Zero Time Dilemma (The Story Thus Far)
Operation Bluebird was a success as it managed to bring back a game series that was put on “indefinite hiatus” through fandom awareness campaigns. I gotta hand it to you guys, once again you, my fellow gamers, have proven that we are and will continue to be an economic powerhouse. Now, what is the Zero Escape Series? Why is it that everyone who has played this game has seemingly fallen in love with it? Well, it explores quantum mechanics, metaphysics and probability and most importantly gives grizzly insight into the essence of human nature. If I had to compare it to another game I’d have to say it’s the Dark Souls of visual novels; almost every decision will end in your gory demise. If you are asking yourself why you should bother with a game that you won’t even enjoy I implore you to read on. Flat out the Zero Escape series is one that if you were to ignore you would be missing out on one of THE best plots twists in video game history. It’s right up there with the Metal Gear Franchise in terms of writing, characters, voice acting and nuanced execution. For the curious who have never played these gems that came to inspire real world escape games all over the US and for those looking for a refresher before diving back into this truly deep consequence driven series, here is the story thus far.
BEFORE 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors (999) and Virtue’s Last Reward
On April 15, 1912 the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank into the North Atlantic Ocean many lives were lost in one of the most significant maritime disasters of the 20th century. Of those who survived was a millionaire named Lord Dashiell Gordain who since became obsessed with the ship purchasing anything he could relating to it including a frozen mummy that was on-board and transferring everything aboard its sister ship the Gigantic. Lord Gordain then used the ship to host morbidly competitive games with the players lives on the stakes, lured in with promises to forgive personal debts to participate, while he and his associates would place bets on who would win. The losers would then be sacrificed in the ship's incinerator during occult rituals where Gordain would wear a robe carrying the same symbol used by the unknown and mysterious cult: Free the Soul. Currently not known whether Gordain was actually associated with or merely adopted the symbol for personal reasons. Gordain would eventually die in 1931 but the games continued long after his death for decades until one was eventually won by a man Gentarou Hongou (hereafter to be referred to as Ace).
As the winner to their games Ace convinced the people who held these events that he could devise a better game if they could provide him funding and resources cementing his position and plan as a member of the cult Free the Soul. Ace, since then, reshaped the games into the Nonary Game for his company Cradle Pharmaceutical to test the existence of morphogenetic fields.
Morphogenetic field theory, as proposed by parapsychologist [a pseudoscience] Rupert Sheldrake, is the concept that there is a subconscious network of information that allows a species to spread knowledge and concepts beyond normal means of communication. Things like instinctual behavior, multiple simultaneous discoveries within the sciences, [it’s called serendipity] and the hundredth monkey effect could be attributed to a psychic link they all share. Certain people known as Espers appear to be more sensitive to the field; three types are known to exist in this world. Those who have the ability to pull information more readily from the field as Receivers; Those who can insert information more readily into the field as Transmitters, and those who can transport their consciousness to another location if an available host is present, Jumpers. All three types are later referred to as SHIFTers.
Cradle Pharmaceutical began to conduct ganzfeld experiments on siblings at their hospitals seeking out pairs for a receiver and transmitters. Ace showed more of an interest with the Receivers as he suffered prosopagnosia, a condition in which an individual cannot recognize another's face, and wished to access the field in order to overcome his affliction. Whereas Free the Soul was solely interested in the Transmitters as they would be able to theoretically broadcast a belief into the minds of others, as a form of mind control. Thus enacting the first Nonary Game.
Brother, Free the Soul
Born into a poor family in the 20th century, without ever knowing his father and losing his mother at an early age, an individual known only as Brother happened across the body of Left, his only family and brother, murdered. After a quick and poorly conducted investigation the police ruled the death a suicide. Later discovering that the real killer had paid off the police to cover up the murder Brother then reclused himself to his despair and anger for nine days and nine nights before receiving his “divine mission”. Brother was an especially powerful esper with power “to touch the thoughts of the other people and see into them” or in other words “mind resonance and control”.
Angered by the betrayal of the authorities, the incident further cemented Brother’s misanthropy and distrust of humanity deciding that they (himself and other espers) were a gift from God sent to purify the world of its greed and corruption. At the age of 26 he created a cult known as "Free the Soul and sought to create a new race of truly equal people to replace humanity, a gospel that earned them over a million converts with the core ideas of his doctrine being to separate one's self from worldliness, to destroy greed, and divorce the soul from the body in order to cleanse it. Well into the late 20th century, Brother devoted his resources into the field of human cloning so that he may finally bring the perfect species into fruition. After sequestering a group of scientist he was finally able to create the first ten human clones made from Left’s DNA. These were the first generation of Myrmidons, all named Left in keeping with the ideals of Free the Soul.
