What is Zero Escape: The Nonary Games?
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a collection of the first two games in the Zero Escape trilogy: the "visual novels" 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Somewhat like a gaming equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure book, each game tells the story of nine people who've been locked up in a facility, and are forced to play a game of life or death in order to escape. Mixing a twisting, turning, and branching story with plenty of brain-bending puzzles, Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is one for those who prefer their games to be slower paced, with a focus on story-telling rather than quick-fire reactions.
How do you play Zero Escape: The Nonary Games?
Both 999 and Virtue's Last Reward play out in a very similar way, with each being split into two distinct sections - the 'Novel' sections, which are essentially character driven story segments you'll read through, and the 'Escape' portions, where you'll focus on solving escape-room style puzzles instead. In the Escape sections, you'll be asked to find your way out of a locked room by making clever use of your surroundings - usually by picking up useful objects, combining them in creative ways, and solving a few riddles along the way. For example, you may find yourself mixing cocktails as per a bartender's vague note, smashing a lump of dry ice with a chicken leg to create a bomb to blow open a frozen door, or cracking a code using hexadecimal patterns - in all, there's some proper head-scratchers that wouldn't be out of place in a Professor Layton puzzle game.
Depending on the rooms you choose to take on in 999 - or whether you choose to ally or betray your comrades in Virtue's Last Reward - each game's story will branch, with many different endings you can experience. In order to see the full 'true' ending to each game, you'll need to have seen every other 'bad' ending first, taking a different path through the game each time. A convenient in-game flowchart can be brought up at any time, letting you see exactly where the story splits, and even letting you jump back to key sections so you can easily take different paths.
How easy is Zero Escape: The Nonary Games to pick up and play?
With an emphasis on puzzle solving and mind teasers, Zero Escape offers a pretty hefty challenge. For starters, a lot of the puzzles themselves rely on a lot of background knowledge - and while the characters will often drop hints into their conversations, or even explicitly explain concepts, it's always up to you to figure out how to apply it to your situations, whether it's realising that a closed container of dry ice would be explosive, working your way through a riddle, or learning how to apply hexadecimal to crack a code. Many puzzles can at least initially be quite obscure, and will require you to approach them with a very specific kind of logic.
On Virtue's Last Reward, though, you can set the puzzle difficulty to suit, letting you tailor your challenge. If you turn the puzzles down to easy, the characters will give you increasingly helpful clues when you examine certain things, like "Imagine it has some hands on it. Then would it look like a clock?". Examining it again, they'll add "what about those needles you found", slowly giving you more revealing prompts. While you can turn the difficulty down at any point during Virtue's Last Reward, you can't turn it up again until you've escaped the room. It's also worth noting 999 doesn't have an adjustable difficulty.
As a visual novel, there is a copious amount of text to read through here, and while the dialogue between characters is now fully voiced, many of the main characters' thoughts and observations, as well as any puzzle clues during escape sequences, are not, requiring a very confident reader. Likewise, many of the references throughout the story, which include evolutionary biology, urban legends and thought experiments may be tricky for younger players to be able to get their head around.
- "With a crack Junpei's head connected with something metal. He rolled over and threw out his hand to steady himself, but he found himself groping at empty air."
- "Three customers came in today; a couple and their son. The father sat in the center, with the mother on the left and the son on the right. When I came to take their order, they said the following"
- "You could have said "Actually, we're stuck in a booby-trapped elevator in the bowels of a top-secret government facility where they conduct grotesque human experiments.""
With a dark, somewhat sadistic tone, both 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward can be a bit grisly at times. While both are pretty low on actual visible acts of violence, preferring to tell the story through mostly still frames, there are plenty of shots of characters with blood stains emanating from a stab wound on their chest, characters being attacked with an axe, or walls splattered with the exploded bloody remains of a character, accompanied by some fairly grisly descriptions ("organs strewn across the floor like the blossoming of a grotesque flower", "most of his abdomen had been emptied, either by the explosion, or by gravity" and "he had landed on his back, and stark white ribs jutted up out of his chest, like the legs of some sort of macabre crab").
Some of the dialogue also alludes to sexual material: "not like I'm hoping to get my face sandwiched between a girl's bare thighs", "just leave me and Luna out of your sick fantasies, you creep" and "can you like… kind of slide it down into your cleavage...". One scene in a lift is especially heavy with innuendo, thanks to a slight misunderstanding between both parties, as one talks about her fear of drowning if they enter a lift, while the other thinks they're discussing having sex - "I might… get wet… Down there… I'd get soaking wet...", "If you get the chance, you've just gotta go for it. That's what a man's supposed to do, I guess." and "So I don't think I'll be able to last very long, and then it'll be… over...".
Bad language is also fairly frequent, and runs the gamut from f*ck, sh*t and p*ss to b*tch, b*stard and ass - basically, everything going.