The cult DS hit 999 Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors opened plenty of eyes to the beauty of quirky, intellectual storytelling, especially in the realm of visual novels. It wasn’t a game for everyone, but for anyone looking for a cerebral thriller you couldn’t beat it. It’s finally been given a sequel in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. I sank my teeth into the PS Vita version (also available on 3DS), and it’s every bit as fantastic, if not more so, than its chilling predecessor, and certainly an adventure that deserves to be embarked on, no matter your taste in games.
While you can enjoy Virtue’s Last Reward despite skipping the original game (if you did), it’s best to have played through to catch and understand the many references to the original within. You’ll be doubling your enjoyment in many ways. So if you haven’t made the time yet to check it out for yourself, consider doing so before picking up this game.
Virtue’s Last Reward is built around the classic visual novel convention, with Novel segments comprising a good chunk of game time and Escape segments there to break things up. There’s a staggering amount of content packed into the Novel segments, with story exposition that combines fully-voiced narrative and cut scenes to propel the story forward. Then, you’re tossed headfirst into some truly challenging puzzle segments that can absolutely wreck your brain if you’re not ready for them.
The premise is simple: you’re a college student named Sigma who gets mixed up in a horrifying game. He’s found waking up in an elevator with a mysterious woman and a rabbit on a monitor ferreting directions to escape the elevator into an enclosed space – or it’s going to fall. It’s all rather Lynchian in nature. Once Sigma and the other contestants complete (or fail) this escape, they find themselves stranded in a bizarre open warehouse with other strangers to play something known as the Ambidex game. You’ll be forced to compete in this game with others who have been abducted, solving the puzzles of room after room in order to finally escape your prison and emerge victorious.
Sound complicated? It can be, but it’s so ridiculously engaging that even the most frustrating puzzle keeps you plugging away to find an answer just so you can see what happens next. Virtue’s Last Reward sports excellent writing and dialogue, especially when it comes to the interpersonal relationships between characters and the horror/sci-fi concepts of it all. What’s more, there are branching points that allow you to make your own decisions that influence the game. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors featured similar mechanics, but VLR allows you to check an ever-changing flow chart depicting your choices to immediately jump back to a decision gone by in order to solve some of the best-kept secrets the game does its darnedest to hold just out of your grasp.
Puzzles are deliciously devious and unforgiving, and those with the drive to collect and investigate everything will be torn between finding a key to escape each room or unlocking the many safes in-game containing files and documents to further the story in more intriguing ways – so when you find the key to each puzzle you can wait to leave to collect everything else, but these quandaries are the most austere of them all, presenting quite a challenge for more amateur problem-solvers.
The duality of visual novel and puzzle-solving is an interesting dynamic and it does its part to keep you entertained. The Vita makes a great home for investigative gameplay as well, with its touch control working beautifully with notes you can jot down, a file of important information and clues to keep track of skippable text and cutscenes, and gorgeous characters and environments to foster the perfect breeding ground for a fantastic visual novel. They say the adventure game genre is dying, but we beg to differ. Whatever platform you own, support more releases like this and pick up Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward for a satisfying and rewarding exercise in becoming an escape artist.