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Visual Novel / Zero Escape

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Zero, the "face" of the series.

Seek a way out!

Zero Escape is a trilogy of Visual Novels for handheld systems published by Chunsoft (now known as Spike Chunsoft) and directed and written by Kotaro Uchikoshi. Each game involves nine individuals waking up and finding themselves in an unknown location, in which they are forced to play a Deadly Game by somebody named Zero. The game consists of the players, each equipped with bracelets with numbers on them, using said bracelets to open doors that lead to puzzles, eventually finding and opening the number 9 door which leads to freedomnote . As they play, they work to figure out where they are and who Zero is. The further details of this premise vary depending on the game.

Games in the series:

  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999): College senior Junpei is kidnapped one night in his apartment, and he awakes on a replica of the Titanic along with eight other people. The players then discover that the replica is sinking, and in 9 hours, the ship will be crushed due to the pressure. He and the others, unwilling participants in what is called the "Nonary Game", then split up in an attempt to seek a way out. Released for the DS in 2009 in Japan, 2010 internationally.
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  • Virtue's Last Reward (VLR): PhD student Sigma is captured in his car one night and transported to an unknown facility, where he awakes with eight other people. The game this time is the "Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition", which allows for the players to "ally" or "betray" each other in special cases, in an attempt to rack up 9 points so that the only exit to the facility is unlocked, and only for the person with 9 points. Released for the Vita and 3DS in 2012.
  • Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD): Once again, nine people (some of whom return from previous games) are trapped in an underground facility. However, the game this time is the "Decision Game", which forces the players to commit horrible acts if they want to make it out of the facility. This game was placed on hold due to the previous games' lack of sales in Japan, before finally being released in June 2016. Released for Steam, 3DS, Vita and later the PS4.
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  • The Nonary Games: A bundle containing an Updated Re-release of 999 (that contains higher quality graphics and voice acting), and a straight port of VLR. Released in 2017 for Steam, the PS4 and the Vita.

Common themes include science and pseudoscience, more specifically the connection between human minds and to what extent that can be brought to. The games are also well-known for having shocking twists and turns in their plotlines; because of this, beware of spoilers, even when reading information about one game without having played the others. (Our pages for each game tend to be relatively spoiler-free regarding other games, but try to be wary regardless.)

Compare to the Infinity series, which Kotaro Uchikoshi also had a hand in writing and shares some themes and twists with Zero Escape, as well as Danganronpa, the creator of which is friends with Uchikoshi, which leads to them inspiring each other with their games. Ironically, Danganronpa is far more popular than Zero Escape, perhaps in part due to its usage of the same tropes which Uchikoshi intentionally avoided, such as a school setting and young protagonists.

Tropes that apply to the series as a whole (and only the series as a whole):

