[Review] Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

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http://vndb.org/v7809

JP title: 極限脱出ADV 善人シボウデス

I played the original 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on the DS many years ago, and, like so many others, I remember loving its true ending quite a bit. So now here’s the sequel, where all your burning questions will be answered — or not. But more on that later.

If you’re not quite familiar with how VLR starts off, it’s actually a lot like its predecessor. One year after the events of the original 999, nine people are once again abducted by a mysterious masked person known as Zero, and in order to escape, they have to solve a variety of puzzles in an abandoned facility or be trapped in there forever (or die).They have to accumulate nine points and open the mysterious door labeled with the number nine, through which they can escape — and in order to get enough points, they have to play a game of trust and betrayal: this is a change from the previous game. So obviously this results in plenty of drama, accusations and mistrust along the way, but I won’t go into details.

Why were you abducted? Who are these other eight people? Were they randomly selected and abducted, or is there a special meaning to their presence? Is this really just a game of survival, or something much, much more? Well, if you’ve played 999 you know there’s usually more to the Nonary Game than meets the eye, and this is no different in VLR, but I’ll let you figure that one out by playing it yourself. The game, by the way, was written and directed by Kotaro Uchikoshi, who was also responsible for the Infinity series (Ever17, etc.), and while I haven’t read those, I’m told they’re fairly similar — so I guess if you enjoyed those VNs, you might like this series as well.

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In any case, the bottom line is that yes, Virtue’s Last Reward is indeed a sequel to 999, and while I’ve seen people proclaim that it is in no way required to be familiar with the prequel to enjoy the new story, I personally am not too sure about that. Sure, VLR explains everything you need to know, to the point of pretty much spoiling the gist of 999’s storyline. But for those not having played the original, these casually mentioned people and events will be just parts of a lengthy infodump, and not much else — for everyone else, it will be far more personal and meaningful. In fact, one reveal in particular was really, really damn surprising to me (I pretty much went “wait, what the fuck? are you serious?!), while those playing VLR as a standalone title probably won’t even bat an eyelash at it.

Add to that the fact that certain familiar faces from the first game also make an appearance, and suddenly the player is going “what are *they* doing here? is Zero who I think it is? what happened after the end of the previous Nonary Game in 999? What the fuck is going *on* here?” and so on. Everyone that has already experienced 999 is going to go into this game with a certain mindset and an unquenchable thirst for answers after the shit that went down at the end of that game. And *that* was part of the reason that made VLR very difficult for me to put down. Indeed, despite clocking over 40 hours with my final save, it certainly didn’t feel that long at all. The tense atmosphere, good balance of novel segments and puzzle solving, as well as the player’s desire to dig deeper into the mystery create a tight rhythm that never really made me feel bored or tired of the narrative. So that’s good.

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Furthermore, as someone who generally sucks at puzzles and prefers to skip them, I’m both surprised and pleased to say that I kinda enjoyed most of the puzzles VLR threw at me. Sure, there were a few where I used a walkthrough, but for the most part, it was pretty fun taking notes, making calculations and all that jazz. Speaking of notes, do take some. The game does feature a very useful in-game memo system with which you can jot down clues, but there are also a few bits where I’d recommend getting out actual pen and paper. As a side note, the dual screens of the 3DS version (if that’s the version you play) come in handy here, because you can display your personal memos and archive notes on one screen as you solve the puzzle on the other screen, which makes things pretty convenient. Oh, and one more thing, as a warning — apparently there are some game-breaking bugs in the 3DS version of the game if you save in certain puzzle rooms. So just do what I did and save your game only during the novel sections.

Character-wise, I was more or less okay with the sequel; it’s been too long since I beat 999 to be able to tell which main cast I liked more out of the two, though. Here, Phi in particular ended up being a favorite of mine with her serious attitude coupled with a bunch of weirdly cute personal quirks and a lovely voice provided by Chiaki Omigawa. From the male cast, I greatly enjoyed Tenmyouji (the elderly guy in the blue shirt): without revealing anything, I’ll just say he had a pretty cool backstory and some interesting things to say late into the game. There are other big names to watch out for in the voice cast, such as Haruhi hearthrob Daisuke Ono (I can’t not associate him with Itsuki Koizumi, sorry), as well as short cameos by Sawashiro Miyuki and mucho macho voice actor Akio Otsuka, among others. I have no idea what the English dub is like as the European 3DS version I played only had Japanese voices, so I can’t comment on that. I generally prefer JP voices over English so this isn’t a problem for me personally, but something to keep in mind, nonetheless.

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As for the story… well, it’s what you would expect. Lots of twist and turns, surprising (and some not-so-surprising) reveals, and general mindfuckery — there are some pretty interesting things happening in there, many of which will probably induce a “what the hell…?” sort of reaction from the unsuspecting player, but the less I reveal, the better. I believe it comes as no surprise when I say that the plot uses the same structure as its predecessor, giving away tiny bits of information with foreshadowing here and there, only to have it all come together by the end when the big twists start getting thrown around. I must, however, also confess that I kinda-sorta enjoyed the story of 999 a bit more, I think, and part of the reason might be that it’s hard to duplicate the shock and emotion of the original 999 — by the time you get to VLR, you sort of already know what to expect from this writer, so certain things might have less of an effect. I’m not sure. It also doesn’t help that VLR’s ending is a massive cliffhanger that pretty much ends the story right when it was going to get really interesting — it’s basically a textbook case of “to be continued, folks!”, which is a major bummer, especially now, when the fate of the planned third and final installment is uncertain at best, as far as I know.

