Review by jres80
"999 again, and again, and again"
As I write this, today is, appropriately enough, New Year's, and I've just finished 100% completing Virtue's Last Reward, a game that is set on New Year's.
I'd previously played the predecessor to Virtue's Last Reward, 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors, to 100% completion. That game was fun, and very interesting, however I thought it had serious flaws, most importantly in the writing, as well as with plot holes and twists.
So after 31 hours of gameplay, a full 100% complete save file, I can say that VLR has addressed every criticism I had of 999. From writing to how you have to replay the game to get all endings, it is better than 999 in every way. It's a fun adventure game with an actually intelligible story. I won't say it's the greatest story ever told, but by video game standards it's pretty good, and it's far better than 999's swiss cheese plot.
It helps that VLR has better art assets than 999. Considering so much of the game is spent reading the "visual novel" parts of the game, the high poly models with nice textures and good animations are interesting to watch. All of the other art assets are better as well, such as rooms and the interface.
Puzzles are slightly better than 999. They've gotten a little more Layton-esque. 999's puzzles weren't bad, but they weren't usually headscratchers. It was more about exploring the environment. VLR's environments still require a lot of exploration and searching. It's just that it has a lot of little logic puzzles as well, with some real mindbenders.
As for the story, I think it handled the time/mind/body leaping much better than 999 did. In 999 that just came in out of left field and then the game ended real quick and you were left going "what?". In VLR, that part of the 999/VLR universe is a central part of the story as well as of the gameplay. It's explained better and used better, not just as a crazy twist.
The game is a little less... "tense" than the original, with a little less violence, but what it loses there it gains in vastly improved dialog and character motivations. One of my main complaints in the original was how characters would just do crazy things completely out of their nature. In this game, "what ifs" are handled much more carefully and thoughtfully. Dialog in this game is much improved as well.
Of special note, both games require replaying to see all endings. In 999 it was tedious and painful to explore all possibilities. The game did grey out some options to help you know where you needed to explore. VLR does one better by showing you a branching decision tree, letting you jump to any point whenever you want. It's a major addition and a major improvement to the playability.
All in all, I can honestly say VLR is one of my favorite adventure games of all time. It has a good story, good puzzles, good characters, and good writing. It was a lot of fun, and it offered something I hadn't seen in adventure gaming, outside of 999. I hope to see a 3rd game in the series that further refines the formula and offers more interesting, scary, thoughtful storylines and more challenging puzzles.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/13
Game Release: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (US, 10/23/12)
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