The third game in the Zero Escape trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma, nearly wasn’t made due to poor reception to the second game in Japan. Once news broke that progress on a third game had been suspended, developer Chun Soft and American publisher Aksys Games were flooded with concerned comments and demands to save the remaining title. It was enough to resume development.
Most of the fan response, however, came from American gamers. Given that the genre Zero Escape belongs to is much more Japanese than the typical import (a visual novel/puzzle game), why did the series end up finding its audience here? Polygon asked that question to director Kotaro Uchikoshi. “This is a good opportunity to ask you the same question,” he replied with a grin. “I can’t for the life of me think of why.”
He has a theory, though. “To me, the main elements of the story is like a murder mystery, but also has these really out there science-fiction elements,” he said. “Murder mysteries are huge in Japan, but they’re not really into science fiction.” Hence why it’s so hard to find a good giant-robot anime these days. “Those are two tastes that Western audiences are really into.”
I would also argue that the groundwork for accepting something like the Zero Escape games was laid with Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, which itself felt like a longshot in 2004 (a detective game without any interactive movement, on a handheld). Now we have several Ace Attorney games stretching back a decade, published on several platforms. And it started the same way Zero Escape did — by word of mouth from gamers hungry for something new and different.
Even though this is likely the last game, Uchikoshi would like to expand its audience and he’s made a few adjustments he believes will make the third game more accessible than the first two. One change is the fully-voiced cutscenes, and another is the game’s unique structure of being told in fragments — casual players can complete it a bit at a time, unraveling the mystery at their own pace.
Zero Time Dilemma launches June 28 on the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita; a Steam PC release is planned later in the year.