Room 208

Elaborate Burn

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Some notes on the Windows version of ‘Zero Time Dilemma’

  1. As you might imagine, given that the game was primarily developed for the 3DS and Vita, the system requirements listed on Steam are overkill. I mean, 8 GB RAM? A GTX 650 or HD 7700 with 1 GB VRAM at minimum? It was almost playable in a VirtualBox instance that requires software emulation of DirectX 11! I’d guess most any computer released in the past three years, and even some older ones, should be able to run Zero Time Dilemma with few issues. Just turn down the resolution and antialiasing if you run into problems.

  2. Speaking of settings, the game’s launcher is a Node.js app using the Electron framework. Seems like overkill for something that’ll only ever run on Windows, doesn’t it? Hmm.

  3. There are a few UI artifacts indicating the game’s origin as a handheld console port, most visibly the mentions of hardware buttons on the menu screens. Since the 3DS supports stylus input, which translates well to a mouse, the mildly lazy conversion doesn’t hurt gameplay that much. It’s a little irritating to have to use the on-screen keyboard for puzzles that require text input, though.

  4. Much hay has been made of Zero Time Dilemma’s introduction of random elements to the typical visual novel choice system, but I suspect that they’re not in fact all that random. I’d love to hear from anyone who doesn’t get the dice roll in exactly three attempts, for instance. Yeah, when you know what the odds would actually be, they sure feel awfully hopeless, but it’d be pretty stupid for the game to insist on adhering to them.

  5. Did somebody say something about Miyuki Sawashiro? No? Oh. I just thought… well. Another time, maybe. clears throat

  6. Really, the most jarring thing about Zero Time Dilemma, coming from the first two games in the Zero Escape series, is the shift to fully-3D cutscenes. It’s a far more demanding mode of presentation than the models of Virtue’s Last Reward, which animated a small palette of gestures and nothing else, let alone the visual novel–style 2D sprites from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Unfortunately, Zero Time Dilemma’s visuals hint that the budget wasn’t increased to match. This is especially noticeable in the PC version, where the low-resolution textures and plasticky character animations stick out like a sore thumb.

  7. Which is a real shame, because Rui Tomono did a great job with reinterpreting the character designs for this final game in the trilogy. They do lose the more baroque fluorishes of Kinu Nishimura’s work from the first two installments, but that’s in keeping with the generally more subdued mood of Zero Time Dilemma. Gone are the moments of calm that housed comedic bits like Junpei’s cat-related verbal tic. It shows that Koutarou Uchikoshi has learned how to preserve the sense of urgency throughout a story. Contrast this with the interludes of chicken sandwiches and kick-the-can games in Ever17 — though the newfound seriousness can occasionally get rather suffocating.

  8. Between the replacement of visual novel narration with cutscenes and the leaner plot, Zero Time Dilemma cuts a third to a half off the playtime of Virtue’s Last Reward. It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed by how the game pulls back on throwing revelations out of left field, even though it makes sense for the last game in a series like this one — especially this one — to try and wrap up all of the loose ends it’s introduced. Still, the basic framework of an Uchikoshi story hasn’t changed: you get yourself very confused, and in doing so you manage to save the lives of all of the main characters. It doesn’t even merit a spoiler warning at this point, but I’m fine with that. The journey is what counts.

Shows I thought were cool in 2015

It’s been too long, but I don’t really have much to say, so let’s have another list like I did two years ago. Maybe this time with some more words.

In approximate order from best to even better.

See you in 2017! You should watch Erased, because unless it totally squibs its ending, it’s going to be on this list then.

Also, I guess I lied about not having much to say.

And don’t let the door hit you on the way out

After ages of complaining about Tumblr, I finally went and did something about it. This is something I hacked up in a couple of hours using Tumblr’s JSON export and a static site generator. Maybe someday I’ll post the source code.

You know where to complain if something’s broken.

We learned yesterday that voice actress Miyu Matsuki passed away from pneumonia last week at the age of 38. It’s a bit irresponsible to reduce someone with a résumé like hers down to a single role, but for me she left her greatest mark as the youthful, often-indiscreet homeroom teacher Yoshinoya in Hidamari Sketch. I can’t imagine anyone else bringing the character to life with quite the same irrepressible energy that made such an impression over four seasons and a handful of OVAs.

There’s this weird, conflicted feeling I get whenever I hear that a performer whose work I enjoy has suddenly died. Along with the wish that they hadn’t gone so soon is a little voice in the back of my head that tells me how callous it is to want someone to stay alive solely so they can continue to toil for my entertainment. It goes without saying, but that’s the only way I really knew Matsuki, as a disembodied voice on the other side of a television or computer screen. There’s a world of difference between that and the shock and grief of the people who have actually worked with her.

