Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
極限脱出ADV 善人シボウデス (Kyokugen Dasshutsu ADV: Zennin Shibou Desu)
Spike Chunsoft / Aksys
PS Vita / Nintendo 3DS
In this follow-up to Nine Persons, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Sigma and eight others have been forcibly dragged into something called the Nonary Game. Will Sigma and the others ally together so everyone can escape? Or will some players betray the group, leaving others to face eternal confinement…or a worse fate?
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is exactly what a good visual novel should be.
For this review, I am playing the PS Vita version. According to the Internet, I’ve heard there is a save-erasing bug on the Nintendo 3DS version. Besides that and some minor system differences (better controls and note-taking on 3DS due to the dual screens, sharper graphics and trophies on the Vita), the two games are identical.
As this is a sequel done on the latest handhelds, there is quite a leap in quality compared to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The game no longer looks a GBA game like Ace Attorney, there’s a memo-taking feature, dialogue is fully voiced and, most importantly, you can skip puzzles you’ve already completed! So if you enjoyed the first Zero Escape game, you’ll find this game even better to play.
But let’s go step by step, starting with the story.
As this game is a sequel, there are a lot of references to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, but it isn’t essential to start with that game. I’m the sort of person who likes to play/read/watch things in order, so I highly recommend playing the prequel first. The first game not only allows you to become more connected to the revelations in Virtue’s Last Reward, but the gameplay and graphics are not as good, and it’s harder to go backwards in a series than go forward.
Anyways, the short version of the story is that you are Sigma, one of several characters kidnapped into playing a game about solving puzzles and trying to escape locked rooms. The nine players have to divide into different groups each time, and then they are forced to play against each other to earn points in order to unlock the number nine door. The game has quite a few juncture points, all leading up to one of several character endings or bad endings. Unlike many visual novels where the routes feel copy-pasted (or even in the original where most of the endings finished the same way), the endings are much more varied here. Some characters’ personalities change a bit depending on the choices you make. Virtue’s Last Reward is also less violent overall, so some people (even the writer apparently) may be disappointed by the toned-down horror-survival elements.
However, one of the best story changes in this game is the time limit. In the first game, the whole story had to take place in nine hours (well, less than that). That means there was a story-gameplay gap. Many times characters had long conversations in order to explain significant plot points. While the information was important, I doubt many people would be discussing much when you’re trapped in a freezer and have only a few hours to solve several puzzles and escape. Here, the only time limits in the game are when the rounds start and end. This allows Sigma to have opportunities to chat with the others, allowing him (and the player) to really get to know the others.
As for the gameplay, it is definitely suited more to the the 3DS. The Vita’s memo feature just isn’t as good, and everything is on one screen. You will almost certainly need to keep a scrap piece of paper or note-taking app handy to solve the puzzles and remember certain passwords. When in doubt, write it down! The game does keep many hints in your inventory, allowing you to access them easily while solving puzzles. This, again, is a big improvement over the first game where you would often know how to solve a puzzle but would need to exit the puzzle and check the order or whatever. The game also has two levels of difficulty, but you will only get a certain item by completing the puzzles on hard. Puzzles are just as varied as the first, as each room has its own theme. Like any minigame, some are pretty easy, some provide a good mental challenge, and some are just downright annoying. (I’m looking at you, dice game!)
Virtue’s Last Reward has a limited amount of save spots, but instead it features one of the best replayability features in any visual novel: the flow chart. Some visual novels force you to keep a slew of saves in order to revisit any part of the story for either completionist purposes or just to enjoy the story. While many games will allow you to jump to a certain point, some games (especially otome) will treat it like a new game where everything has been reset. Virtue’s Last Reward has a flowchart where you can jump into any section you’ve been before. And I do mean “any”. You can finish the game without ever having to repeat any of the puzzles you’ve completed. Hallelujah! There’s a skip option to speed through previously-read dialogue, and that saves more time. (You won’t be using it too often though because of the flowchart.) There will be times where the dialogue is basically the same, but because you’re on a different route, you can’t skip it. To prevent you from learning too much at once, the game has built-in locks to prevent you from progressing further down certain paths until other endings are achieved. There’s definitely a recommended order or two, but with the flow chart, you can freely make choices without juggling saves or suffering through a lot of repetition. I wish all visual novels — otome/gal or adventure-puzzle — would have such a feature. Seriously, companies, take note: this is how you do replayability in a visual novel.
There’s also an auto-read feature where the game would talk without you having to press a button, but the Vita screen will dim shortly without any input. Even touching the back panel didn’t stop the screen dimming. Plus the auto-read feature doesn’t have a speed setting, so basically it was just easier and faster to press a button, annoying as it was.
The game has dual audio, but I’ve heard the European release doesn’t have the English dub. So European game players may want to consider importing the North American version. I went back and forth between audio tracks, but both versions feature cast members likely familiar to the game’s audiences due to their work on other video games and anime. I’m not going to go into the sub versus dub debate, but both languages’ voice actors and acting have their highlights. Your ears won’t bleed from bad performances.
Aksys has a habit of often punching up the script, and Virtue’s Last Reward is no exception. If you play with Japanese audio, if you are familiar with the language, you are likely to pick up on some of the changes. The English script tends to include more insults and swear words. Sometimes the game adds more dialogue to help add information, but the audio will noticeably end a lot sooner than the text. The game’s wiki has a list of version differences, but note it contains a few potential spoilers. For me, perhaps the oddest changes were “Zero-usagi” to “Zero Jr.”, “Zero-boss” to “Zero Sr.”, and “colored doors” to “chromatic doors”. I can maybe understand the last one due to the making of colors, but I don’t understand why the group doesn’t call the rabbit Zero “Bunny Zero” or something (likewise, “Zero the Mastermind” or something if “Boss Zero” sounded awkward). Anyways, Zero Jr.’s -usa speech ending and Sigma’s cat -nya are replaced with rabbit and cat puns respectively. One character’s Kansai-ben is changed to a Cockney accent. Names and references to Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors are kept intact, which is very important in a game like this. A few other things were changed, but check the wiki (again, spoiler alert) if interested. I didn’t notice any typos this time around nor annoying “2 people” at the start of sentences this time around. Overall, it’s pretty typical for Aksys’ games.
With its good story and even better flow chart system, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a game any visual novel fan won’t want to miss out on.
The first game in the Zero Escape trilogy, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, is available on Nintendo DS and iOS. The follow-up game, titled Zero Time Dilemma, is in development for both 3DS and Vita. It is due in mid-2016 and will be getting a Western release.