zany characters trapped in a killing game), and while I wouldn’t have minded this, it quickly expanded to new heights.

The sheer number of plot developments and twists is staggering, and the AB game made every character interaction and timeline more intense than the first entry in the series.

Runner-Up – 999 [8]

I could immediately get behind 999’s plot – a group of characters are trapped on a Titanic-like steamship, and are forced to play a deadly game to escape. As premises go, that’s pretty solid.

Uchikoshi’s writing makes it even better than it could have been, and the use of Maths within the plot was nothing short of genius.

Worst – ZTD [6]

Zero Time Dilemma certainly had its moments – the mid-point of the story may just be the peak of the series – but it doesn’t quite work out by the end.

You can tell the writers are trying waaay too hard to tie up every loose end, and the plot suffers massively as a result. Was “It was alien technology!” really the right route to go down, Uchikoshi?

Puzzles

Other than the visual novel parts, the other defining aspect of the Zero Escape games are the escape rooms. I was looking for challenging – but fair – puzzles that wowed me with their complexity.

Best – ZTD [9]

For the most part, Zero Time Dilemma’s “updated” 3D graphics were a complete disaster. The only exception to this was the new, intricate puzzles.

The escape rooms are a proper challenge, and they utilise the life-or-death intensity to perfection. I only wish there was more of this and less of character models awkwardly interacting!

Runner-Up – VLR [9]

The transition from a 2D to 3D visual novel was a little odd at first, but Virtue’s Last Reward quickly won me over with its impressive array of escape rooms.

Just like with ZTD, having the 3D space to investigate and interact with made the puzzles so much better.

“Worst” – 999 [8]

999’s escape rooms suffer from the better sequels. They’re still pretty great on the whole, but they felt limited in the 2D medium.

As visual novel puzzles go, these are still some of the best you can play. Well done Zero Escape for making solid puzzles across the board!

Timelines

One of the things that made me fall in love with this series was the abundance of alternate timelines and history-hopping. The more creative the timelines, the higher my score will be.

Best – VLR [10]

999 gave me a teaser of what multiple timelines in a plot could accomplish, but Virtue’s Last Reward blew my expectations out of the water.

The insanely huge tree of timelines was daunting at first, but they each felt satisfying and climactic. Whereas a lot of 999’s endings were a bit samey, VLR’s felt totally unique and earned.

Runner-Up – ZTD [8]

I like how the developers segmented the timelines to make it easier to navigate than VLR, but I couldn’t help but feel that Zero Time Dilemma was undercooked compared to its predecessor.

There are less endings than before, and a lot of the time you’ll jump to a new timeline before reaching the end. Not quite as all-encompassing as I’d hoped, but still a great use of the medium.

Worst – 999 [7]

“The Nonary Games” had been on my radar after playing “AI: The Somnium Files”, and once I found out that 999 also had multiple timelines I knew I had to give it a go.

Whilst the few timelines we did get were pretty fun, there’s not many of them and they’re extremely annoying to reach. I can’t believe in the original DS version you had to replay the game over and over again to get the true ending! That’s sadistic!

Characters

Considering how much time we spent with the characters, it was crucial for them to be in-depth and memorable. Some games did this better than others.

Best – VLR [8]

I’m sure I’ll do a comprehensive character ranking one day, but for now I’ll just say that Virtue’s Last Reward’s cast of characters was the only cast I connected with.

Dio, K, Tenmyouji, Luna and Phi were all some of my favourite characters in the series, and their voice acting was top-notch. Others (namely Quark, Clover and Alice) weren’t my favourites, but they were still fun to interact with.

Runner-Up – 999 [7]

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t really vibe with a lot of 999’s cast.

Ace, Seven and Snake were my stand-outs, and Junpei was a good protagonist, but a lot of the other supporting cast felt a little too cliché for my liking. Not bad at all, but I’ve seen better.

Worst – ZTD [5]

Zero Time Dilemma, on the other hand, had a cast of characters that consistently made me groan.

D-Team were the highlights, C-Team was okay, but Q-Team were so unbearable that I wanted to rip my hair out.

The developers really didn’t help themselves – splitting the party into three groups diluted things, and the stiff character models made it hard for me to relate to anybody.

Ending

This category is looking at how the true ending (usually with a major twist) affected me, and how much sense it made.

Best – 999 [7]

I’ll be brutally honest – none of the twist endings really wowed me. They were needlessly complicated, and a lot of the time I felt as if I’d been cheated by the writers.

The best ending of the trilogy is easily the first’s – having June be the Schrodinger’s Cat of the game was a great little twist, and a lot of things started to fall into place as a result.

Apparently, this twist worked a lot better on the original DS version, as it’s revealed that one of your two screens was June all along. Chalk this one down to an ending lost in translation!

Runner-Up – VLR [6]

Virtue’s Last Reward had some of the best twists in the series, and nearly every character got a shocking reveal along the way, but the true ending was one that made me groan.

Old age / robot arm Sigma felt like a cheap shot, and him being this game’s zero was the last straw. It was quite clever in hindsight, but it felt stupid in the moment.

Also, VLR’s ending was the one that answered the least questions – I get that they wanted to hype up the trilogy’s finale, but they could have at least explained a few things here or there!

Worst- ZTD [5]

Conversely to VLR, Zero Time Dilemma answered too many of my questions, and tried to force too many loose ends shut.

Delta is such a problematic character to introduce (in terms of plot holes), and “Q was actually an old man off-screen” is the stupidest stunt this series ever pulled. To make matters worse, the true ending of Carlos pointing the gun and the screen cutting to black is easily the most anti-climatic moment in the trilogy.

Fun

Arguably the most important category of all – despite the flaws I’ve mentioned up until now, how fun were the games to play through?

Best – VLR [9]

The combination of characters, timelines and wacky plot twists made Virtue’s Last Reward my favourite game in the series. I had tons of fun going through each route to get all the endings, and despite its length I was never bored. If only that ending was stronger!

Runner-Up – 999 [8]

999 had the important task of hooking me to the series, and I think it did a good job. The writing and intrigue were at an all-time high, and it was super easy to get immersed in the sadistic world and deadly puzzles.

Worst – ZTD [7]

Despite its flaws, Zero Time Dilemma hooked me just as much as the other games – possibly even more so during its peak. The start and end were a little lacklustre, but otherwise I had a good time.

Final Scores

Best – VLR [51/60]

With an average score of 8.5, Virtue’s Last Reward smoked the competition out of the water. It’s my favourite game in the series, and when I think of “Zero Escape” I’ll think of this.

Runner-Up – 999 [45/60]

With a respectable average of 7.5, 999 remains a solid start to the Zero Escape trilogy. I have my problems with it, but it’s exceptionally well-written and oozes tension and atmosphere.

Worst – ZTD [40/60]

To nobody’s surprise, Zero Time Dilemma comes in last with an average score of 6.7. It isn’t the travesty that some fans make it out to be, but the developers failed to stick the landing.

Aaaand that’s my list! You can check out some of my latest blog posts below:

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