Director/Scenario Writer: Kotaro Uchikoshi
Soundtrack by: Shinji Hosoe
Platform: Nintendo 3DS & Playstation Vita
Localization Team: Aksys
Rated: M (blood/drug reference/sexual themes/strong language/violence)
I will never not be thankful for the unexpected critical success of 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors in North America which is what prompted Kotaro Uchikoshi to write the script for this game. The game was then localized by Aksys Games for the U.S.
On Christmas 2028, Sigma was abducted from his college campus by a masked individual (Zero) and a few days later finds himself in the company of eight other individuals. These participants are forced to play the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition, a high-stakes life-or-death game that relies on placing one’s trust in others. Players can choose to Ally or Betray with whoever they passed through a door and solved puzzles with. Depending on what is chosen, points can be added or subtracted. Get 9 bracelet points (BP) or more, and you get out but if your BP drops below 0? Well…naturally you die. Poison is injected into the blood stream and death is relatively peaceful unlike the explosively gruesome deaths of the first game.
Participants Sigma meets include the sardonic and mysterious Phi, the insensitive, self-proclaimed “gentleman” Dio, the elderly Tenmyouji, the kind and trusting Luna, the energetic child Quark, the mysterious, sexy beauty Alice, a man in a full-body suit of armor that cannot be removed and finally, Clover returns from 999. The game is run by an AI known as Zero III which takes the form of a CGI rabbit that is chock-full of puns. These characters made up for a delightfully colorful cast that made the story fairly interesting with every twist and turn, especially with each character’s route. My only real complete about the characters is how dumbed down and ditzy Clover was made to be. Despite her co-dependency on her brother in 999, she was still shown to be clever and cunning, even when she was seen to be innocent. In Virtue’s Last Reward, she appeared to be more sexed-up and less clever. Aside from Clover, certain other characters from 999 make an appearance and only prove to make the story that much more intriguing.
Overall, the story is interesting though there are more revelations at the end than perhaps necessary. Many questions go unanswered but this was in preparation for the third game to the trilogy, Virtue’s Last Reward, which was placed on hiatus for quite some time. The dialogue is a bit slow and at some points can be a bit un-interesting, especially if you can’t make it go faster but I really enjoyed learning about each and every character and how they tied into the overall plot of the story. One flaw, however, is that certain characters truly do not shine until you learn of their pasts. But this is all dependent on how attached you get to them as you travel from room to room.
The Escape puzzles, while very intriguing and playing into the themes of the game very well, were a lot easier in some ways than those of this game’s predecessor. In some ways, they were cleverer and scientific but I feel as though they did not require me to think outside the box as much as I would’ve lived. There are some drawbacks for me with the gameplay for VLR and one of those is how overly sensitive the controls are. At times they were awkward and it made it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I was trying to select in the room. Without any distinguishing features such as bolder lines or a light around the objects, there were no real ways to distinguish certain objects and I wasted some time looking in certain areas when something was right under my nose. Another huge drawback for me is the 3DS saving glitch. As someone who saves frequently during games as my purse jostles my 3DS and pops out the cartridge sometimes, this was a MAJOR setback and it happened on my first play through back in 2013 no less. I quickly learned that if one saves in the Pressure Exchange Chamber (PEC Room), you are royally f*cked and have to restart the game over from the beginning. This glitch was allegedly patched for the e-shop version but I have a physical copy and it is this sole reason I am tempted to buy a copy for my Vita. Despite this, I am a huge fan of puzzle games and I love that the flowchart format lets me start basically anywhere so that I do not need to replay the story over-and-over-and-over as was the case with 999. This set-up makes it easier to jump around as the story comes together and certain endings are needed to unlock other endings.
As always, Shinji Hosoe’s music blew me away in this game and I can’t tell you how often I listen to certain tracks from any of this trilogy when I am stressed. I also listen to the Virtue’s Last Reward OST a lot while doing homework. Needless to say, it is something that I greatly enjoy. Another beautiful part of this game is the 3D/CG graphics. These graphics make the characters stand out more and seem more alive. The limited character animations may get a bit repetitious but the voice acting (you can choose English or Japanese) adds another dimension to the characters and seems to draw your attention from this, making the characters that much more enjoyable.
Overall, while Virtue’s Last Reward lacks the brutality and ultimate shock value of its predecessor, it is a beautiful game that ties in old elements with the new and opens doors for the third and final chapter of the series (or is it?) This game is one that I have played twice as I enjoy catching Easter eggs here and there. Don’t let the 24 endings intimidate you – the game only took me about 35 hours to play the second time around. The characters are enjoyable in their own right in an intriguing setting full of quantum physics and mystery set to a beautiful soundtrack composed by Shinji Hosoe. It is because of the Zero Escape games, specifically the first two, that I truly found the genre of game that I like – mystery or horror visual novels/puzzle games. And I can easily recommend this game to anyone who is into visual novels or horror or both.
(Look forward to my Zero Time Dilemma -game 3- Review soon!)