Zero Escape: The Nonary Games (Review)

Platform: PlayStation 4

Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, iOS, Microsoft Windows

Genre: Visual novel, Adventure

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Rising Star Games

Released: December 10, 2009

I have recently been down the rabbit hole when it comes to cerebral mystery-solving visual novel games the past couple of months. The latest series to catch my eye was The Nonary Games, a series that takes the escape room style of play and throws it into complete overdrive. Fortunately for me, it was remastered in 2017 with a few extra features like voice recorded dialogue and quality of life improvements thrown in to boot.

A friend had recommended this series a while back and as usual it got filed away in the back of my mind, so I’m glad I had the chance to pick it up in one of the countless PlayStation sales.

The premise sounds simple enough, click on everything you can see, try and figure out how it all connects so you can escape, but what really shines here is the multi-branching story that you find yourself following.

Unlike most games that will allow you to retry or take a step back and try for a better outcome, the very essence of The Nonary Games centres in trying out different things, making a decision you might not normally take, and seeing where it takes you.

Big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

As is the case with many Spike Chunsoft visual novels there are multiple paths and choices you make through the game and while the first game eases you into this, the second game will have your head turned upside down as you try and piece together what is happening.

Choices and consequences are at the heart of the game, but both games have a pretty unique flow chart that allows you to skip back to previous choices and let you see what would have happened had you made a different choice.

This feels very much like those old Ian Livingstone choose your own adventure books, where you always kept your finger or 2 on the previous pages before you were happy with where your story was going. (I need to dig out my old Lone wolf books now)

Double the action, double the fun!

As mentioned already this is two games in one, and I wanted to note that while they run a concurrent story, you could happily start with the second game and not have needed to play the first to enjoy the story, but I’m a sucker for continuity so in order to get the most out of this you definitely should start with the first game.

That said while the mechanics of the game follow a similar pattern, the styles of both games could not be more different. The first game titled “999, nine hours, nine persons, nine doors” (that title just rolls off the tongue) has a very anime-inspired comic art approach, with real vibrant colours used to portray the different characters and the stunning and varied backdrops. The second game Virtue’s Last Reward on the other hand opts to go in a more modern style with 3D character models and environments.

I have to say that the change in the visual aesthetic was strange at first, but on reflection, I felt this almost added to the mystery of what was happening to this strange cast of bizarre characters.

The only downside to this is there is a 3rd installment of the series called Zero Time Dilemma that I have to go out and buy now as I absolutely have to know how this whole crazy time jumpy (you’ll get that joke if you play the game) scenario ends. Look for that review at some point!

Numbers, doors, and death

The trailer will give you vibes of the Saw movie, and this isn’t too far off. In both games, you as the protagonist are dropped into a location and expected to play some elaborate death game with a random colourful bunch of characters.

The first installment sets a nice tone where you feel like you must work with the other 8 people, but you have a niggling doubt in your mind about them. The second pulls the rug from under you by introducing a betrayal mechanic that instantly puts everyone on edge.

In both games you come to various points where your story diverts and for all your recent Marvel fans out there, yes, we go full-on multiverse here, where your choices send you in various different directions with different people to solve different escape rooms.

This is a cool idea as you usually end up having to solve the escape rooms with 2-3 people and this gives you a chance to interact with them without being overwhelmed with all characters at once.

Time to tax that old grey matter!

The interactive part of the game can really push you to think outside of the box as the puzzles jump from simple to outright insane level difficulty. The second of the series adds a nice element to take the heat off players by dropping the difficulty by having teammates give hints, so don’t worry too much if some of the rooms seem impossible.

The awesome thing you should know is, no choice is ever a wrong one, you may end up dead at the end of one path, but the puzzles you solve may give a clue that you need in a different path in order to progress down that route.

The one thing I cannot stress enough, and I encourage you never to go to the internet for help as well. There are some clues you aren’t meant to know until you have been down other branches, so if you are meant to put in a code and don’t know it, then it nearly always means you have not found it yet.

Butterfly effects and science!

I’m a big fan of time travel stuff and I can talk for hours on movies and games that do it right and do it terribly, I am happy to say that the Nonary Games knocks it out of the park, and the time flow concept used here is really well thought out. Even when I think it has messed up and I can see a glaring inconsistency, something will happen in the story to explain it and I’ll just be left completely dumbstruck at how awesome they pulled the wool over my eyes.

There are moments though where different theories are explored and the scientific basis for them is explained. When I say explained, I mean in detail, this stuff is downright PhD level. Now I consider myself reasonably educated and I get that it helps push the narrative, but when you literally explain the law of relativity to me, I think like most folks it’s gonna go right over my head.

To clarify I’m not just talking about a simplified E=MC2, but the full explanation along with examples and how it relates to the situation in the game. While this seems crazy over detailed at first, it also underlines the importance of your fellow members, showing that they all have their own specific strengths.

Final destination of thoughts

Overall, I was blown away by the characters and the story, I never once felt like any character was minor and each one held an air of mystery that makes you want to delve more into their background. The art styles used in both games while vastly different are so well done and seem to fit each game’s own setting. The escape rooms are brain-teasingly fun and they are always so varied and unique.

I have to admit this is by far one of the best visual novel series I have played, and while I’m aware there are so many more out there, that are considered far better, this has to be a must for any fan of this genre.

Play this game if...

  • You like puzzle games

  • You like the visual novel format

  • You like choose your own adventure novels

  • You like a good detective mystery

All images can be found in the Zero Escape: The Nonary Games press kit and Nonary Games home page

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