However. There’s always a however, you see. Anyway, the point is that the incomplete ending doesn’t suddenly invalidate the rest of the game for me, and the amount of fun I had with it, untangling both its intricate puzzles and plot mysteries. So yeah, I had a good time, and I’m kinda gonna miss this game, haha. Anyway, to close things off: I still very much recommend playing this if you enjoyed 999 — I just wish we already had the third part of the trilogy out so we could actually experience the complete and finished story that Uchikoshi envisioned.

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8 thoughts on “[Review] Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

  1. Better than Ever17, even if Uchikoshi loves reuse the same tricks all the fucking time.
    I wouldn’t suggest it right now because of the problems with the third title.

    • Yeah, I was told that once you’ve read an Uchikoshi story, you’ve read them all. Probably why VLR’s twists didn’t hit me as hard as 999’s.

      I still end up enjoying his games, though, as you can see. :p Which is why I’m considering maybe reading Ever17 and Remember11 as well, I’ve heard good things of both. No idea what connection these games have, though, if any.

  2. You’re not the only one who keeps enjoying the same shit all the end, for I still like all of them.
    Ever17 is more or less, guess what, the same story with a lot of pacing problems but a great scenario.
    VLR didn’t surprise me in any possible way, I could see most of the twists right after the very beginning; that said, I still find it better than Ever17 because:

    -I’m fucking biased. Ever17 was the first Infinity game I read and I wasn’t really prepared to have my brain raped by it, but I already knew what to expect in VLR. That’s why my final verdict might be unfair, and even if I were to choose Ever17 due to historical value VLR would still be a similar yet better experience if played as the first Uchikoshi’s game. Third game permitting obviously.

    -Ever17 suffers of a very slow start and this can’t be a good thing. While Coco’s path will blow up your mind the other are average at best. VLR, on the other hand, doesn’t waste time on stupid games or sandwiches, just like Remember11

    – I love the ideas and concepts Uchikoshi uses to create new setting, like all the backgrounds infos and themes behind 999’s main story, or all the numerical tricks. He might not be the most original writer out there, but he still manages to make interesting stories no matter which idea he recycles for the umpteenth time.
    999 was truly well thought, VLR could still become an infamous trainwreck but it’s still too early to talk about this sad prospect.

    Remember11 and Ever17 are part of the same saga, and both have their ups and downs.
    Even though they are two separate stoies read Ever17 before Remember11, or you might end up not getting the ending at all, which is already an uncompleted mess (still pretty funny though, you will be trolled even if you’re already know it’s an open ending)

    • I see. Thanks for your comments. It seems like a lot of people started with Ever17 before they ever played 999/VLR, so I wonder how the VN will affect someone like me, who’s basically doing it the other way around, haha. We’ll see.

      Based on what I’ve seen in online discussions and comments from others, it seems like Ever17 does indeed have terrible pacing but the ending makes up for it. On the other hand, Remember11 is apparently a better game on the whole, with a darker tone, but a less satisfying ending.

      • Ever17 wins for me in terms of attention to details, and grand-scale storytelling, Remember11 for the atmosphere and thrills (also with better pacing too) :p

  3. I just marathoned this game like some sort of madman. I loved it to bits though, even if it’s the same rehash of ideas. I have to admit though that I like 999 just slightly better, mostly due to the ending. Despite being able to retain an “open ending”, 999 was still able to wrap itself pretty conclusively, which to me, is a sign of a good ending. VLR on the other hand, is just one big cliffhanger, and I can’t say I’m a particular fan of such endings, lol. Hopefully, I can still remember all the fancy little details once Zero Escape 3 comes out, IF it comes out.

  4. Actually, the problem with VLR is that it’s pretty lazy. While 999 to me felt like a much more of a solid-effort, with enough variations with it’s twists and characters to not be called a rip-off, VLR simply has no excuses when it comes to it’s final twists. If you’ve read the infinity series (especially ever17), it’s quite litterally the same twists. There’s almost no variation, and even the biggest tricks are mostly the same. If you’re not familiar with the infinity series, I guess it’s fine for you, but it’s pretty annoying for it come up exactly like it was played before. Hell, I could predict Sigma’s big twist on the VERY FIRST SCENE, just from the fact that he was not voiced.
    Also, I thought the cast of VLR was pretty dull, and the twists that weren’t ripped-off were forced as all hell (I mean, suddenly the stakes are much higher, there’s a deadly infection, they’re on the freaking moon and the big masterplan by Old Sigma and Akane just makes no sense at all).
    While 999 still felt like a fresh take on old tricks (that I didn’t even mind or see coming until someone pointed them out for me), VLR was straight-ou lazy.

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