Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 23, 2012
ESRB: M for Mature 17+
This review is based on the 3DS version of the game
What would you do if your life was on the line? Would you be willing to trust a group of strangers and seek a way to escape from a hellish nightmare together, or would you betray them in hopes of saving your own skin? Such a decision may not be very common to people like us (hopefully, anyway), but for the cast of Zero Escape: Virtue“s Last Reward, this is all too harsh a reality. And such a twisted scenario certainly makes for one suspenseful, very riveting story. Add that to the game“s elegant visuals, fantastic voicework and music, and the very clever gameplay consisting of â€œNovelâ€ sections and â€œEscapeâ€ sequences, andâ€¦ well, let“s just say you may have a hard time sleeping once you get hooked on this incredible visual novel.
For starters, Virtue“s Last Reward is actually Volume 2 of the newly-branded Zero Escape series. Volume 1 wasn“t originally called Zero Escape, but rather was the Nintendo DS exclusive 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Now, you may be asking, "Can I play this game if I haven“t played Volume 1 yet?" Wellâ€¦ yes, but you really shouldn“t. Just like with VLR, 999 has an incredible story, and it would serve you better to play it first rather than have its story spoiled in the sequel. Basically, all of 999“s major plot points are detailed in this game, and you would basically be killing much of the story“s magic without having experienced the first game, well, first.
The story in Virtue“s Last Reward begins very much like its predecessor: Nine people have been kidnapped by an unknown gas-masked entity known only as Zero, who has hand-picked them all for reasons unknown. These nine captives wake up in a mysterious facility, soon discovering that they have no choice but to participate in what Zero calls the â€œNonary Game.â€ This â€œgameâ€ revolves around the number 9, and each participant wears a bracelet depicting a certain number. As they play Zero“s little game, these nine people must try to find a way to escape their prison, lest they become trapped their forever or wind up dead.
Unlike in the first game, this Nonary Game is different, having the subtitle â€œAmbidex Editionâ€ tagged onto the end. Also unlike the first game, the bracelets depict not only a number, but either the word â€œsoloâ€ or â€œpair,â€ as well as both word and number being one of several different colors. These colors determine who goes in which group of three, with pairs joining with solos of a different color in order to go through â€œChromatic Doorsâ€ by combining their colors and forming whatever colors the doors are. For example, a red pair can go with a blue solo and enter the magenta door while a blue pair can go with a green solo and enter the cyan door. Meanwhile, the green pair goes with the red solo and enters the yellow door.
Once a team enters a Chromatic Door, an Escape sequence commences and they will need to solve various puzzles as they â€œseek a way outâ€ of the room they become locked inside. These puzzles are often very complex, which may tempt you to switch from hard mode to easy mode so that your partners can throw you some hints. But if you desire the extras you can receive for completing an Escape sequence on hard mode, that option becomes less desirable. Once you do complete an Escape sequence, you receive a pair of key cards and enter another Novel section (this is a visual novel, after all), wherein the characters must use these cards to participate in an â€œAmbidex Game.â€
This portion of the Nonary Game involves the pair-solo teams entering an Ambidex Room, or AB Room, and making a tough choice. The pairs must enter separate AB Rooms as their solo partners, however, and their tough choice is whether they want to â€œallyâ€ or â€œbetrayâ€ their teammate(s), similar to what is known as the prisoner“s dilemma. Whatever they choose will result in each team member either gaining or losing points on their current bracelet value. This aspect is where the true nature of the Nonary Game is shown, as participants can only escape the facility by accruing a total of 9 Bracelet Points and opening a Number 9 door. Conversely, if someone“s BP were to reach 0, needles within their bracelet would inject them with two different drugs, causing them to drop dead.
With such a horrible fate being a possibility, trust becomes an issue, especially when one of the nine players might be Zero himself. And it“s because of this very issue, coupled with your own choices, that allow this game to split into many, MANY possible outcomes. There are 24 total endings to this game, with nine being more important than others. And to make things all the easier to track in this regard, a flow chart has been implemented into VLR, allowing the player to jump into other timelines to make choices they hadn“t made originally. And to help speed things along in your quest for endings, fast-forwarding is allowed during parts you“ve already witnessed, such as the little CGI rabbit known as Zero III explaining things in different accents (play the game to find out what that means).
Virtue“s Last Reward is a visual progression from its predecessor, which featured nothing but 2D artwork. This time around, characters have been delightfully rendered with 3D models and backgrounds are, for the most part, 3-dimensional as well. The 3D backgrounds certainly help to give the game more depth, especially when playing the 3DS version, but the characters themselves are given even more depth as they show more expressions and deeper, more emphasized reactions. And there are also times when the game shows off even more of its beauty in the form of full-motion cutscenes. With all these things combined, it“s obvious just how much of a visual improvement this game is from 999.
There is also a noticeable audio progression from the first game, as both the music and voice acting are insanely good. The soundtrack of this game is incredibly moody and keeps you on edge while the voices are just a big treat. Gone are the days of hearing nothing but bloops while reading walls of text in 999, as Virtue“s Last Reward features voice acting for all characters (save for Sigma, the protagonist) during all Novel sections. You may find it disappointing that no Escape sequences are voiced, but it really isn“t a problem when you consider how much less dialogue there is and how much more emphasis is placed on just solving the mind-boggling puzzles. And not only is there voice acting in this game, but this is some of the best voice acting any game has ever had. Seriously, props to the VLR voice actors.
Of course, no game is without flaws. Perhaps one of the most popular of these flaws is the 3DS version“s infamous save-corrupting bug, an unfortunate pain that might cause people to go with the Vita version. Other unwanted pains within this game include moments when the 3D effect of the 3DS version just doesn“t work, some minor text-related hiccups, and a few bits of sloppy visuals scattered throughout the game. None of these issues really stunt the experience, however, and so long as you don“t save during Escape sequences, the save file problem can be easily bypassed.
If you“ve played 999, you“ll have an idea of what to expect from its sequel – a riveting, twisted story full of suspense that you will likely lose sleep over once it pulls you in. If you haven“t played 999, it“s recommended that you do so before immersing yourself in Volume 2 of the newly-branded Zero Escape series. There are a few flaws dotted throughout this game, sure, but once you brush those aside, the wonderfully dark magic it exudes becomes fully realized. With some fun-to-solve and appropriately frustrating puzzles, beautiful visuals, and some fantastic audio work involving some of the best video game voiceovers around, Zero Escape: Virtue“s Last Reward is one incredible game, and as far as visual novels go, quite frankly, it doesn“t get much better than this.
+ A deep, twisted, and very exciting story
+ Plenty of clever gameplay elements
+ Very elegant visuals
+ Remarkable voicework and soundtrack
+ A 30+ hour addiction
- The 3DS version has a save-corrupting bug
- A few visual and text-related hiccups
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
Regardless of which version you pick up, Virtue's Last Reward is among the best of its class, surpassing its award-winning predecessor in nearly every way possible to make this a truly fantastic experience.