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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review - Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

The sequel to the first game that I reviewed on this blog, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, is finally out. Does Virtue's Last Reward live up to the grand story telling of 999, or does it fall short in achieving the quality that the first game offered? Most of all, is this game right for you? Read on to hear my thoughts on the game, now that I have finished it. Of course, my reviews are spoiler free, so read on safely.

Story - The story takes place one year after the events of 999. Once again, a mysterious figure named Zero kidnaps 9 people to have them play the Nonary Game. The protagonist, Sigma, a college student, wakes up to find himself locked in an odd-looking elevator with an unfamiliar girl. Both of them find themselves with a strange bracelet on their left arm with a 3 on the display, with no way of taking it off. Upon the screen in the elevator is a rabbit who calls himself Zero the Third, here to explain the rules for the new Nonary Game Ambidex Edition.

The Nonary Game's Ambidex Edition rules are as follows.
  • The goal of the game is to escape from the facility, through the Number 9 Door. 
  • To open the Number 9 Door, your Bracelet Point must be 9 or higher.
    • Each participant has a bracelet with the following information.
      • The number denotes their Bracelet Points.
      • Whether if they are a Solo or Pair Player that round.
      • What color their bracelet is associated with by the color of the LED.
  • To raise your Bracelet Points, you must play the Ambidex Game with an opponent.
    • To play the Ambidex Game, you must acquire a Key Card beyond the Chromatic Doors.
    • Your opponent is whoever you open the Chromatic Doors with previously. 
      • You must choose whether to Ally with your opponent or Betray them.
      • If both parties choose Ally, both parties gain +2 BP.
      • If one chooses Ally, and the other chooses Betray, the Betrayer gains +3 BP, while the Betrayed loses -2 BP.
      • If both parties chooses Betray, neither party gains nor loses any points.
  • To open the Chromatic Doors, 3 participants, meaning a Solo and a Pair, must group together to make the color of the door, or be the complimentary color of the color of the Chromatic Door.
So to escape, you must work together with others, but how much trust can you put in people who are also desperately trying to escape? You'll have to learn more about the other participants while also gaining their trust as well, which is easier said than done considering the situation that you are in.

Most of the participants are new characters in the series, but there is a familiar face in Virtue's Last Reward. With Clover's inclusion in this Nonary Game as well, there are naturally some references made to the first game. Knowledge of the previous game may not be necessary, but as spoilers for 999 is in Virtue's Last Reward, if you plan on playing both, or wish to get the most out of the titles' I would highly recommend playing 999 first.

As you can see, the theme and setting of the game is rather dark and death looms over everyone in the Nonary Game. Due to this (and other suggestive themes) the game is rated M for mature, so it is not recommended for children of younger ages. And let's not be kidding ourselves. People do indeed die in this game, and escape will be difficult.

Without spoiling anything, the story is fairly immersive as the story is told from the protagonist's perspective. When compared to the protagonist of 999 however, the narration can be lacking in descriptive paragraphs. For those that don't care about reading for details, this could be a good thing, but instead, you will often find yourself watching the screen with the map of the facility, with a dot moving from one place to another. I would have much preferred reading how the protagonist felt as he ran through the hallways, what thoughts had ran across his mind during the travel, and similar details that was shown in the narration in 999. However, that's not to say that the story writing is bad by any means, as majority of the story is told through character dialogues rather than the narration.

Gameplay - The gameplay in Virtue's Last Reward is similar to 999 where it is split into two parts, the Novel section, and the Escape section. The Novel sections are where the game will tell the story. Occasionally, you will find parts in the Novel section where you will make a choice which may change some dialogues or discoveries in the game. This makes up the meat of the game, showing how much of a story-driven game this is. The most interaction you'll have during the novel section is probably in the AB Rooms, where you decide whether to Ally or Betray your opponent. The AB Rooms themselves are a branching point of different story progression in the flowchart. Each decision will take you down a different situation and scenario usually, making a big impact on how each story branch will play out.

