Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Publisher: Rising Star Games / Aksys Games
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita (Reviewed)
Release Date: US October 24, 2012 – EU/AU November 23, 2012
Price: $39.99 – Available Here
A couple of years ago, Aksys Games released a rather unique title onto the Nintendo DS. Developed by Chunsoft, 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors was a risky title that focused on storytelling and puzzle solving. Thankfully the title turned into quite a success overseas thanks to its warm reception and when word began circulating that a second game would be made, fans were overjoyed. Now this second title has made its way overseas in the form of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. Now have Aksys and Chunsoft outdone themselves with this release? Let’s find out.
Similar to 999, nine different people have been abducted by an unknown kidnapper who has trapped them inside of a strange building with only a door with the number 9 on it as the way out. Players step into the shoes of Sigma, a male college student who can tend to be a bit perverted at times. Sigma and his fellow abductees are suddenly introduced to a strange game that they must play to escape.
They will be forced to play the “Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition.” Each of the players in the Nonary Game have a watch attached to their wrist which displays a number. This number can either increase or decrease depending on how much each player in the game trusts one another. You see, players must choose to either ally or betray a fellow player, or sometimes a team of players, that they worked with during the most recent puzzle sequence.
If both teams choose to co-operate, then they both gain “BP” which increases the number displayed on their watch. However if someone chooses to betray their partner, then they will gain BP while the other person loses BP. If both teams choose to betray one another, no points are gained. If a player manages to obtain 9 BP then they will be able to escape by opening the #9 door. On the flipside, if a player’s watch reaches zero, then they will be killed via a poison injected by the watch.
Now while this would usually be something simple to understand, a very bunny AI running the Nonary Game informs the group that Zero is actually one of the nine people in the group. This immediately causes a sense of distrust amongst the group. Who will survive this twisted game of betrayal? Well it is up to you to find out.
Virtue’s Last Reward’s storyline is presented in a “choose your own adventure” style of gameplay where various choices made throughout the story will direct the player down certain plot lines. These choices can range from picking your partners, to voting and even minor decisions. It is worth noting that players can always access an in-game flowchart which shows what storyline they are on and when the next diverging point will be.
Some people may be a bit annoyed however that there can be certain stopping points in a story. What I mean by this is the fact that certain story paths that follow a certain character or plot device can be abruptly ended if the player has not advanced far enough in one of the other paths. This isn’t too much of an issue as jumping back into a specific story is very easy through the use of the flowchart, but it can be disheartening to find yourself engrossed in a specific story path only to have to start over to unlock the rest of it.
It is worth noting that there are plenty of story paths to take and they do not always end well for the player. That being said, any more on the story will enter spoiler territory as Chunsoft has created a complex storyline that is packed with some stunning plot twists, with decisions met with opposite outcomes depending on what you pick. While many would have found it difficult to outdo the story found in 999, the company has easily surpassed their previous masterpiece by not only presenting a more complex and varied story but also more developed characters than the previous game.
It is interesting to see that Virtue’s Last Reward has changed from simple character sprites into 3D models. Now this is a rather big change considering how roughly 75% of the game features visual novel styled scenes where the players talk with one another. Now while some people may have preferred the original sprites presented in 999, VLR’s 3D models are gorgeous and have some rather fluid motions and nice expressions as they react to various situations. It is worth noting that the “mouth flaps” often do not line-up well with the English dub. These models shine the brightest during miniature cutscenes which are scattered throughout the game’s story.
The environments themselves are also quite stunning in appearance and despite the fact that the player is locked away in a strange facility; there is a decent amount of variety in the areas that you are exploring. It is worth noting that thanks the Vita’s larger screen, it is easier to uncover some of the secrets hidden away in the environment, something that can be essential to solving certain puzzles.
It will please many people to know that Aksys has chosen to include the original Japanese voice work with Virtue’s Last Reward alongside the English voice track which was recorded for the release. Both versions feature some incredible voice work and the English dub does have a few familiar voice actors playing rolls so anyone who happens to be an anime fan may recognize some of the voice actors. It is worth noting that the game gives the player a chance to choose between dub tracks whenever you load up the game, giving you a chance to easily flip back and forth.
As far as background music goes, Virtue’s Last Reward has a quality sound track full of suitable music for the game. The developers have also done a nice job of making sure each piece of music fits perfectly with the mood portrayed at the time whether it is in the middle of a puzzle or during the story segments of the game.
In-between every visual novel story segment, players must team up with a fellow member of the group to solve a puzzle. These are the escape portions of the game which involve solving one giant puzzle that involves a number of smaller puzzles that, when solved, will unlock the way out.
Interestingly enough, there are now two difficulties players can choose to solve puzzles with. Every puzzle in Virtue’s Last Reward will initially start on the hard difficulty which requires players to solve the puzzle on their own with no help. On the other hand, playing on Easy will allow your partners to provide some extra clues on items and help point you towards the correct way of solving a puzzle. The only time this difficulty truly matters is for obtaining a secondary puzzle answer which will reward a Gold file on Hard mode and only a Silver file on Easy.These files are interesting to read through as they provide some nice backstory on the game and some of the objects and rooms found within the game.
Now with Virtue’s Last Reward jumping to the PlayStation Vita, there are a few new additions to the game which make use of the Vita’s front touch screen. All menu screens can be opened and accessed through the use of the touch screen, including a memo pad to take notes on. Similar to 999, players can choose to tap objects they want to inspect further. On the other hand, you can use the Vita’s analog sticks to maneuver a pointer around the screen; however this is usually more of a hassle than anything else, since simply tapping items you want to look at and turning with the shoulder buttons is much easier.
Now as mentioned earlier, Virtue’s Last Reward features numerous story paths which means that the game can and should be played through multiple times. Now while you can choose to easily jump back into a point in the flowchart whenever you wish, you may still encounter some text that you have read before. Thankfully Virtue’s Last Reward allows players to fast forward through dialogue sequences they have already read. With both of these features introduced players can easily navigate through the storylines and experience one of the best storylines this year.
Chunsoft created quite a hurdle for themselves by making a game as excellent as 999 and planning a sequel. However the company has managed to clear that hurdle by a wide-margin by making Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward everything a fan of the first game could have asked for while providing some difficult puzzles and an amazing storyline that should attract anyone unfamiliar with the title. With a great English dub by Aksys providing some icing on the cake, Virtue’s Last Reward is a treat and easily a must-have title for PlayStation Vita owners.