I will start off by saying that Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is not just a spiritual successor to 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, but that it’s a direct sequel. While you will be perfectly able to get everything in this game without having played 999, you will miss some references and a lot of the emotional impact for several of the twists in this game.
Having said that, this game took a long hard look at the biggest criticism that the first game got, and went on to avoid most of the pitfalls. Where you had to replay large chunks of 999 over and over again (solving the same escape-the-room puzzles multiple times), you now get a handy flowchart that shows all the progress you’ve made and the different branches that your in-game decisions have lead you on, and you can jump to any point on the flowchart that you want. You will still be reading a lot more than you’ll be actually playing, but that’s inherent to the visual novel genre.
The graphics have gotten a 3D overhaul (yet they retained most of the charm of their 2D counterparts of 999), and the game makes good use of the functionality of the 3DS. The in-game memo system will definitely be a big help to you during some of the games’ puzzles. Also, this time around the game is voiced. In the European version you only get the original Japanese voices (so you don’t have the choice of picking the (American) English dubs), but the voice acting is great and I’d have picked the original voices anyway, had I been given the choice. A couple of the voice actors really manage to make their characters stand out. Especially Zero Jr. - the psychotic AI rabbit that’s controlling the game - and the mysterious ‘K’ (who wears full body armor) hit their marks…
While the premise of both games is the same (9 seemingly random strangers are kidnapped and locked in a big place where they need to solve a bunch of escape-the-room puzzles to ultimately escape through a door with the number ‘9’ on it, all the while placing their own lives at jeopardy), Virtue’s Last Reward adds a game of trust and betrayal in the mix. And your chances of escaping depend on the decisions you make: can you trust the other people in this game? Can they trust you?
Unfortunately this game falls victim to its own strength in this regard: as big of an improvement as the flowchart may be, it kills the tension for most of the decisions you make, since you can easily jump back and make a different decision instead. This weakened impact is seen throughout the game if you compare it to 999. Virtue’s Last Reward doesn’t have the same sense of urgency as 999 had and it doesn’t have the same chilling atmosphere (though that’s not for a lack of trying - Zero Jr. *will* creep you out and there’s plenty of death in the game). Consequently, the game lacks the same intensity its predecessor had.
Another difference is in the games’ approach to its plot twists. While 999 basically hit you with an atomic bomb at the end (or in this case: an ‘annihilation’ bomb *wink wink nudge nudge*), there is no single big twist in this game. Rather there are a huge bunch of smaller ones in Virtue’s Last Reward. You’ll be left guessing right up to the last minute, but when most of the bombs are dropped, the game will have lost some of its element of surprise. Quite a few of the plot twists will have been telegraphed from earlier on, especially if you already know how the writer built up 999. While the story is equally fantastical (and equally far-fetched) as that of its predecessor, and while the writing is top notch again (safe for some lame attempts at humour - a problem that was also present in 999 and that could be a result of the localization), overall the story has a lesser impact. You also need to consider that you won’t get full closure at the end of the game since the ‘true’ ending primarily sets up a third game in the Zero Escape series (but at least it does so perfectly)...
The escape-the-room sequences in this game are also a tad harder than they were in 999, especially since there is always an (optional) second solution to be found that’s just a little more difficult to attain. And as a final point I’d like to add that the game is also extremely lengthy (which means that, coupled with its addictive nature, you’re in for several sleepless nights). It took me a whopping 48 hours to complete it, which for an adventure game is simply massive!
In conclusion, the flowchart that was added solves the biggest problem the game’s predecessor had, but while the story is once again outstanding, it just misses some of the intensity that 999 had. Virtue’s Last Reward is a more than worthy successor, but for me personally it falls just a tad short of the original. It’s still a great game, though, and after the cliffhanger at the end I can only say: bring on the next Zero Escape!
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Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Just Right