At the same time, I think Matsuki’s work was, like any other form of artistic performance, in part an expression of who she herself was, and it seems fair to wish that she had more time to do that through her voice acting. One should always be wary of reading too far into any similarities between actors and their characters, but I will note that, like Yoshinoya, Matsuki never wed and had more than enough vitality for someone half her age.

Matsuki’s final post to her blog reads, in part, “When I get over this illness, I’ll get married this time for real!” One of the last roles I heard Matsuki in before she died was Chimo, the cheerful proprietor of a local favorite okonomiyaki restaurant in Tamayura. In the most recent of the current ongoing series of OVAs, Chimo announces that she’s getting engaged. Matsuki is no longer with us to see her wedding.

Rest in peace, Ms. Matsuki. You will be missed.

Whoever wins, we lose

Good mystery is all about the why. Through the eyes of our detective, we probe the culprit’s motivations and the environment that shaped them. As the audience, we’re made to understand the compelling logic of the crime, even though we find it reprehensible. It may be a distorted reflection, but we recognize what we see in the mirror the story holds up to our faces.

Ranpo Kitan is all about the why, too, but in a different way, namely, “Why didn’t anyone realize this show was a bad idea?”

The show purports to be a loose adaptation of several works of Edogawa Ranpo, an early twentieth-century Japanese mystery novelist, in a more contemporary setting. This is already treading on thin ice, but it’s not a guaranteed recipe for failure. UN-GO, after all, threw an author from the same time period into an unrecognizable world, but its mildly dystopic war-torn future was constructed well enough to stand up on its own next to Ango Sakaguchi’s inspiration. Unfortunately, Ranpo Kitan brings no such thoughtfulness to the table, electing to instead pile on layer after layer of cartoonish caricature.

Let’s start with the ostensible protagonist, Kobayashi. Now, the first character we meet doesn’t always have to be likable, but they should at least be someone whose perspective we can assume to ease ourselves into the proceedings. Ranpo Kitan, on the other hand, strains to make its version of Kobayashi as obviously unhinged as possible. His enthusiasm for the morbid murder cases he’s presented with ends up being less disturbing than pathetic, as if being deliberately contrary to expectations is the only interesting thing about him. On top of this, the adaptation exaggerates the feminine features of Edogawa’s original character, which mostly came in useful for disguises, into, well, a stereotypical trap that has all the clichéd characteristics you’d expect to appeal to people who use words like “trap.” Kobayashi’s girlish looks serve no narrative purpose in Ranpo Kitan; they’re just there for occasional awkward moments between him and his male best friend Hashiba, which we’re presumably supposed to find funny.

Akechi, Kobayashi’s reluctant mentor and boy-genius investigator, is a more promising candidate for an audience proxy, and the show does start to make overtures in that direction about halfway through. His introversion is more suited to the pace of a script heavy on interior thoughts, and his weary cynicism is at least more believable than Kobayashi’s irrational exuberance. Ranpo Kitan manages to sink his chances at relatability too, though, first by giving him virtually no development throughout most of the series, and then saddling him with a ridiculous heroic backstory in the closing episodes.

All of this is dropped into a stew of metaphysical mish-mash that counts for the show’s philosophical underpinnings. Ranpo Kitan starts out by thinking up the most generic of justifications for its criminals’ actions, and then gives up on even that in its latter half by focusing on a series of copycat crimes. The dramatic presentation seems to suggest that we’re exploring the depths of human depravity, but the villains offer nothing to shake us to the bone. Most of it is just a rehash of the old refrain on the place of vigilantism in the face of injustice. What’s left are tedious attempts to shock us with out-of-place bit characters like one imprisoned acquaintance of Akechi’s, a literal masochist who contributes very little to the story except for gratuitous bondage imagery.

In spite of how self-evidently crazy this all is, Ranpo Kitan spends a lot of time trying to take itself very seriously indeed. Director Seiji Kishi’s flair for the absurd and darkly comic, put to such good use in Humanity Has Declined, only compounds the problem here. Each murder victim’s autopsy, for instance, is presented by a gag character who looks like she’s taken a wrong turn on the way to her audition for a Japanese variety show and otherwise plays no role in the story – until, of course, in a “shocking” twist, she does. Was anyone asking for this?

The show’s sole saving grace is its fantastic opening and ending themes, which thankfully have little to do with the rest of this mess.

Don’t watch Ranpo Kitan. Seriously. Life is too short.