  • Arc Number: Nine and zero. Constantly. As well as a little bit of 3 and 6, due to their relationship with 9.
    • Zero Time Dilemma's are 6 and 10. Yet, it tries to fool the player into thinking it's 9, like in 999 and VLR.
  • Arc Symbol: The letter "Q" shows up quite a bit. This is partially due to the fact that, in Japanese, "9" and "Q" are pronounced the same, and a lowercase "q" looks like a number 9.
  • All There in the Manual: Uchikoshi has held a Q&A session for each game so far. Downplayed, though, as he's also stated that people should come to their own conclusions about what isn't in the game, considering people having questions to be a failure on his part.
  • Anti-Villain: Every Zero, surprisingly enough. Akane was trying to save her own life as well as take revenge on the people who murdered her. In VLR, all three of them (mainly Akane and Sigma) are trying to save the entirety of humanity. In ZTD, Delta is trying to cause his own birth and save humanity without killing three quarters of it (if he wasn't lying about the latter in the first place). They just... keep having to abduct people and force them into deadly games to do these things. This is played with too, however, with some characters finding Akane's actions in VLR to be selfish and unnecessary. Delta may even count as a dark parody or self-deconstruction, as he goes to a great deal of effort to describe his complex motivations, but the characters aren't satisfied by it and are quick to point out his crimes.
  • Anyone Can Die: This series revels in how many different ways it can kill its characters. Absolutely no one is safe, and due to the nature of the games, everyone dies at least once.
  • Big Bad/Overarching Villain: Zero II/Brother/Q/Delta for the series as a whole, as he is the leader of Free The Soul, Akane’s Arch-Enemy, and the one who manipulates the other characters and events of the series according to his plan- which, that being said, is to save humanity from a religious fanatic, whether that be through killing the Fanatic and six million through Radical-6, or engineering all the Deadly Games to get the participants to master their Time Travel powers. Akane’s antagonism, including creating the two Nonary Games, was done to stop Delta- which unbeknownst to her was All According to Plan.
  • Big Good: Zero I/Akane for the series as a whole. She organizes events to save herself in 999, pushes Dr. Klim to create the AB project to stop Radical-6 in VLR, infiltrates D-com along with Sigma and Phi for the same reason in ZTD, and is the leader of Crash Keys. That being said, Akane is a bit more morally grey than most examples.
  • Cerebus Rollercoaster: The first game was relatively dark, with detailed descriptions of death via explosion. Due to Executive Meddling, the sequel had a much lighter, more comedic tone, despite even higher stakes and the story taking place in a Bad Future following a Hate Plague that caused multiple people to be Driven to Suicide. The third game takes the first one's darkness and gore Up to Eleven, contrasting heavily with the previous installment.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In addition to each game having its own Chekhov's Armoury, there is one particular gun use between games: In 999, Ace mentions a CAS freezing method that could theoretically be used to create a Human Popsicle. One game later, it is indeed used that way as a major plot point.
  • The Chessmaster: Zero, naturally. The planning for each game is very meticulous. Taken Up to Eleven with Delta — even in that Golden Ending, after the characters do all they can to rebel against his game, he reveals that even that was an outcome he was working towards.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Pretty much every character has at least one philosophical monologue, often wrapped around a scientific (or pseudoscientific) subject.
  • Deadly Game: Both of the Nonary Games can very easily be this. However, it's also theoretically possible for everyone to escape alive if they follow the rules and work together, which ironically means the games are not zero-sum games. On the other hand, the Decision Game has death as a necessity.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The protagonists have an unfortunate tendency to make sexual jokes every once in a while. Deconstructed a little bit in VLR when characters actually tell Sigma that he's being creepy and making them uncomfortable, which makes even more sense at the end as it turns out Sigma is in the body of an old man.. Averted mostly in ZTD.
  • Downer Ending: Most of the endings, partially due to a large amount of them being "GAME OVER" endings, and partially due to escaping being the motive of the characters and thus only the final ending of each game can have them truly escaping.
  • Easy Amnesia: One character per game claims to be missing their memories.
    • In 999, it's Seven.
    • In VLR, it's K.
    • In ZTD, it's Q, or rather, Sean.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Due to the games being mystery games, the true endings will usually contain most of the massive twists.
  • The End... Or Is It?: "TO BE CONTINUED" endings, which require you to gain information from a different ending before you can proceed.
  • Everybody Lives: In the best endings in all three games, almost - in 999, Teruaki Kubota couldn't be saved, and some non-Nonary Game-players die as well, although they all had it coming. Played straight in VLR with regards to everyone involved with the Nonary Game, but there's a much greater death toll in the backstory. Taken Up to Eleven in ZTD, where taking the alternate timelines into account, the final body count is negative 6 billion.
  • Exact Time to Failure: In 999, it's nine hours. VLR has countdowns to when the players have to be in certain locations or perform certain actions. ZTD downplays this, giving each team 90 minutes before Laser-Guided Amnesia kicks in.
  • First-Person Perspective: In every game, even ZTD.
  • Foreshadowing: Very, very often. Done to great effect especially with odd-sounding lines that the player is very likely to dismiss; lines that in hindsight are talking very blatantly about endgame plot twists.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: There is very little abstraction; see Playing the Player.
