Escape Osaka: Dark Zen

Game experience: EXCELLENT
Immersion Puzzles Hosting
4,5 stars 5 stars 4,0 stars
Plus Minus
The original scenario
The full-fledged dynamic of the game
The Japaneseness
Nothing significant

Book here

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The escape room connoisseurs know that the first room ever opened in 2007 in Japan, hosted by SCRAP Entertainment Inc. The concept has since transcended borders and gained the success it has today, SCRAP itself having expanded to more than 50 rooms in Japan and some more abroad. Unfortunately for the non-Japanese-speaking escapists, rare are the bilingual escape rooms in the land of the rising sun.

Which is what attracted our attention to Escape Osaka, the only English-friendly escape room in Kansai—actually also Chinese-, Korean-, French-, and, of course, Japanese-friendly. We decided to pay them a visit and look into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the monk Bonta Nakamura, of the Daikoku Monastery.

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After our mission was explained to us by video, my Japanese associate and I were let into Bonta’s chamber, a traditional Japanese room decorated with such finesse we could have as well been visiting a teahouse. On top of the story that unfolded as we progressed, a multitude of small details added up to create a delightful immersion, from the hourglass as a time-keeping system, to the way the hints were dispensed by slipping a parchment through a hole in the wall, to the puzzle mechanisms, such as buttons and sound effects, that were cleverly designed to blend into the traditional Japanese atmosphere.

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The process of our investigation required that we go through each of the four aspects of escape room puzzles—problem solving, item searching, dexterity and cooperation—, a rare feat considering the vast majority of rooms will at least forget one of these. The puzzles were largely congruent with Bonta’s story, supporting the immersion both in form—the traditional Japanese locks were impressive!—and in content.

In our search for Bonta’s whereabouts, the bilingual gamemistress was a precious ally, very welcoming and accommodating. We received two hints from her—real hints rather than just the solution to our problem—, maybe a tad too early, since we ended up wrapping up our investigation twenty minutes before our time was due and could have afforded wasting some time scratching our heads.

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As the first English-friendly room in Kansai, Dark Zen sets a very satisfying precedent. Beyond that merit, the room also plays, for anybody who is familiar with Japanese culture, as an ode to Japan, the story covering a broad range of the country’s themes. Having heard from the designer that another room is being built, the opening planned for early 2019, I can only look forward to my next trip to Osaka, and to the next wonder Escape Osaka has to offer!

Below a teaser of the room:

Game tested in December 2018 (photos: Escape Osaka)

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No other English review found (let us know if you reviewed this game, so that we can list you here!)

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