Back in 2010, Aksys Games took a chance and localized a visual novel by the name of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Text-heavy games are generally frowned upon in the west, but 999’s gripping story and integrated puzzle sequences caused the title to receive both critical praise and an ample cult following. Fast forward two years, and Aksys Games has now brought over its sequel, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, for both Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita. Developer Chunsoft has tweaked features where necessary while retaining the crutial elements that made 999 such a hit, making Virtue’s Last Reward one of the few examples of a sequel that manages to surpass its predecessor in virtually every way.
Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition
In a game such as Virtue’s Last Reward that relies very heavily on its narrative, it’s hard to describe how it manages to be so compelling without ruining the element of discovery and surprise that makes it so enthralling in the first place. The basic premise is that Sigma, the character the player controls, and eight other characters have been mysteriously kidnapped and thrown into what appears to be a warehouse. A talking rabbit AI appears before them with instructions that they must participate in a sadistic game known as the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition if they want to make it out alive. Unlike 999, which had the characters cooperating with one another to escape, Virtue’s Last Reward is much more about issues of deception and trust.
It’s worth noting that while Virtue’s Last Reward is a direct sequel to 999, it’s not entirely necessary to play 999 before jumping into this installment. Though I would highly recommend it, as it adds a level of understanding that makes the game stand out more in many ways, the creators have done a good job of making it accessible to newcomers, as well.
Satisfying mix of puzzle and narrative
Virtue’s Last Reward is broken into two parts: novel sequences that have players reading through text and occasionally making decisions, and escape sequences where a series of puzzles must be solved by interacting with a 3D environment to move on to the next area. For those who can’t stand the idea of a game that has no “gameplay” whatsoever, these puzzles act as a means of breaking up the novel portions, but they’re also surprisingly fun. Rather than being phoned-in sequences added merely for diversity, the puzzles require players to put their thinking caps on while at the same time providing interesting snippets of banter between the characters. This time around, there are even two difficulty modes, with hard removing all hints given my non-player characters, along with secret files to be found that contain additional information that adds to the story.
Though Virtue’s Last Reward’s move to 3D graphics from the 2D illustrations and character sprites of 999 is largely for the better, it makes interacting with objects and moving around the puzzle rooms slightly more cumbersome. In addition, the PS Vita version’s touch controls are often too precise for a finger, meaning players may want to invest in a capacitive stylus. As a result of this lack of precision, the note functionality is practically unusable on the PS Vita version, but there’s nothing wrong with whipping out the old-fashioned pen and paper. These problems are most likely not an issue on the 3DS, but PS Vita owners do get superior graphics and sound, so there is a bit of a tradeoff. In the end, though it was frustrating to have to poke at the screen with my finger repeatedly to get it to register what I wanted to zoom in on or interact with, the crisp graphics (and supported screenshot functionality) were more than enough to make up for any flaws the PS Vita version had.
Slew of improvements
Virtue’s Last Reward truly succeeds by improving features from 999 while still managing to tell a compelling story. While 999 had six different endings, Virtue’s Last Reward has a whopping 25, and it will take most players around 30 hours to see them all. 999 made it extremely cumbersome to go back and get all of the different endings, but this time around, Chunsoft has added the brilliant FLOW system, with a flowchart visible to players at any time in the game by simply opening the menu. This chart displays all of the branching paths in the game, as well as what the player has already seen, and even features a quick-skip function that returns players to any scene in the game instantly. Combined with an improved text skipping system, this makes it easier than ever to backtrack for each and every ending.
The only thing 999 managed to do better than Virtue’s Last Reward stemmed from a horror-like, brutal element that really added to the story’s shock value at the beginning of the game. Virtue’s Last Reward is much more of a slow buildup, and the lack of the (mostly implied) gore from 999 probably won’t be missed by everyone, but with its already dark story, the game could have stood to push boundaries a little more.
Just play it
In the end, there’s very little in Virtue’s Last Reward to criticize. The Zero Escape series is quickly becoming one of my favorites of this generation, and the promise of a third installment means that it’s getting the reception it deserves. Anyone who enjoys a good thriller can’t go wrong with Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.
- Release Date: October 23, 2012
- Genre: Visual novel
- Platform: PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS
- Developer: Chunsoft
- Publisher: Aksys Games
- ESRB Rating: M
- MSRP: $39.99
Our Score: 4.5/5
Editor’s note: A download code of the game for the PS Vita was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.