Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward Review: A Game of Doubt, Betrayal, and Secrets

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Well I’ve been pretty busy for the last couple of weeks, and this being a long game didn’t really help either.  But at last, I’ve completed Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, and it was indeed quite a game.  A few weeks ago I’d completed the prequel 999 and was quite amazed by the story it presented.  Of course, with something like that, I was very eager to find out what Virtue’s Last Reward would have to offer, and it had even more endings than its prequel and quite a lot of story material.  Now, does it stack up to the glory that 999 established?  Well, it’s a bit complicated really.

So once again, VLR follows the dilemma of 9 individuals who have been captured and must play the Nonary Game to escape.  However, this is not quite 999’s Nonary Game.  Though there are a few familiar faces, much of the cast is new and most of the characters from the original game don’t make an appearance and the best that some of them get are very brief mentions alluding to the previous game.  Even ignoring the participants, however, the game is fundamentally different.  Though the puzzle solving elements and the necessity to group into different teams to travel through different doors remains, the major driving mechanics of the game are far from 999’s for a variety of reasons.  For starters, the players are not assigned one particular number, but instead start out with the number 3 and are subject to a point system.  The goal of this Nonary Game is for the players to receive 9 points in order to escape through the number 9 door.  However, the number 9 door can only be opened once, and escape is impossible once the door has shut after that.  On the other hand, if a player has 0 or less points, they are penalized with death.  Now, how do the players gather (or lose) points?  The key component that separates VLR from 999 is the Ambidex Game.  The Ambidex Game requires players to either ally or betray whoever they are playing with (or against).  If both sides ally, both parties receive 2 points.  If one allies but one betrays, however, the allying party loses 2 points and the betraying party receives 3.  If both betray, then neither side gains nor loses any points.  This system is crucial to this Nonary Game and, of course, the medium in which players can perhaps find a way to escape from the unknown location they’ve been thrown into.

Just as it was with 999, the story is the big hook of VLR and the driving force of this game.  VLR is even longer than its prequel, with 24 possible endings (though only 9 are major, important endings) and thus a lot more playtime required.  As there are 9 endings, I’m sure you could connect the number of endings to the number of players, and indeed each ending does correspond to each one of the characters in some manner or another.  Unlike in 999, where you only really needed to get one (and sure enough, the only other really interesting) ending, Zero Escape has a number of story locks that require you to complete certain endings in order to obtain the necessary information to progress in others and to, eventually, complete the true ending of the story.  A vast majority of 999’s endings were simply the main character (and many others) dying, but there is a bit more substance to most of the VLR endings.  While there are indeed the “Game Over” type endings where someone else escapes through the number 9 door, the character-based endings provide more information than that and often reveal more about plot and character mysteries, adding to the rest of the story.  The story is filled with a number of twists and reveals, definitely on the same level of mystery as 999 exhibited and I’d say the scale of it all is even bigger for reasons players will understand.

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As far as characters go, there is quite a bit of character development.  Many of the characters are quite mysterious for a variety of reasons and part of the story is figuring out what the deal is with this largely unfamiliar cast of characters.  In a game of betrayal and doubt, it can be difficult to tell who to trust and indeed, the mysterious, generally unknown group of characters is filled with secrets and only by going through the various endings can the player discover the truth about the characters.  Many characters are not as they seem and there are even more connections to 999 than players will initially expect.  Another thing I should mention is that I was not as attached to the VLR cast as I was the 999 cast.  While 999 has a few characters I would deem to be glorious, I can’t quite say the same about all of the VLR characters and though I liked a vast majority of VLR’s characters, I can’t say I really “loved” anybody in particular.  That said, however, part of this is due to the fact that 999 was much more conclusive than VLR, as not only plot mysteries but even character mysteries are left unanswered and it won’t be until the release of Zero Escape 3 that we will learn the truth about some of the characters that appear in this game.  Where 999 could have just stopped as it was (and probably why it wasn’t originally titled “Zero Escape”), VLR depends heavily on the third game to finish off much of the story it has established.