The other section, the Escape section is where you find yourself in a room with puzzles to find your way out. Each of these Escape Rooms have several puzzles that you must solve to get the passwords for the safe containing the key to exit the room. Each puzzle is fairly unique, and usually contains enough clues to figure out how the puzzles are solved. In the event that you can't solve some puzzles though, you can enable Easy Mode, which will make the other characters in the room with you give you better hints when you fail a puzzle. The demerit for toggling on Easy Mode however is how you will only get the Silver File when opening the safe with a secondary password. Under Hard Mode, you will get the Golden File, naturally. These files contain extra details and information about the game and other trivial knowledge. They aren't required to escape, nor finish the game, but it is something that you can collect as you play through each Escape Room.

The puzzles are decent in terms of difficulty and some require a lot of thinking and/or note-taking in order to solve. Don't worry about them being a pain in the butt when playing the game multiple times for the other story paths though; you can freely jump to each section on the story flowchart so you don't even have to play through the same Escape Room twice. It makes it much easier to get back to a place that you want to see again, or coming back to an Escape Room to beat it on Hard Mode after solving it on Easy. Even through the use of this new feature, I have managed to clock over 35 hours on this game, so there's plenty of content even without having to repeat same parts over and over like in 999.

Graphics - Virtue's Last Reward uses 3D character models instead of 2D character sprites like in 999. The sprites certainly had its charm in 999, but Virtue's Last Reward does a good job at animating the characters. Their movements are much more fluid than sprites, naturally. The environment is also done in 3D, allowing you to turn freely to look around the room. Other than that though, it's hard to say if there are anything that really sticks out as "impressive", as you are mostly stuck in a building complex, consisting of mostly metal, with all unused doors sealed completely by Zero. Nevertheless, nothing stuck out as "bad" either.

As far as the use of 3D goes on the 3DS version, it's there, but not necessarily anything that you will need in order to play the game. Sometimes seeing your environment in 3D helps visualize what the area looks like as far as depth of things go. This is one of those games where you can easily play through the game with the 3D on "off" the whole time.

Sounds - Virtue's Last Reward is fully voice acted in the Novel section of the game, except for the protagonist, Sigma. The voices can even be toggled between English voice acting and Japanese voice acting, which is neat. However, there are a couple of discrepancies between the English text and Japanese dialogue during certain scenes, where some Japanese phrases and sayings don't translate well. That wouldn't be so much of an issue if only Sigma wasn't the one saying some of them, which you won't hear what he says. The other characters will often reply to him with some dialogue that doesn't make sense with the English text that you only get from Sigma. During the Escape section however, there are no voice acting by anyone, unfortunately.

Aside from voice acting, the game's BGM was made by the same composer from 999, Shinji Hosoe, who does a great job once again at creating the appropriate mood with the music. The music often reflects the tension felt in the situations Sigma finds himself in, and not to mention how appropriate many tracks are to the sense of mystery and desperation that you would feel in the Nonary Game. There are a few tracks that are reused from 999, but their uses fit in well.

Replay Value - The game offers a different ending for every different branching path you take, which is definitely nice. Especially considering how 999 had 3 bad endings that are re-used in many different path options you had. With VLR, there are many other endings that you will need to complete the good ending, which will keep you playing until you find them all. Whether if that is considered replay value needs to be questioned however.

As previously stated, the game allows you to jump from points of the game that you've been to on the story flowchart. This may add to replay value by being able to get to the part that you wish to replay, possibly to get all the Golden Files from each Escape Room safes, or wish to re-experience some parts of the story. There are no additional content once you complete the game, except to perhaps study the game's story and other details after solving the mysteries the game had offered.

Overall - Virtue's Last Reward is definitely a worthy sequel to 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. It holds up well to 999's quality in everything except perhaps the slightly lacking narration from what I've noticed. Other than that, everything remains at the same quality such as music, puzzles, and mood, while others improved such as voice acting, jumping to sections in the flowchart, and 3D graphics. For those who have played and enjoyed 999, I would highly recommend you to pick up Virtue's Last Reward if you can find it. I had to order mine online since it was sold out at most stores I've been to.

If you still haven't played 999 yet, please do. If you are going to try out the series, you MUST start with 999. If you don't, you will be missing out on details that you wouldn't understand from not having played 999 as well as getting major story details in 999 being spoiled to you by playing VLR before 999. With there being a sequel to VLR announced, the trilogy would feel incomplete without the full experience. Click here for my review for 999 if you are interested in trying out the series.

See you in the Nonary Game... if you survive.

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