Review by Bkstunt_31
"Virtue's Last Reward: a 999 fan's dream answered."
So, you're interested in Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, huh? "Well my friend, you are in for a treat!" is what I would like to say, but I can't. Not without throwing a few qualifiers at you first. First of all you MUST love a good story. Yes, this is a video game, but it is also primarily a visual novel, so the story is the primary experience here. If you're here for anything else you might as well save your time and not even bother with this game.
Still with me? Good, I'm glad that didn't scare you off. I have one more thing that I really want to make sure you know before we get too far into this: the game that came before Virtue's Last Reward: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (often just called 999). Virtue's Last Reward isn't the direct sequel of 999 and can definitely be played on its own, but I STRONGLY recommend playing 999 before Virtue's Last Reward. You'll get a lot out of it that you can carry over to Virtue's Last Reward (and it's an excellent game/story on its own as well!).
Whew, with all that said let's get down on with review!
In Virtue's Last Reward you take on the role of a man named Sigma. Odd name, I know. What's odder though (or horrifying) is the fact that you were recently drugged and kidnapped. You wake up and find yourself stuck in an elevator with a girl who seems to know you even though you've never met her. If that isn't confusing enough, you'll then meet an animated rabbit who claims to be "Zero the Third" and that you are a participant in the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition and that unless you can make your way out of the elevator in five minutes you will fall to your death...
999 veterans will immediately recognize the Nonary game and Zero but everyone else will be wondering what the heck is going on. Heck, just typing up what happens to Sigma is weird, but that's what happens: you will find yourself in a game of trust with eight other individuals who can prove to be ally's or enemies at a moments notice and where losing means death.
The story in Virtue's Last Reward is primarily a mystery tale and not far off from a "whodunit?". While you'll initially have no idea what is going on you'll soon have to make important story decisions such as who to journey with past certain doors and, more importantly, whether or not to choose to ally or betray certain people. While you may sit there and think it's an easy thing to pick ally you'll soon learn that it's a much harder choice than you'd think (especially after you get burned). The whole "Ambidex" game is essentially a spin on a classic game of trust called the "Prisoner's Dilemma", except here being on the losing side means death. As you make your choices you'll go through scripted conclusions until you reach their end and then you'll be able to jump back to key decisions points and try other branches of the story.
The story as a whole is superbly told, as you would hope for from a visual novel. Abstract topics will seem to come and go but near the end everything you've been through will tie up nicely while simultaneously dropping bombshells on you. Everything about this game is interesting and the pacing is just excellent. In the end though, the story didn't have the same personal impact that 999 had (on me, at least), choosing instead to focus on a larger plot that guarantees another chapter in the story (a sequel has already been announced, in fact). While I found 999 to be more touching, Virtue's Last Reward is every bit as interesting and should make any gamer looking for a good story delighted.
When not reading through the text, you'll be solving Zero's puzzles. This is where the game play comes in. Your choices in the story will lead you to different rooms around the facility that you are trapped in. Each one of these rooms (somewhere around a dozen in total, give or take) is a collection of puzzles. You'll start out by observing your surroundings and (hopefully) finding clues by investigating anything that doesn't look right. From here you'll interact with objects in your inventory to examine them closer or, on occasion, combine them. These objects will in turn unlock puzzles that often test your memory and logic capabilities. After several puzzles you'll unlock a code that opens a small safe that gives you the key to exit the room.
The puzzles in the game are often clever but are never TOO hard. There was a few near the end of the game that were quite difficult but you are always given hints and documents that tell or show you what they want you to do. The hardest part of these rooms by far (well, for me anyways) was finding all of the items and objects you needed to interact with in the room, as they aren't highlighted in any way and you must explore carefully. The game takes advantage of some of the 3DS's capabilities in various tile puzzles by letting you tilt your way to victory but for the most part the puzzles you'll run into are fairly basic.
The graphics in the game depart from the sprites used by 999 and are now 3D models (it IS a 3DS game after all). Still, the models look good. Character design was well done and everyone looks interesting (although expressions are definitely re-used throughout the game). There are moments of animation throughout the game but they are few are far between, which is a shame when you think of what they could have done with all of the dramatic scenarios in the game. Room designs are deliciously detailed and are used to great effect in the puzzles.
The audio in the game is a mixed bag. There are a few good memorable tracks such as the theme (Virtue's Last Reward) and some of the softer tracks (Confession, Clarification), and the dramatic tracks were solid as well, but most of the other tracks are fairly generic and easily forgotten, making the soundtrack as a whole easily forgettable in the long run. On the other hand, the game has a TON of voice acting in it. Each time you pick up the game (even if you're just continuing) you can choose whether or not you want the voices to be in English or Japanese. While the game does present most of the BIG chunks of story as Sigma recounting events and leaves them unvoiced, there is a good chunk of the script that is fully-voiced and, more importantly, voiced WELL. The voice actor (actress) for Zero the Third in particular is fantastic but the entire group is full of big name talent (Liam O'Brien, Wendee Lee, Karen Strassman). So while the soundtrack is hit and miss at best the voice acting is fantastic.
One big thing that I always worry about in the whole "Visual Novel" genre is how short the games / stories generally are and how re-playability is almost always an issue. I can assure you right now that this isn't a short game. By the time I finished I had clocked in 33-35 hours (somewhere in that ballpark). Now, the game also boosts that it has 24+ endings, and while this is technically true due to how the narrative and plot is structured you'll actually end up seeing a vast majority of those "endings" (which is all I can say without spoiling things). Once you are done with this beast of a visual novel, you will find that there is really little reason to revisit it except for maybe nostalgia, but at 30+ hours the journey to the story's end is a fulfilling one.
In the end, Virtue's Last Reward is one of 2012's best stories, period. If all you really care about is a good story you may as well go pick this up (along with 999!). The game play and puzzles are solid as well. All of the other "petty" things in the game (graphics, audio, re-playability) can be hit-or-miss, but hopefully this review has helped you make your decision. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/13
Game Release: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (US, 10/23/12)
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