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.
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.
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.
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.