Room 208

Elaborate Burn

Posts from #visualnovel

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.

Some stuff about names in the I/O visual novel

I spent a lot of time groaning at these, so I figured I’d get it all out of my system by slamming it all into a blog post. Yeah, spoilers.

I’ve presented names here in the original order, because that makes it easier to talk about the wordplay involved.

Hinata, Mutsuki, and Sakuya

Let’s start with the obvious dualities here. Hinata is the sun; Mutsuki and Sakuya are the moon. Hinata is the day; Mutsuki and Sakuya are the night. Both of the girls’ names reference beginnings, incidentally. Mutsuki (spelled 睦月, as opposed to the I/O character’s 夢月) is the traditional name for the first month of the lunar calendar, and Sakuya (as explained in the game) refers to the new moon or the first day of each lunar month on which it falls.

Isaiah Nagy and Izawa Nami (Ereshkigal)

The pronunciation has been beaten with a stick in Isaiah’s case, but it’s not hard to spot the reference here to Izanagi and Izanami, two of the chief deities of Shinto. Nami’s name has the added bonus of sounding like the Japanese for “and now, a wave,” which is funny considering all of the flood myth stuff that goes on in the middle of the VN. Maybe I’m reaching. Then again, maybe not.

Izumo Tsukasa (Enlil)

Japan’s old Izumo province was known as “the land of the gods,” while the name Tsukasa refers to one who is in charge of or responsible for something. Fitting, given Enlil’s imperious nature.

Igarashi Kousaku (Nergal)

Written with the more usual characters 工作, kousaku can mean either “workmanship” or “maneuvering” (think politics). Nergal does plenty of both throughout. The common surname Igarashi is written with the characters for “fifty storms,” and that man also does have a temper…

So it’s got a lot of problems with its information hierarchy, but I like the visual impact of I/O’s pause menu. The continuously-ticking game timer is a nice nod to the game’s technology-centered plot, even more so when you see it at 60 frames per second instead of the 10 I had to downsample to for this GIF.

“then who was lp0??”

The traditional visual novel save system needs to die

I wrote this in about 15 minutes, so some of the phrasing here might not be up to scratch. Bear with me.

For the majority of visual novels, saves do not represent what we might ordinarily think of when we think of game save states: a self-contained snapshot of game progress. Progress is instead tracked globally, independent of any particular save. What most visual novels term “saves” are really composed of just two things: (1) a list of choices the player has made, and (2) the specific scene or line from which to resume gameplay. Choices made when resuming from one saved game often affect what’s available when resuming from another. Remember11 sticks out in my mind as one particularly infamous example of the confusion this causes, but this problem affects nearly all visual novels that use a traditional save system to some extent.

The problematic nature of this abstraction is compounded by the fact that most visual novels don’t provide a way to easily jump from one scene to another. Instead, the player is often expected to “save” before every major decision point, and resume from there should he or she have picked the wrong choice, or want 100% completion, or need a refresher on what’s happened since then. Forgot to save? Tough luck. You’ll have to fast-forward through text you’ve already seen in order to get back to where you were before, dragging yourself out of the game’s narrative frame. This is a terrible user experience, and it’s almost never one that’s justified by narrative considerations. Unless the visual novel is itself about the drudgery of boring, repetitive tasks, in which case I question why anyone would feel the need to play it at all, this puts a completely unnecessary burden on the player.

The whole metaphor around visual novel saves needs to be rearranged. Here’s how I’d like to see it:

Okay, that’s all. Have fun.

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