[This is my comment on this game without major spoiler. In the future I might write something about some more personal opinions about its plot in detail. If I said anything funny to you, please note that I am completely a novice to visual novels.]
It seems many people here love it, but to me this game leaves a lot to be desired. It has serious flaws in pacing and presentation which I assume is important to a visual novel. Even with a fast forward function, I still fast smash buttons through the dialogue 60% of the remaining plot when fast forward is not available. The writer bets all its money on the big bomb dropped at the end, which surely makes the hours spent not wasted but is still some distance away from excellence.
Take a closer look. As the game has told you, we better divide it into two parts: escape and novel. Interestingly, these two share a similar structure. In escape, you search the place and find “key” to unlock new places where you search for “key” to unlock new places where you search for...until you get the final key. For the novel, you just substitute all “place” in previous sentence by “timelines”.
The escape section are basically...oh I already summarized it just now. I am not saying I have better examples in my mind as I have not played any escape before. But this pattern is too obvious to be discovered. The “key”s are either literally keys or passwords. The only fun comes from the latter a quarter of which are interesting but still a little too straightforward most often, as I am only stuck for once due to an ambiguous expression. The real challenge seems to be finding the right place in the screen to interact which can be tricky due to the viewpoint and awkward zoom in/out function. Aside from the key of escape, there is a bonus you can unlock by finding extra password. However, the extra password is usually just a few foot away from the main password and the bonus is just a glossary of the game. All these make it not like a bonus at all.
The game could use more skills in the novel part. It is on the low budget end but meanwhile not satisfied for being a pure novel. However, the 3D models, sound effect and animations it uses all have very rough edges and look odd against other. I am especially sick of some of Alice’s movement. The writing feels plain and slow. Many simple facts are over-explained and many intensive scenes are diluted in lengthy narration. Repeated animation of open/close door pops up literally every time the protagonist travels. It might not really cost much time, but drags the tempo badly.
But the most serious problem might be (sadly) related to its unique structure. As said, the protagonist jumps between different timelines which is of course this game’s highlight. But the problem is many timelines share similar plot twists and patterns with each other. There might be some moments that shock me at first, but they finally become a routine as I encounter them again and again.
Another maybe more damaging aspect is that this structure makes the game linear. What? Yes, it is linear. Does not the game offers you so many choices? Sure. Does not the game gives you so many suspense? Sure. But before long the game assures you that “Do not bother thinking about this, you will exhaust any possibilities and reach the best consequences”. It turns out the protagonist is invited here to witness a marvelous design which is indeed amazing but is also disappointing as his own understanding and choices do not weigh much. That said. I still appreciate the most friendly replay system ever. It just should not be spammed so much to look repetitive. It also should not be an excuse for diminishing the power of choice and consequences.
When I am bored by the story, Phi is the reason not to abandon the game. She is energetically cute and tenderly smart. The bond between she and protagonist feels true from beginning to the end. I feel happy and upset when I know I will see her in Zero Time Dilemma, because I fear the writer will change her to suit the new story. Aside from her, other people looks more like screws on the machine of story. They have very few chances to have a real-life-like interaction with you before they do the things and say the words that the story need them to. The game does prepare each of them an interesting background story but instead of weaving them into the game, they are thrown to you in the form of tens of pages of micro novel at one time.
Naturally, the writer throws a lot of scientific idea, among which are quantum mechanics, astronomy and artificial intelligence. But on the hindsight, the set up the story is based on is simple in my opinion:
1) Multi-world exist
2) Conscious can travel in time lines. Both horizontally between timelines and vertically within the same timeline.
Good enough. But everything other than that are just decoration or distraction. The writer somehow points to the fact that wavefunction collapse in quantum mechanics is the root underlying the multi-world building, but what he writes can be repeated in any time/world travel stories, and has nothing to do with key property of quantum mechanics (provided we do not over explain the story). Phi even spent several minutes explaining the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (the “Schroedinger’s cat” staff), but it is not truly manifested except for one unimportant place. (By the way, how can a PhD with a god-like memory be totally ignorant of quantum mechanics?) Based on the existing story, I think the writer should play more tricks had he put more emphasis on neuroscience (about conscious) and general relativity (about space-time structure).
How about the big bomb at the end? Without going to detail, I think it is brilliant. It does all it can to lift this story, to turn all the lagging sections into a wonder. Especially when your mind is still inside the game you will be amazed as the light is shed on all your confusions. However, when I think about it one week later, I feels the writer tries too hard to make this ending shocking by putting some unnecessary complexity into it, thus unavoidably create some loose ends or confusion. A deeper thing is I cannot wholeheartedly appreciate the effort of “Zero” behind all this, his/her morality is questionable and his/her destination might not be exactly what he/she proposed... Maybe I will write about that in the future.