The First and Second Nonary Games
With the ganzfeld experiments a success Cradle Pharmaceutical kidnapped 9 pairs of siblings and in November 2018 placed the Receivers on board the Gigantic which was set adrift in the Atlantic Ocean and then had explosives set off so it would begin to sink. The Transmitters were placed in a mirror facility known as Building Q in the Nevada desert, the interior of which is modeled to be identical to the Gigantic. The Transmitters were required to solve puzzles to proceed through locked doors, and send the solutions to the Receivers so they could proceed as well. A mistake was made however and one unnamed set of siblings was placed in Building Q while both Receiver and Transmitter Akane and Aoi Kurashiki (June and Santa) were placed on the Gigantic.
A Japanese detective(known as Seven during the second Nonary Game) snuck on board the Gigantic before it shipped out and was able to successfully interrupt the testing and break the children out before the incinerator puzzle required to finish the game was done. Ace was livid that his experiment had been interrupted and grabbed Akane, who had gone back for a doll given to her by her friend Junpei Tenmyouji, to throw her back in the incinerator room. Terrified and lost without Aoi able to see the puzzle and help, Akane had awakened her powers to it’s full potential.
Akane was able to pull information supplied to the field by espers in all potential futures, effectively living all potential future lives simultaneously, including the one in which she fails to escape. In it she found a future where her friend Junpei would face the same puzzle and his own latent powers would allow him to transmit the answer back in time to her. With this she was able to unlock the incinerator and escape with the other children to safety as the Gigantic sank.
Despite what happened Cradle Pharmaceutical was able to cover up the incident and avoid any legal ramifications: the cops were paid off, the kids were back, and no one wanted to question it. Luckily Akane's powers allowed her to see both Free the Soul's intentions and Cradle's upcoming development of Soporil-B (a revolutionary anaesthetic that has no health issues from overdosing beyond temporary memory loss that was created in part from a mandragora root Ace found while looking for Gordian's now missing frozen mummy from the Gigantic. Aoi and Akane, now free from experiments placed all their money in Cradle’s stock and then used their newfound riches to form Crash Keys, an organization dedicated to opposing Free the Soul.
In November 2027, 9 years to the day after the events of the very first Nonary Game, Crash Keys kidnaps Junpei, Ace; three of Ace's accomplices, one known as the 9th man; a woman known as Lotus and mother to a pair of siblings that were kidnapped for the first game, Seven,and notably another pair of siblings who were forced to play the first Nonary game named Light and Clover Field (Snake and Clover respectively). They are all taken to Building Q which most of them believe to be the repaired ship The Gigantic and forced to participate in a modified recreation of the Nonary Game based on digital roots by Zero, who is then revealed to Akane in a plot to achieve her revenge and damper Free the Soul’s agenda. The second Nonary Game ends with Ace killing his three accomplices and his capture and Junpei learning everything about the morphogenetic field and what Akane went through culminating in him solving the puzzle and sending her the solution she needed in the past. After escaping the group of survivors leaves Building Q without Aoi and Akane as they managed to escape earlier, thus abandoning Junpei. Soon after driving off they encounter a scantily clad dark skinned woman in ornate jewelry crossing the desert that Junpei who bore a striking resemblance to the mummy frozen in ice aboard The Gigantic.
The Mars Mission Test, Radical-6, And The AB Game
The woman in the desert Junpei had recognized was Alice, a French-Egyptian woman who is a member of the secret anti-extremist organization known as the Special Office of Internal Security, who had been tipped off to the events going on at Building Q that they believed were the work of either the cult Free the Soul or their paramilitary wing the Myrmidons. Alice has a personal grudge against Free the Soul as they kidnapped her father since he was a geneticist who was instrumental in filling their ranks with Left clones.
Upon learning of the Nonary Game SOIS was able to link Cradle's actions to Free the Soul and they recruit Clover, Light, and the other 14 victims of the first Nonary Game aside from Aoi and Akane, who had successfully escaped after the second Nonary Game, to use their esper powers to help them take down Free the Soul. The initial attempt resulted in failure. The location that was believed to be headquarters of FTS that they had raided was fake. Clover was soon kidnapped but was quickly recovered by Alice leading her to discover her dead father who apparently left a hint to the location of Free the Soul's real base. Alice and Clover then geared up to raid that base on Christmas but on December 22, 2028 Crash Keys raided the SOIS headquarters, kidnapping Clover and Alice to assist in their own plans.
