Aksys looks back on the history of the acclaimed Zero Escape series, and we celebrate the PS4 release of the trilogy's final entry.
In celebration of tomorrow’s PS4 release of Zero Escape Vol. 3: Zero Time Dilemma, I thought I’d look back at the journey this series has gone through and the small part I played in helping bring it to English-speaking audiences. A lot is known about the development, but here’s a little peek into the localization side.
I was working as a QA tester in the Aksys office a good number of years ago when, one day, an evaluation title came in. A little unvoiced escape the room demo playable in a browser that only showcased one room. You could click on everything in the room, and the music urged you to go faster or you’d drown. Those of us who didn’t know Japanese had to ask our translators for the solution to two briefcase puzzles because the hints relied on (slightly convoluted) knowledge of kana characters and placement which flew over our heads.
That game, as many of you may recognize, was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (commonly known as 999) by the then Chunsoft. The office was pretty divided over the demo (it’s challenging to judge some games with a simple, quick look), but I and a few others loved it, and the push to acquire the license was successful. Months of back and forth with Kotaro Uchikoshi and Chunsoft, a couple necessary puzzle tweaks for an English-speaking audience, and it finally reached me in QA again. I bugged our editor so often with questions and fixes since it was a bit of a rush project that he likely got sick of seeing my message window flash on his screen, but I think that was how I got moved up to copy editor/proofreader. We got heavy, metal replica watches made for pre-orders and released the M-rated DS game (a rarity!) to little fanfare in November 2010.
When word came from Chunsoft that Uchikoshi was writing another one, the whole office was giddy. We wanted it, no matter what. Of course, by then handheld consoles were switching to 3DS and Vita so some things had to change up. 999 was originally intended to be standalone, so we came up with the Zero Escape branding for the series.
My strongest memories from working with our editor on Virtue’s Last Reward are the both of us making sure we kept all the story threads straight, a LOT of questions to Uchikoshi which led to holding onto 3rd game secrets for years, and coordinating with the voice recording studio from the office as I scrambled to write voice direction to keep up with the recording schedule. Who’s coming in for tomorrow? Dio? Okay, better make sure he has direction for several hundred lines. Wait, what was the context for this line again? Yeah, we need to change the line and reading for that. The project schedule was pretty tight. When we heard Chunsoft made an OVA for the game with Gonzo?! Oh yeah, we wanted that too. How often do you get an OVA for a game your company is localizing?
We had to keep the replica watch trend going, so lighter, silicone watches were made for VLR but with a variety of colors. It was hard to anticipate the public’s reaction but it seemed like people were excited. I think it was this game, released in October 2012, that really started to pull gamers to the series because it felt like it just exploded. More and more fans were urging their friends to play, which was helped by it being on two systems, and reviews were overwhelmingly positive. We still have some of the awards up in the office entrance.
2014 was a year of on and off rumblings, but nothing concrete until the very end of the year when we got word that another game was finally in the works, by the skin of its teeth. I’d been an assistant editor for roughly a year, though the office had shuffled around enough in the years since 999 that there were only a handful of us left who had worked on the previous two games. So the project got offered to me. No pressure! I’d followed the fandom posts online and watched as the series gained more fans, and they had high expectations. It was… daunting.
The localization process for Zero Time Dilemma was quite different from the other two Zero Escape games. Those were complete before they came to us, while ZTD was done concurrently. As soon as the text was finished in Japan in early 2015, it was given to us, before a majority of the animation was done. The first two were narration and dialog with user controlled text advancing, while this one was all timed dialog that advanced automatically in a cinematic fashion. It was a challenge, keeping track of the timelines and plot threads, and like always, a lot of questions sent to Uchikoshi. But I got to put my own little mark on a series I hold dear to my heart by coming up with anagrams, scanning my handwriting, and picking out English voices. I’m sure most of my coworkers would say I was consumed by ZTD for over a year. A lot of my soul went into the project; I’m kind of not fazed by much these days.
Thank you to all the fans who stuck with the Zero Escape series, and those of you who joined along the way – the trilogy is finally complete! It’s been a crazy ride! Getting to work on one of my all-time favorite series was a dream come true. When The Nonary Games was greenlit, I couldn’t believe I’d get to revisit one of the earliest games worked on, and give voices to some of my favorite characters. The time in the recording studio for 999 was like a dream. And now all three games will be available on PS4! I sincerely hope more gamers get to experience the rollercoaster of a story that the Zero Escape series offers. If you’ve never played the series before, now is the perfect time to start! Join us in experiencing the joy, the sorrow, the suspense, the horror, the laughter, and the heartbreak that comes from the mind of Kotaro Uchikoshi.
Zero Escape Vol. 3: Zero Time Dilemma will be available on PS4 for both physical release and digital in North America this Friday, August 18th!