  • Gainax Ending: Any ending that has a shocking reveal that isn't explained until much later. The final endings, although they do rationalize most of the game up until then, tend to bring in sudden new reveals of their own, to be addressed in the following game.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In each installment, Zero thinks the situation for themselves has gotten so bad that the only way to fix it is to force nine people to play a game that may cost the death of the entire cast if they don't do what Zero wants them to do. It's particularly grave in Zero Time Dilemma, where 6 billion lives depend on the outcome of the Decision Game.
  • Golden Ending: Every game has Multiple Endings, and one of them lets everyone live. You are never able to get it in your first playthrough, though — first, you need to complete other endings for plot reasons.
  • Hidden Depths: Pretty much every character has secrets about them, sometimes of this nature. In particular, the fanservicey characters tend to be very competent with technology.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: In some of the Does This Remind You of Anything? scenes, particularly the elevator scene in 999.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Everyone frequently makes puns for no particular reason. Eventually lampshaded in VLR when Phi calls out Sigma on making a pun other than the one she expected him to make.
  • Info Dump: Often of fictional scientific experiments, or pointing out interesting observations about real science. The rest of the time, it's backstory or attempts to rationalize some of the more confusing time-related shenanigans.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: A lot of your time spent playing will involve trying to connect tons of seemingly disparate mysteries and contradictions. This is especially true in ZTD in which you play individual fragments at different places on the timeline.
  • Kill 'Em All: At least one ending per game gets all the participants killed. Zero Time Dilemma is the game with the most Kill 'em All endings by far due to its Bloodier and Gorier nature.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: Justified, as the Nonary Games have limits for how many people can go through each door at a time.
  • The Many Deaths of You: In every game, the nine players meet all sorts of deaths along the way, some more gruesome than others. Taking all the timelines into account, the Player Character can be stabbed, blow up, die by poison, be shot, commit suicide... Zero Time Dilemma exaggerates this trope, taking the ways of dying over the dozen.
  • Mind Screw: Of the 'complex application of science/pseudoscience' variety.
  • Mind Screwdriver: The true endings try to explain a lot of what happened throughout the game, but expect to be confused regardless.
  • Mood Whiplash: There's a lot of comedy in-between the very serious and very dark parts. Justified as humans in a similar situation would likely try to lighten the mood to make up for the scenario they've found themselves in.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: With colorful casts and very few organised groups, this is unavoidable. There are characters who will try to save everyone no matter what, there are those who would like to save everyone but are realistic about it, there are those who try to save those they personally care about and don't care about others, and those who only care about themselves, and those who have their own secret agendas during the games. Depending on choices, one character may be one or the other of those, and some characters only appear to be something and are in fact something else.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: The universe runs on the many-world theory — there are countless universes out there, each being created as one of the results of any decision. Once trained, SHIFTers can move through them at will, and this becomes a requirement for reaching the Golden Ending.
  • Multiple Endings: Every game has more than one ending, with each installment surpassing the previously established record, reaching over thirty in Zero Time Dilemma. And you're going to have to get most of them — the first ending you get is merely the beginning.
  • Once per Episode:
    • A main character's left hand is severed, allowing their bracelets to come off without them immediately dying.note 
    • There is at least one person in the facility that is not one of the players.note 
    • Zero is revealed to be the player, though what this actually means is different between games note .
    • A bad ending gives an Info Dump and information necessary to reach the Golden Ending.
    • The Player Character knows things they can't possibly know thanks to the sharing of information via the morphogenetic field.
    • A lethal weapon is found during a room escape and left alone by the player character. Said weapon is later used in order to take a life.note 
    • There is a Jerkass woman with visibly huge breasts who turns out to be a genius in some field of knowledge.note 
    • One non-Zero player is a murderous sociopath (or become one) who will try to kill the rest of the cast.note 
  • Omega Ending: In each game, in order to get to the best possible ending, you first need to go through every other major ending (2/5 in 999, 12/22 in VLR, 15/32 in ZTD). This can take dozens of hours depending on the player's speed at puzzle solving.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: A lot of characters have codenames they invent (for security reasons in 999, for amnesia or secrecy reasons in VLR and ZTD). You end up learning some of their birth names later on.
  • Ontological Mystery: Where are we, why are we here, and who is Zero?
  • Playing the Player: The branching endings are actual in-universe timelines. Expect these games to call into question who you're playing as as well.
  • Point-and-Click Game: During the room escape fragments, you pick up several items, combine them and use them in different ways and in different parts of the room to unlock the exit door or trigger a cutscene. In the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS versions, you can use your stylus to interact with the environment.
  • Psychic Powers: The morphogenetic field. It seems to vary between their users (called espers) from telepathy (being used by pretty much all the players of 999, minus possibly Seven, Ace, and the Ninth Man) to Mental Time Travel (Sigma, Phi, K, Akane, Junpei, Carlos, and Diana) to mind control (Delta). Since the field is a product of all of humanity, theoretically, anybody could use it under the right circumstances.
