BADGP Reviews: Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (Chunsoft, Aksys Games)
Review: Ambidex edition!
(Review contains minor spoilers to gameplay sequences and very rudimentary story elements.)
Many of life’s best moments are surprises. Birthday parties, pranks, miraculous unscripted events, unwanted pregnancy, I could continue going on about surprises, so I will. Because surprises are so great, I think time travel to the past would be boring. Knowing what would be coming would remove the excitement and spontaneity that life promises. Virtue’s Last Reward is able to maintain a balance of time travel and surprise. VLR is a lengthy escape-the-room puzzle game/interactive novel. As a sequel to 2010’s 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, VLR has a strong emphasis on story (maybe 60-70% of time spent will be reading and agonizing over decisions). VLR crafts an incredibly memorable narrative with many twists and turns with a satisfying ultimate conclusion. Shortly after release it was confirmed by Nintendo Power that there is a third game in the series in the works. VLR answers most of the questions presented in this interactive mystery novel, but raises new ones at the very end. While VLR is half game half book, it is all exceptional.
How Does it Look?
VLR brings its A-game to the 3DS and Vita. Full 3D models this time adds a lot of personality to the cast when compared to the 2D stills with limited emotive potential present within 999. The environments (rooms) are kind of bland, but are varied in color and appearance. Technically, I had little problem on the 3DS. I read on forums that people are experiencing save-deleting bugs when one saves within a specific puzzle room; having saved in that room (and every other room in the game) myself I was apparently fortunate enough to be spared this fate. The 3D looks nice; I used it for most of the reading sections, and rarely in the puzzle sections. I experienced much frustration with a specific forsaken dice puzzle. This could be due to touch screen calibration issues, but I am more inclined to believe that it is just a terrible puzzle.
The menus and presentation are both top-notch. This is typified with the inclusion of a chart of the entire game. No more replaying every puzzle multiple times like in 999, VLR allows the player to shift to wherever one desires at any time. This wonderful chart however eliminates much of the mystery that the first game had. Traveling through time all willy-nilly strikes at the surprise that made 999 so wonderful; knowing how long the game is and how many more sections to go cuts out the suspense. This is remedied by there being numerous false endings, but suspense is less of a factor as it was in 999.
How Does it Sound?
The main theme of the game is both haunting and catchy. The puzzle room music is a little dull, but the music in the reading or NOVEL sections is where the music shines. VLR is nearly fully voice-acted. I cannot name one performance I did not like. Standouts include: Zero Jr., Phi, K. and Quark. The sound design is acceptable, neither outstanding nor horrendous, but forgettable.
How Does it Play?
As previously mentioned, VLR is a half escape-the-room game half interactive mystery/horror novel. I found the puzzles to be more compelling and more doable than most of 999’s. I used forums when necessary (no walkthroughs at the time), being in the zeitgeist of figuring out the puzzles was exciting. The final room is what I found to be appropriately the most demanding. The game is divided in puzzle and NOVEL sections, when one travels across time
How Does it Compare?
In a weak gaming year like 2012, VLR is truly a standout game that deserves much attention and recognition. The game will most likely fall in my top 10 of the year. The combination of excellent storytelling, compelling characters, and decent puzzles, makes VLR a contender. I have been struggling internally with comparing VLR and 999, this being the most obvious and most important comparison. It is a struggle between which I like more. 999 gains so much for being so novel and original, but VLR is at least twice as long with updated graphics and superb voice acting. I can’t decide which I like more (this is great news to 999 fans). The enhanced presentation, steps towards player convenience, and massive length makes VLR the better game, but the suspense that is noticeably missing and the novelty has worn some. They stand together and are of the same excellent caliber.
Though characters carry over from 999 and there are some crazy revelations at the end of VLR, I do not think it is completely necessary to play 999 first. They both can stand independent from one another, but also enhance one other.
VLR is one of the best games of 2012. I would recommend it to puzzle fans, mystery novel fans, of course, 999 fans, and just about everyone else. The experience is universally fantastic and should not be missed. The outstanding story, presentation, voice acting, and choices make VLR a must play.
Though the convenience of the graph of the entire game is present it does eliminate some of the surprise present in 999, but VLR has several tricks up its sleeves and finds balance of the two.
BADGP: 9.0 out of 10