“Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward” Review
I always enjoyed the Nintendo DS for its library of less popular game genres, in particular its library of RPGs and visual novel-styled games. In the visual novel-styled department, two games always stood out to me – the minimally known (yet, excellent) “Theresia”, and “999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors”. “999” had such a complex and innovative story and created an experience that I still remember this day. “Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward” is the sequel to “999” and more than does the original justice. If anything, “Zero Escape: VLR” manages to surpass its forbearer and become an incredible experience any story-focused gamer should experience.
Before I delve into the story, I want to make one quick note. Prior to playing “Zero Escape: VLR”, I would highly encourage you to explore “999” – not just for the fact that it is a wonderful game in its own right, but for the fact that it will make “Zero Escape: VLR” so much better (while the game is able to be followed by series newcomers, there are many nods to “999”, along with some twists that are much more impactful if you’ve played the first game). That being said, the plot of “Zero Escape: VLR” is one of the most intricately designed, and complex stories I’ve ever seen in a video game. There is an incredible amount of depth and many great twists and turns that are hard to foresee. The best part is that for how complex the story is, and how confusing it may get, there is not any mystery that is left unexplained. This is part of the splendor in that this sci-fi story is so complete.
To make its story so intriguing, a game needs great characters and writing as well (especially in the visual novel genre). “Zero Escape: VLR” has both. Its cast of characters are full of personality, and each has a fully fleshed-out backstory that makes your connections to the story even stronger. Further, the writing itself is expressive and brings the world to life. Couple that with a tense industrial soundtrack (which perfectly fits the tone and setting of the game) and you have one intense adventure.
Outside of the main plot and story sections (which make up the vast majority of the game), there are sections of puzzle rooms in between. Each room presents the player with the need to find a password to escape the room by solving a series of environmental and thought-based puzzles – a process any player of “999” will be instantly familiar with. It is also similar in the sense that there are multiple branching paths that lead to different endings (including one “true” ending). Where this game differs from its predecessor is in the addition of a branching-tree system that allows the player to easily see the various paths through the game, jump easily between paths, and see how many ending they have obtained. This makes game navigation a breeze, especially with the increased number of branching paths and endings compared to “999”. Also, there is a good amount of meat to the game length – getting the “true” ending (which you really need to get the full picture of the story) requires having gotten the other endings and will take the player at least 25 hours. The only real downside to the gameplay for me is one or two glitches in puzzle answers and a map that always pops up to show movement, which becomes a nuisance after a while. (Note: I played the Vita version of the game, and I have to say that the touch-screen controls were quite accurate and made exploration quite easy).
Lastly, I just want to mention the graphics, which are a major step above “999”. Environments are fully three-dimensional and each character has 3D models with movements for each dialogue sequence. Each of these models is also fully voiced (few bits of dialogue aren’t voiced). Overall, outside of a lack of character model lip-syncing, the presentation is quite good.
“Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward” is the best visual novel-styled game I have played. Whether or not you played “999”, I highly encourage you to check this one out. If you have played “999”, prepare yourself for an absolutely stellar continuation of the story. Few games manage to capture the gamers attention and bring them into their world like “Zero Escape: VLR” does. Sure it is highly complex, but this is one story I will not forget soon. In fact, I will be eagerly awaiting the next entry in the series even more that I was with “Zero Escape: VLR”.
Final Score: 9.4/10