Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is the sequel for the tragically unnoticed 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and with titles like these I am not really that surprised. Virtue’s Last Reward, from here on out VLR, is a puzzle/visual novel that came out on the 3DS and PS Vita late 2012. It has been on my to-play list ever since I heard of its existence and for reasons that I can only assume are terrible I haven’t gotten around to beating it till now. So here we go!
The premise is pretty “simple”, the main character Sigma and 8 other people are kidnapped by Zero and must play the Nonary game in order to win your freedom and escape. The Nonary game is played by going through a series of colored doors that require groups of three to enter. Each character has a watch like this:
The color on the watch determines who can match up with as you need to combine 2 colors to make the color of the door. The “pair” or “solo” under the number tells you whether you have a partner or not. Basically, the “solos” group with the “pair” to go through each door. However, there are multiple options for each set of doors but I will get to that later. The number corresponds to the amount of BP you have and when you get 9 BP you can leave or if you get 0 BP you die. To get 9 BP you need to open the Ambidex room which requires keycards to get into. The keycards are acquired in the puzzle rooms behind the colored doors. You still following me?
The “pairs” and “solos” split up into the different Ambidex rooms and have to either vote ally or betray against the person or persons they were with in the previous rooms. Here is a nifty picture explaining how the points work:
After each round the colors and pairs are swapped around and the characters need to go through another set of doors to get more keycards. This can theoretically be played until someone has enough points to leave. That about covers how the in-game is played. Now what do you do?
The game is broken up into two different parts. The puzzle rooms and the novel sections. The puzzle rooms are whenever the characters go into one of the colored door rooms and must escape it. The gameplay plays out much like any point and click game. You tap to pick up items in the environment, interact with objects, and combine items. The gameplay is nothing new and fans of point and click adventures will feel right at home. There are 15 puzzle rooms in the game that vary in difficulty.
Each room has a safe in it that requires a password to open and get the key to escape. All safes have a second password that can be gained by solving a potentially unsolved puzzle in the room or reinterpreting the rules of a interactive object in the environment. An example is a normal password can be obtained by scoring a certain score in a game of darts but if you do that score in reverse then it gives you the bonus password. Most extra passwords are hinted by clues and don’t often ever feel far fetched. These extra passwords when entered into the safe provide hints and clues to the story or supplementary information about items you find. These bonuses are a nice reward for using your brain more. The only issue I took with the extra information is some of them are written outside of the context of the game such as directly referring to games titles or the previous game 999.
I had a couple issues with some puzzles where the rules of a mini-game weren’t explained clearly enough or the jump of logic between a clue and a item felt too wide. It was only a few times I looked up the answer to a puzzle online only to find out the answer was a lot simpler than it led on. Or I could just be a big dumb dumb. Overall the puzzles feel fresh and challenging and for being the only gameplay in the entire game they get the job done. For people who find themselves getting stuck in a room they can lower the difficulty from hard to easy at any time. This has the other characters in the room give more hints when examining object or interacting with the environment. However, the secondary password will give less information if you do it on easy mode.
The novel sections cover the bulk of the game. The story is told from the perspective of Sigma and he provides light narration throughout the game. As mentioned before there are multiple times where you make choices that can drastically alter the course the game takes. The splits happen whenever you choose a colored door to go through or to either vote ally or betray. This creates a stunning total of 25 endings.
The bulk of these endings do end in a game over with either all the characters dying or one of the characters escaping without the others as only those with 9 BP can leave and the 9 door only opens once. Up ahead are minor spoilers for the game so if you want to see the score just skip to the bottom. When I started playing the game I was expecting it to be like 999 in terms of story progression. That game only had 6ish endings and only one was canon with the universe. The other endings only filled out information of the characters and world for the player. I was expecting the same thing in this. I was wrong.
I always expected to play all the endings and after my first one ended with a game over and no real information I jumped back to a previous point on the chart. See the chart above is provided in the game and you can jump to any previously seen points on it. This allows you to quickly jump back and change any decision to see what happens if you chose a different option. The game is superbly written so you can see the impact that each decision makes on the story or at least convinces you of it. After I finished off the line I started on I jumped back to one of the bigger decision and chose betray instead of ally. Now the previous timeline the guy I voted against chose betray so this time my vote should cancel his out. Well this time he chose ally. I was actually quite upset when I saw this. My decision was independent of his so there was no reason his should have changed. The anger was there until Sigma went up to the other voter a commented that he had voted betray last time. He was then confused why he said that and moved on. It was at that moment I realized that Sigma was remembering things from the other timeline. It blew my fucking mind.
This is where the game gets really interesting. Throughout many of timeliness you will come across a “To Be Continued” which can get frustrating at times when you want to see where a particular scene is goin. At these points it requires the player to go to other timelines to get information so that Sigma can remember and use it to get passed the blocks. This serves both an in-game narrative function and a way of blocking the player out of information they are not ready for yet. The games story ends up reflecting the puzzles that you are solving in the rooms. You received a lot of jumbled information from many timelines and slowly put it together to see the bigger picture. Who are these people you are trapped with? Why are you here? Who is Zero? The two biggest questions of the entire game. At this point you do start to feel the story is quite linear and the player himself has no agency in the world because the you essentially need to go through every timeline to get to the real ending. None of the puzzle rooms repeat themselves during this time and if you do ever need to repeat one the safe passwords are saved so you can instantly complete the room. It ended up being a pretty long game taking me around 36 hours to beat.
I would like to talk about one of the more brilliant points of the game ahead so major spoilers here. Towards the end of the game Sigma becomes more conscious of his ability to travel between timelines. One of the characters then tells you that you need to travel to a certain point and change something. The player then has to go to the timeline chart and go there. Around this part it is revealed to the player whenever choosing a new point to go through has been swapping the consciousness of Sigma to the Sigma at that point. The mechanic of going to different points in the time chart wasn’t just a convenience to the player, it was an action that takes place in the narrative. It’s a system integrated to tell narrative! It literally shattered my mind. The players agency was actually a part of the overarching story. For a game that was primarily a visual novel to a actually create a game that would only work as game is pretty stunning.
I know the review talked about how the story is great a lot but never really talked about it directly. This is because the story is pretty damn complicated and the end of the game is a series of crazy reveals that the only way to really get a handle on it is to play it. Besides the great story only accentuates the narrative and doesn’t really need to be gone into detail. I would highly recommend playing it for yourself even knowing some of the big reveals because the game is that unique and new. I played it for the 3DS but I would recommend the Vita version if you have the option. There are a few save corrupting bugs in the 3DS version and one of the supplementary notes gets cut off. There is a lot more I could go into here such as the inspiration from quantum theory and philosophical thought experiments but I have said enough hopefully to sell the game.
Pros: Fantastic story, unique narrative, great characters, challenging puzzles.
Cons: Some puzzles can be tedious, “To Be Continued” endings can get frustrating, sometimes its hard to keep everything straight in your head
5/5 cockney robots