Taking a break about 5 hours in (I think roughly 20-25~% of the Flow Chart is done so far) to give off some first impressions.
Let's get the core out of the way here.
-Music is amazing as always.
-Core plot so far is about 90% satisfactory.
Buuuuut...unfortunately I do have to say there are some pretty dire speed bumps here that are making it pale compared to VLR/999. I'll get the spoiler-free (not blind free mind you, but spoiler free) stuff out of the way first, then move onto the minor spoiler nitpicks.
-First, this new presentation method is not doing ZTD any favors. One of the BEST
elements of 999/VLR was its vivid descriptions of the world around you, the emotions your character was going through, and all this little things that just helped immerse yourself in the reality of those games. Sure, it sometimes came off as a bit exposition heavy. But that's what I came to love about the Zero Escape games. ZTD's new presentation comes pretty much in all cutscenes. So there's absolutely no stray narration. It's literally all dialog; with any emotion to glean coming from the vocal performances of the actors and the model's expressions; the latter of which is direly lacking.
In essence, this change makes ZTD out to be a pretty good visual novel...but a pretty awful Zero Escape game. The heart and very soul of what makes a ZE game, a ZE game, is absent. And while that's not a cardinal sin in and of itself, you're going to find yourself a few hours in sorely missing out on the those details. Which ties into the next problem.
-The general lack of setting. You get told 'where' you are, 'when' you are, and that's about it. Character dialog go, go, go! And now death! Death! (This is a problem I'll expand upon in the third point.) ZTD eschews any finer details about the Test Site, or where these Zero Games are taking places. Effectively cutting off the 'breathing points' 999/VLR gave you. You find yourself a little disoriented and wanting to tap the game on the shoulder just to ask for a little more non-death information. But the game instead is like 'Nope! This is 2016! Who has the patience for that!'. So compared again to 999/VLR, sequences feel rushed. The story, with minimal environmental/internal thought details to slow itself down, barrels along at a breakneck speed that'll burn you out via motions sickness.
If you look back at 999 and VLR's opening areas it becomes a night and day comparison. While both predecessors did throw you right into the action you got a nice chunk of narration before and after to help you settle in. ZTD didn't think that luxury welcome anymore.
-Now...let's wrap this over into the third major issue. Remember that joke I made sometime back about how it seemed like they were going for an all time kill count? Well, ZTD = Zoom, They Dead turned out to be more accurate than I'd hoped for. Without spoiling specifics; this is how EVERY
fragment in this game goes.
Less than 10 minutes of dialog (if you're lucky; usually more like 4-6) -> Puzzle -> Death.
Hoooooly lagomorphs is there a body count in this. So much so that it NEEDS to be addressed as a story fault. I've watched every Saw movie and even those have lesser kill counts and lesser kill pacing.
By the third or fourth exposure you just start becoming numb to it, as the game relies on this one trick pony to try and ratchet up any tension left by the massive void fault #2 created. And really...it just doesn't work. :-\ You get tired of it very fast and are left wishing for something more substantial to sink your teeth into. Not to mention they more often than not get in the way of story elements you WISH they'd talk more about. For example, in VLR when Phi stopped you in the archives to have a nice little 5 minute talk about Multiple World Theory? Imagine now if VLR cut that conversation off at 'Have you heard of Multiple World The-?' with an IT-level honk-laugh while yelping 'Sorry kiddos! We need more blood nao~! You didn't wanna hear about that sciency stuff anyway!'.
That's what ZTD does. And you come to disdain it for it.
-Speaking of things cut short. Let's address characters...hooo-boy...let's talk about characters... I'm going to wrangle in a bit of presentation talk here too, since it's at least 50% of what's wrong with how things are going so far. As you know, the story is potentially told mostly out of chronological order. You pick fragments you want to visit; but they're NOT
clearly labeled in the timeline until after you've played them. As such, crucial little tiny flakes of information that can change a character from 'Single note, cliche, annoyance bomb' into 'Okay, I think I can put up with you' might not be played until you've had to sit through 3+ fragments of their blather. They're not all flat characters per say, but they really don't get much room to live and breath because of the removal of narration. And again, the 3D models used have bugger all emotional range.
So far only Sigma and Phi are decent, but that's because they're just continuing straight off of VLR. Everyone else just kinda gets this single note and has a very, very hard time deviating from it. Which is unfortunate considering how ever the worst character in 999/VLR, Dio, had moments of 'this guy might be okay at times' before moving into full on mustache twirling.
However even if some of these characters do get a moment or two to flesh out, the chrono-scatter system may have ruined their moment of impact. We're going to go into character spoilers here for Mira and Eric as the primary example.
Cutting to the chase, Mira is the Heart-Ripper killer they mention for all of 45 seconds.
Her reveal fragment is...admittedly pretty good...but it lacked a certain
hook for me to truly be invested in this reveal. Why? Well, I found out not
two fragments later. Because I hadn't seen the fragment yet where Eric
talks about their first meeting and gives a nice little bond the two hadn't
presented until this...or rather it WOULD have had I not seen Mira's first. And now because
I saw Mira's first Eric's utterly rings hollow.
I get the feeling so many moments like this are going to be utterly ruined because you saw Scene 47 first instead of Scene 12. Whatever logic this whole random-fragment thing might have IN game it really can't possibly be good enough to make up for the damage being caused OUT of game.
And then as a final note...there's the major elephant in the room. Junpei... Oh dear...you poor thing...what did these lazy writers do to you?
Lemme just speed summarize my issue here.
In ZTD, Junpei is a raging, annoying douchebag. No, seriously. That's his one tic
and he rides it like it's a Decision Game.
Why is he a douchebag in ZTD?
"Because I joined a detective agency and saw people die."
...never you mind that you SAW THE ENTIRE ****ING PLANET DIE IN THE VLR
TIMELINE! And you know what? You were still a pretty decent guy then. :-P This
is just character flanderization at it's worst here and uuuugh....
And as the final punch in the spleen; I can see why Sigma built a robo-version of Diana instead of saving something to clone her with. She's pretty rubbish as anything other than a doormat made out of parrot feathers.
Honestly though, as long as ZTD ties up the threads from 999/VLR it's going to get a passing grade. I won't regret having played it. Any fan of the series will want to see this one through.
I am warning you though...it's gonna be the black sheep of the family.