VLR has quite a number of interesting themes, perhaps even more so than 999.  Of course, one of the primary ones is the idea of trust vs doubt, as this is a heavy influence on how the events of the game play out.  The game mentions the prisoner’s dilemma, which addresses a very similar situation.  Though human nature is to pick the option that seems to serve the individual best, it turns out that the “rational” choice is not necessarily the best one.  Also, a feature of VLR that at first seems to be but a mere game mechanic also connects very closely to the actual story of VLR, and I won’t elaborate on this in order to avoid spoilers.  One thing I like about both 999 and VLR (but VLR more so) is how it references a number of ideas that tie in to plot events.  While ice-9 played a major role in 999, VLR has even more references to offer.  Aside from the previously mentioned prisoner’s dilemma, the game also mentions ideas such as the Chinese room and the Three Laws of Robotics.  The science fiction aspect of VLR is quite an important element of the story and as such quite a few experiments, ideas, and theories are mentioned throughout.

And so, the final question, has VLR proved itself to be a worthy successor to 999?  Well, the simple answer is yes, but I shall elaborate.  In truth, I have to say that I actually enjoyed 999 more than VLR, and there are quite a few elements of 999 I actually preferred.  However, VLR is like a Higurashi Kai situation for me in that in terms of storytelling and elaborate planning, it’s all done so well that even though I might not have enjoyed it as much, qualitywise I still feel that it’s on an equal playing field to the prequel.  So in short, this means that VLR would be a 9/10 for me as well.  However, it’s also important to note that the full success of VLR relies heavily on the quality of Zero Escape 3.  As mentioned before, 999 could simply have ended, but it’s not that VLR would benefit from a sequel; it REQUIRES a sequel.  The conclusion of VLR is hardly a conclusion and much of VLR is a way of establishing the setting to lay out the final, glorious conclusion of the Zero Escape series.  And so, I simply have to wait.  All I can possibly do is wait.  It may be a long time before Zero Escape 3 receives a US release, but once it does, I will purchase it and look forward to the undoubtedly amazing conclusion that lies ahead for this amazing series.

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    • DevilsReject
    • August 5th, 2013

    I hope they’ll debug ZE3 when it goes out though, since, no matter how much I loved the game, there were some pretty horrible, even gamebreaking bugs in the game (the PEC-room/save) that should have been prevented in the actual release, or at least fixed via online updates on the 3DS.

    • Ah yes, I’ve heard quite a bit about the dangers of the save bug, and I had the 3DS version so I was careful not to be a victim of it. Luckily it didn’t get me, but I really feel bad for those who did lose their files from it. It’s unfortunate that an issue that big wasn’t fixed before release and I definitely hope that nothing like this becomes an issue in ZE3. It’s no good when such a fantastic game is bogged down by such dangerous bugs.

  1. I really enjoyed VLR, despite not playing 999 (sadly it wasn’t released in Europe.) I hope they make a third game to tie up the loose ends, but sadly that’s not guaranteed. The series’ creator has told fans he is struggling to get the game developed. Hopefully he can find sufficent funding for the project on something like Kickstarter.

    • It’s too bad you didn’t play 999, it’s very much worth experiencing and I imagine you’d enjoy it. I personally like 999 more than VLR, though VLR does have a much greater sense of scale and could build up into an even better story depending on how ZE3 turns out. VLR does work as a standalone but I do feel like a lot of what I loved was how it referenced back to characters from 999, if you ever get the chance you really should experience 999 (though sadly, a lot of the events are indirectly spoiled in VLR so some of the big surprises may or may not be ruined for you depending on how much you looked into the special files you can find). And I’ve heard about Uchikoshi’s difficulties in funding ZE3, I really hope he can get the support he needs and make a brilliant conclusion to the series. Operation Bluebird really shows just how much fans appreciate the ZE series, and it absolutely deserves all the love it gets.

      • I am pleased to report that since posting this comment I have managed to experience 999 courtesy of the iPad version. It doesn’t have the puzzles, but the excellent story remains intact.

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