Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PC, PS4, and PS Vita
Release Date: March 24, 2017
ESRB: M for Mature
Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game
To think that not too long ago it was nearly unconscionable to believe that the visual novel adventure game series Zero Escape would reach its third game conclusion. Nowadays, it just pops in one's brain as a matter of fact. Still, with each game's naming subtitle being harder to discern than the last it can be difficult to know where to start if one has so much as a passing interest in the Zero Escape series and was not already an established fan.
Fortunately, Spike Chunsoft has read everyone's mind and got you covered. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a collection of the first two games of the Zero Escape trilogy: Featuring Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (usually abbreviated as 999) and its direct sequel Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Both well known for their engaging, thought-provoking storytelling and copious amounts of puzzles to solve. Two beloved games: one retail package. Though, it is unfortunate that it does not also include last year's final release in the trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma, but I suppose as someone from that title would say: "Life is simply unfair" in that regard.
What is totally fair is just how much of an overhaul that the first title in the series, 999, received specifically for The Nonary Games collection. I am pleased to report that those curious about the first release in the Zero Escape series will find no better place to play it than in the The Nonary Games collection. While 999's revised script does have a penchant towards more profanity it generally reads more naturally than that of the original release and the newly added, and great overall, English dub that only heightens the most of the storytelling.
More importantly than either of those are the fairly huge quality of life changes: primarily being the narrative flowchart (formally only available in Virtue's Last Reward and on). The flowchart alone nearly entirely removes the monotony of trying to obtain the narrative's many branching endings and I can not stress at how it saved me from losing nearly eight hours of progress because I attempted to get the true ending a little too early and led myself to a bad ending on accident. Then there are more minor touches like making the game entirely playable via button controls, which honestly are more responsive than either of its sequels and I am surprised I did not find myself compelled to use a capacitive stylus by the end of it.
The only real disappointment, when compared to the original Nintendo DS version, is that an iconic final puzzle sequence that cleverly utilized both screens of that system is not quite as well realized in The Nonary Games release. While they find a very smart way to convey the same storytelling themes, even without the use of dual screens, they unfortunately changed the entire final puzzle itself and it comes off as less satisfying because of it.
The second half of the collection, that being Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, I have far less to say about. Don't get me wrong: Virtue's Last Reward is an brilliant title with its crafty puzzles to its fairly nuanced storytelling that range from occult to metaphysical themes. There was absolutely a reason fans begged so hard for a follow-up to it during years to come. But-- it is also the same exact game in The Nonary Games collection with virtually no changes on the Vita hardware specifically, for better or worse.
Plus, I don't want to retread familiar ground that a former GP review more than faithfully covered many years back (except that I may disagree about it being best on 3DS. That save-corrupting bug never went away on that system. Play Virtue's Last Reward just about anywhere else now that this collection is out...).
The Nonary Games provides an excellent excuse to play what are not only the first entries in "Zero Escape", but are also arguably the best titles in the series as well. Yet, The Nonary Games it has two key caveats. The first caveat being that the collection completely omits the third and final release in the collection, making it feel hardly complete. The other caveat is that the only game to truly see any refinements is the first title in the series by the name of 999, and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward remains entirely unchanged. It is a perfect stepping stone into the beloved Zero Escape series, though it bizarrely lacks the final piece to safely journey through it to its conclusion.
+ The two best games in the Zero Escape series in one convenient collection
+ Easily the most intuitive way to play 999 to date with wonderful design changes to alleviate much of its former gameplay tedium
+ Gripping storytelling in both with plenty of very thought provoking moments
+ Great English dub in both games
+ Solid puzzles
- A certain key scene at the end of 999 is not depicted quite as well as the original Nintendo DS version
- Virtue's Last Reward controls are finicky if you aren't playing with a capacitive stylus
- Some puzzle rooms can feel like a pixel hunt to progress at times
- Does not include the final game in the trilogy: Zero Time Dilemma
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Providing a wonderful start towards the "Zero Escape" series, The Nonary Games prides itself on offering the best, and most convenient, way to the first two releases within it. It is just a shame that the last year's title: Zero Time Dilemma, and also final game within the trilogy, is not included in this collection to top it all off.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.