Review by jwolfe340
Completely and Totally Engaging. A True Masterpiece.
Let me say this right now. Do not play this game without playing the prequel, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) for the DS. While this game can stand alone, in order to experience it in its entirety, knowledge from the prequel is kind of necessary. There are some returning characters that play pretty massive roles, but I've decided to make this a relatively spoiler free review, so I won't go too far into detail.
I'm going to discuss the game on 3 separate levels. Aesthetics, Gameplay, and Story. But first, a quick overview. If you couldn't tell from my title and score, I find this game to be nearly, if not wholly flawless. I've played the prequel, and I find this to be a massive improvement over the last one. Which is saying something, as I previously referred to 999 as one of my favorite games of all time. The gameplay elements are, to be honest, few and far between, but where there is legitimate gameplay as opposed to novel sections, it is fantastic. Now, let's begin.
Ok, This is one of the best aspects of the game. In 999, the characters were still, changing appearances slightly to coincide with their current emotional state, ie anger or delight. However, in VLR, the characters have full 3D models, and they actually move when speaking or changing emotional states. Granted, we seldom see the characters actually move in their environment, mostly we just see still frames of characters interacting with one another, but the graphical style works. The environment itself is the only actual source of motion, and all of the animations are smooth and crisp. The graphics are fantastic. They do a great job of instilling the sense of terror and hopelessness that should be felt in that situation. As you would imagine, in such a desolate situation, colors such as grey and white are quite prominent here, which lends to the terrifying nature of the game as a whole. If it were colorful, I find it doubtful that anyone would be as afraid.
Now, another aesthetic improvement is the introduction of voice acting. I know that I wondered what all of the characters in 999 would sound like, and now I don't have to do the same for VLR. The voice acting, in my opinion, is spot on. The only silent character is your protagonist, Sigma, which I like. While he does speak, he has no voice actor. I prefer this style, because you live the game through him, you want him to sound ideal. Obviously, if he doesn't have a voice, he'll take on the voice that appeals to you. It personalizes an otherwise autonomous character. Another option I like about the voice acting is the ability to, when loading a save file, have all of the voice acting in Japanese with English subtitles. It provides an interesting change of pace.
Finally, the last aspect of the aesthetics is the sound. While I already discussed the voice acting, I'd like to now discuss the soundtrack. Many of the songs share the same base. However, this base, depending upon what is done with it, can be simultaneously emotionally moving or just plain inspirational. My favorite song is the Blue Bird Lamentation. I suggest looking it up on Youtube, but not looking at the comments. Too many spoilers.
Moving on. This is the one area of the game that I felt was slightly lacking. While it is not bad perse, it isn't the best I've ever played. VLR is a visual novel, and as such, a majority of your time will be spent clicking through dialogue. These dialogue sections are referred to as novel sections. The other sections are the escape sections, in which you are trapped in a room and the only way to escape is to solve the puzzle within. These sections can be controlled with either the circle pad and buttons or the touch screen. I prefer the touch screen because some specific puzzles exclusively require the touch screen, and changing between the two styles just seems like a hassle. The game controls well enough, except for one particularly infuriating dice puzzle toward the end of the game that infuriated me to no end. Overall, I would say the escape portions are only slightly less than perfect. They could use a little more polish in my opinion.
Now, something that should be noted here is the improvements to the novel section made since 999. In 999, to skip over dialogue that you've already seen, you would just hold a button and it would fast forward through it. However, you had to do everything since the beginning of the game often in order to reach the endings you desired. As such, it became a bit tedious seeing everything multiple times. VLR fixes this problem. It includes the fast forward feature as well, but it also includes the ability to jump between different areas of the story. Instead of having to play from the beginning, for example, I could instead jump to the scene just before I make a critical decision and just fast forward that dialogue. It's a great addition, especially if you're going to try to get all of the 20+ endings, like I did. Yes, I said 20+ endings. Did I neglect to mention that earlier? Oh. Oops. That was a big draw for me, and I imagine it would be for most people. More content? Yes please.
The story in this game will blow your mind. It is one of the most unique and intricate I've ever encountered, and I've played some pretty deep ones. Let me lay out a basis for you. You wake up in a room. You have no idea how you got there, nor where you are. You look on your left wrist, and notice a bracelet with the number 3 on it. There is a girl in the room. Her name is Phi. You work together with her to solve the puzzle in this room and escape through a hatch in the ceiling. You leave the room and within minutes meet the rest of your compatriots. Tenmyouji, the cynical old man. Quark, the innocent child. Dio, the brash every-man. Alice, the scantily clad woman. Luna, the shy one. Clover, a seemingly average young woman. And K, the mysterious, masked, amnesic man. The cast is quite varied, and makes for some interesting interactions. They proceed to meet Zero III, the sadistic bunny that runs the facility in which you are trapped. Yes, I said sadistic bunny. As you can imagine, there are quite a few twists, and if you're anything like me, you'll be compelled to find them all in the form of the 20+ endings. I don't really want to spoil anything, so I'll just stop explaining here. I'll just let you judge for yourself, but I found it to be mind blowing.
The Verdict: 29/30, or a 97%, rounded up to a 10/10. This game is quite near perfect. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart, as it's a bit violent, but if you can get past that, it's mind blowing. I still maintain that in order to appreciate the depths of its perfection, the prequel should be played first. However, it can stand alone, but some of its merits might be ignored. Anyway, there are probably some that would disagree with some of what I said. I don't care about that. These are my thoughts. Disregard them if you wish, but I feel that this game is fantastic in every regard.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (US, 10/23/12)
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