In the early hours of December 25th, 2028 college student Sigma Klim was kidnapped and found himself stuck in an elevator along with a mysterious unknown woman named Phi. Phi somehow seems to recognize Sigma even though the two have never met before. Soon after a mischievous and sadistic AI appears announcing itself to be Zero III. Zero then announces that they must escape the elevator or they will crash and die. After escaping the first room the pair learn that they and seven others(K, Luna, Quark, Dio, Alice, Clover, and Tenmyouji) have been trapped in an abandoned facility known as Rhizome 9. Not too long after Zero explains all participants will be playing the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition based on the premise of the prisoner’s dilemma to Ally or to Betray in order to escape the facility.
As Sigma progresses he discovers that he has the ability to move backwards and forwards in time in order to live out multiple timelines in an attempt to find a solution in which everyone lives. After this discovery Sigma is still unsure as to why he was chosen to participate. This was because Zero knew the two of them(Sigma and Phi) to be unawakened SHIFTers, and that their older consciousnesses would be swapping into their younger bodies and needed Crash Keys' help to accomplish their goals of stopping the events of December 31st 2028. On that day 9 individuals began a simulation of a manned trip to Mars in the Nevada desert, a simulation that is apparently interfered by Free the Soul and results in the release of a virus known as Radical-6.
This highly contagious airborne pathogen cuts the processing speed of the human brain to a little over 40% (1/%u221A6, hence the name) driving the victim to insanity and then to commit suicide. This creates a pandemic that kills off 6 billion people before a solution for the vast majority of survivors who are not immune is found. On April 13, 2029 the decision to blow up 18 antimatter reactors forcing a nuclear winter to destroy the majority of life on Earth as well as burning up the remaining traces of the disease in the atmosphere was made. Many flee to the Moon where 54 Rhizomes are built as self-sufficient colonies for humanity to survive.
The Man on The Moon Rules The Infinite Time
On January 25, 2074 the young consciousnesses of the just kidnapped Sigma and Phi find themselves in their older bodies at Rhizome-9 knowing none of this. All participants of the Nonary Game are infected with Radical-6 at the start to add to the danger and help awaken their esper powers. Akane was supposed to participate as well, but Free the Soul sent a Left clone named Dio to disrupt the game who kills Akane and takes her place, this too was something Akane accounted for in her plans.
As Sigma and Phi participate in the game they discover more about what happened in the last 45 years and what exactly is going on in this facility. They eventually figure out a way to save Akane from Dio before the game properly starts, resulting in her substituting for Kyle in a number of timelines while Dio attempts other methods of disrupting the game which Sigma and Phi foil as well. Upon winning the Ambidex game Akane reveals every loose end of what happened, how she(Zero I) and Zero Sr.(Future Sigma and creator of Zero III) self engineered the AB Project (AB = Ambidex, After/Before, and Anima/Body) to train Sigma and Phi in the use of their powers so that they could eventually use them to go back and prevent the release of Radical-6. Akane then attacks them, providing Sigma and Phi the stimulus to jump back.
The younger Sigma awakens on April 13, 2029 confused he sees that Akane is there to clarify that the mission she was telling Sigma about would not be immediately after he jumped back but once he completed work on the AB Project so that his past self would be able to train in this timeline when they switch. Akane tells Sigma that Phi was put into cryogenic sleep 2 days earlier and that their future selves have already failed in the timeline they are in now, revealing that Sigma has lost his arms and eye just like his future self had as antimatter reactors go off in the background.
Considering how exceptionally well written the storytelling mechanics are to which I’ve done the series no justice in this recap, along with those fiendishly hard puzzle rooms, as in like punch a baby in rage and frustrations kind of hard; It was huge relief to see the Zero Escape series finally getting a chance to close out its story after nearly being shelved forever. Zero Escape is definitely worth your time as long as you like good stories. Zero Escape doesn’t shy away from a little death, violence and salty language, and it lined some of its gory moments with a layer of dark humor and mystery. It’s so damn awesome at giving you the answers to the game’s mysteries, and then presenting you with even more oddities and questions to keep you playing through the night. Yea, It’s that kind of game.
Zero Escape 3: Zero Time Dilemma released June 28th, 2016 for the 3DS, VITA, and Steam.