  • Religion of Evil: Free the Soul, which has apparently been operating for years - there's hints of it in 999, most notably the robes that Snake finds, and it becomes a major plot point in VLR.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Becomes much more prevalent in VLR and ZTD, where characters are explicitly included in the deadly games to train their ability to retain their cognizance across multiple timelines, using information gleaned in one reality to assist them in others. Sean, being a robot whose primary programming is housed within a quantum computer which is observiing multiple realities, similarly has this trait.
  • Sanity Slippage: Obviously, some characters are not going to respond to being thrown in a Deadly Game well.
  • Sequel Hook: Alice in 999 and the entirety of the final three endings in VLR.
  • Serial Escalation: The first game has six endingsnote  The second game has twenty-two. The third game has thirty-two. The stakes also change between the games: 999 is about saving a life and taking revenge on a small group of antagonists. VLR is about training two people to psychically transmit their consciousness in order to save the world from an apocalypse caused by an evil religion releasing a terrifyingly lethal virus several years in the past, the story of which is told in ZTD. And the third game is about preventing an even worse scenario which results in humanity's extinction, which the aforementioned apocalypse was intended to prevent.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: While swearing is always present, all three entries have an specific character that is much more dirty-mouthed than the rest. For the series as a whole, the most prominent one would be Dio, according to this chart (beware spoilers).
  • Stable Time Loop: In every game, some event has happened in the past thanks to the game's current events and Zero is trying to make sure the latter happen by forcing the nine players to perform them. It sometimes gets so impossibly confusing that you end up with a Mind Screw in your hands.
  • Start X to Stop X: A reoccurring motivation behind the Games, regardless of which Zero is in charge. They either take advantage of a tragedy to stop/prevent it or use the same methods as an even more evil third party to counter them.
  • Take Your Time: Despite the often-prevalent in-universe time limits, characters stand around talking quite a lot, and you have as much time as you want to solve puzzles. However, do expect the characters to get interrupted by said time limits at some points of the story anyway, though they still usually had more than enough time for whatever they were talking about.
  • Time Bomb: Courtesy of Dio in VLR, and part of one of the rooms in ZTD, as well as the function of the Force Quit Box.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: It can get very tricky keeping track of the various timelines in each game, even with the included flowcharts. It gets even further complicated by characters jumping back to earlier points in time, jumping forward once an important action has been done in the past, jumping sideways between timelines, etc..
  • To Be Continued: Some timelines stop at a certain point and won't continue until you do something else in another timeline first, prompting the message "TO BE CONTINUED" note . This type of plot halt is infamous in 999, where your path to the True Ending becomes a "Shaggy Dog" Story and you have to go back to the very beginning of the game to try another path.
  • Twenty Minutes In The Future: 999 takes place in 2027, and the other games take place at varying points afterwards. VLR makes mention of several antimatter power plants, long-term bases on the Moon, and a planned manned mission to Mars.
  • Twist Ending: Most endings in all three games occur in a completely unexpected way, to varying extents. This includes Gainax Endings where it feels like something just came out of left field.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: While VLR leads directly into ZTD, 999 is much more self-contained and only tied in to the others retroactively.
  • The Unfettered: Every Zero is this: a person who is willing to kill nine people in gruesome ways to achieve a big goal. Sure — given that these games have Multiple Endings, no one or few people are sacrificed in the best one... But Zero's means are still morally questionable at best. And some of the victims bring the memories of their own deaths from other timelines.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Every Zero has this belief. They think that the only way for their plans to succeed is to risk nine people's lives (or more) in many horrific ways. They never consider addressing the participants to try and come up with a collective plan.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: You have the opportunity to make choices that the other characters don't like. You usually have to do these things at some point in order to get the final ending.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Zero in each installment has a noble goal but pretty cruel and horrific means to get there. They force nine people to play a Deadly Game in order to ensure that some event in the past happens, as that event was possible thanks to the present's actions on behalf of the participants. Their secondary goal is to punish or stop an evil third party that caused or is going to cause a lot of trouble to Zero.
  • World of Snark: It's extremely common for characters to throw sarcastic remarks at each other during the Deadly Games. Virtually everyone in Virtue's Last Reward does this all the time, and the majority of the cast of the other two games does as well, to varying degrees of nastiness.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: All of the Nonary Game players wake up in an unknown location and must escape it as soon as possible before even beginning the game. In Zero Time Dilemma, the participants are injected a drug that makes them sleep and forget what happened in the previous 90 minutes, so they experience this trope to a degree repeteadly throughout the Decision Game.

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