Voice acting doesn't necessarily improve 999


Hands-on with The Nonary Games

I have been in love with the Zero Escape series since former Destructoid editor Tony Ponce reviewed the first game in the franchise, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, seven years ago. He gave it a well deserved 10/10 and after reading that review, I went out and bought it the next day. Oh, how I wish I could have got my hands on that pre-order bonus.

Anyway, that game was released on the Nintendo DS and ported in an augmented form to iOS. Until last month, it wasn’t available on the PlayStation Vita even though that machine saw both of its sequels. Last month, Spike Chunsoft sought to rectify this with the release of Zero Escape: The Nonary Games. Hitting the Vita, PC, and PlayStation 4, The Nonary Games collects the first two entries in the series, so if you missed out on 999, now is your chance to see where this all started. I spent the weekend playing the game, reliving the adventure that captivated me all those years ago. 999 on the Vita features new artwork, a much-appreciated ability to jump back to any forks in the branching storyline, and voice acting in English and Japanese.

The voice acting plays big into the new way you can experience the game. As you proceed through the visual novel portions, you have to option of doing so in novel mode or in adventure mode. Novel mode plays just like the original release, combining the voice acting with the original game’s grotesque descriptive details. The text here takes center stage as long passages fill up the screen, pushing the beautiful artwork to the background.

Adventure mode drops most of that descriptive text. If you’re not a patient person, it’s the way to go as it streamlines the experience. But doing so comes at a cost, and while the original script wasn’t perfect, the graphic details of Kotaro Uchikoski’s writing brought it to life. Removing all of that leaves you with a script that is better read than it is spoken.

Last year’s Zero Time Dilemma benefited from its cinematic presentation where the voice acting felt natural. Having unbroken strings of dialog allowed the voice actors to really get into their characters. Here, all the dialog is broken up even when activating auto-mode and many of these lines simply don’t sound natural when you hear them.

Not helping the situation is the quality of the voice actors themselves. Those who voiced Akane, Junpei, and Clover in the later games are back and do a fine job — again a fine job with dialog that probably shouldn’t be spoken — but the actors playing Ace, Seven, and the Ninth Man never really sound like they commit. For instance, in reading the Ninth Man’s dialog, he stutters in trepidation. That little detail is completely lost in the acting.

Everything else is just as good today as when I first played it. The ability to jump to certain parts of the story probably makes this the ultimate edition of the 999 and touch controls on the Vita work splendidly, though it does lack the additional ending from the iOS release. As for Virtue’s Last Reward, it’s mostly unchanged outside of some text corrections. If you’re a Vita owner or member of the PC master race who first got into the series with Zero Time Dilemma, Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is made for you. If you already own Virtue’s Last Reward on the Vita, prepare to have a redundant copy. It’s a bit odd PS4 owners are being left out of having the entire trilogy, but then again this is a series built around touch controls and playing with the cursor got real old, real quick.