Zero’s back, and wants more pounds of flesh. Will you survive this time?
I hate Virtue’s Last Reward.
… Hey, wait! Where’re ya goin’!? Get back here! *tapes you to your chair* That’s better. Let’s start this again, shall we?
Back in 2010, Spike Chunsoft, with the help of Aksys Games, released their fabulous Visual Novel, 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors on the Nintendo DS, and it remains one of my favourite games on the lil’ handheld. And now they’ve gone and brought back their magic in the sequel, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward for the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita. How does it stack up? Let’s find out!
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS Also on: PS Vita
Original Release Date: October 23, 2012
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Reason for Rating: Blood; Drug Reference Sexual Themes; Strong Language; Violence
Mild manner college student Sigma was minding his own business when the inside of his car was bombarded with white smoke, and he loses consciousness. He awakens, locked in an elevator with a young woman. When they escape, they find seven more people, who are just as confused as to why they’re in this strange building, and why they’re all wearing strange bracelets. They then see a freaky AI bunny who calls himself… Zero!? Uh-oh…
Zero tells them that they’re playing a Game: the Nonary Game! They must go through numerous puzzles and play a mini-game within the game with the objective of earning the 9 Points necessary to open the exit, marked by the huge number 9. Of course, there are rules to these games, and failure to follow the rules will result in death.
Who the hell is Zero this time? Why were these nine people taken? It’s time to find out, yea?
I quite like the presentation of the game. The rooms that you explore are varied and have quite a bit going on, which is good since it’ll make you want to click every nook and cranny to find clues.
Artist extraordinaire Kinu Nishimura and her lovely art make a return, though you don’t really get to see her ink skills at work so much, as the characters are all rendered in 3D. That being said, her designs actually translate well in 3D. It’s also lovely to see the characters’ expressions animated; they give them so much more life.
Something else that gives the characters life are the voices! Yes, this time you can choose between having English or Japanese voice acting (which you choose when you load up your save file), which adds even more to the emotional moments of the game.
And the music… oh, the music! Tunes from 999 make their return here, and he original pieces exuded as much emotion (if not more, I dare say) out of you for some of the game’s more harrowing scenes.
Ally… or Betray?
As is the case of visual novels, you read through the story, trying to piece together the reason why you and your companions have been kidnapped. Along the way, you must solve several puzzle rooms in order to advance, as well as make decisions that will affect the path you’re on. One of the biggest decisions comes from the Ambidex Game, the game within the game, where you must choose whether to trust (Ally), or not trust (Betray) your partner (or partners). You’ll gain (or lose) points, and whomever gets 9 first will be able to escape.
That’s a lot of choices. Fortunately, you now have an idea of how your path will go with the addition of the Flowchart menu.
By accessing the Flowchart, you’ll be able to see which events and rooms you’ve seen, and the ones you’ve yet to experience. Best of all is that you’ll be able to easily backtrack to the scenes you’ve experienced in order to make a different choice whenever you want. I have to applaud ChunSoft, as they made the whole jumping around to various paths a part of the plot. Yes, that’s right. As you go along, you’ll run into Story Locks, where you’ll face a dilemma, and the solution is actually somewhere in one of the other paths. The game will throw a “To Be Continued”, ask you to save, then you get to jump to a different part of the Chart.
The puzzle rooms are just as challenging as they were in 999. The big change here is that now have two difficulty levels for these rooms. When you begin, you’re set at the Hard level, and if the puzzles have you stumped, you can choose to switch over to the Easy level, where your two teammates will chime in more and give you more clues. Be aware that once you switch to Easy, you won’t be able to switch back to Hard for the rest of the time you’re in that room.
Some of those puzzles are no joke, and will have you wracking your brain something fierce; forcing you to tap every space you can on the touch screen in the hopes you’ll stumble upon a clue that will help you out. As you gather up items, you’ll find that some of them you can use immediately, and some you can’t… until you discover that two of them can be combined to create a new item that works like a charm. You also have two pages where you can write notes, but you’re better off getting a big ol’ pad and pen. Oh, and a calculator (gotta crunch those numbers!). I must say, because of the difficulty of the puzzles, there’s this overwhelming sense of pride and patting of the back when you clear every puzzle in the room. “I am a GENIUS”, you will scream. Yes, yes you are.
To escape, you’ll have to solve a specific puzzle that will give you a password for the safe that’s in the room. That will get you bunch of story-related items, including a key for the exit. But… there are two passwords for the safe. The other password will reward you with either a silver or gold file full of trivia story bits that you can read at your leisure.
I feel that the puzzles and the story work hand-in-hand brilliantly. The plot and the characters are very compelling, and you can’t help but start to develop theories about what will happen next, whose being honest and who’s lying, and other things. This pushes you along until you hit the puzzles. As mentioned, the puzzles are so challenging, and once you start, you really can’t stop until you cleared them all. It’s a lovely cycle, and so delicious.
If you do have to stop, though, you can save at any time… though you only have one save. I would normally gripe about the whole “one save file” bit because it doesn’t leave any room for experimenting with different choices/paths, but since we can use the Flowchart, it’s all gravy with me.
That said… there is something you should be wary of. There is a save bug that will corrupt your file, forcing you to start over. It happens if you decide to save in one of the puzzle rooms called the PEC Room. It’s possible that it happens in other rooms, so to be safe, save during the novel sections.
I ran into another weird bug, though. It happened after I got Dio’s True Ending. I didn’t save the game when prompted after the credit roll, and chose one of the many Flowchart paths I haven’t been to yet. Then, the game booted me back to the 3DS Home Screen. It never popped up again, and I have no idea what triggered it (not saving, I guess?).
Playing The Game Again?
The game has 22 different endings: nine True Endings for each of the characters, 11 Game Overs, and two hidden endings. If you haven’t seen the hidden endings, that’s incentive enough to have a sit-down and figure out how to get them.
Otherwise, this is one of those games that you’d want to break out every now and again to relive the experience.
My Virtuous Last Reward
So why did I begin my review by saying that I hate Virtue’s Last Reward when I’ve had nothing but glowing praise for it?
Do you KNOW how much sleep I lost playing this game!? Lord have mercy! 😮
Like 999, Virtue’s Last Reward had me staying up into the wee hours of the night; screaming and cussing at my 3DS, be it because of a plot twist, a Story Lock, or for some revelation that I didn’t expect. It was near impossible for me to tear myself away. That’s the hallmark of a truly magnificent game.
Please, please, please. Do yourself a favour and pick this game up for your 3DS or Vita. You won’t regret it.
9.5/10 – Near perfection. This game has some nitpicks, but very, very solid nonetheless
- + Great visuals and music score
- + The story is superb
- + The puzzles are challenging, but fun
- + The Flowchart and how it plays into the story is brilliant
- – Game-ruining bug, but is easy to avoid
- – Lots of lost sleep, ’cause you CAN’T PUT THE DAMN THING DOWN!