Review: Virtue's Last Reward a more than rewarding experience
It's no secret that the PS Vita's software library is dangerously barren, and though there are some noteworthy releases on the horizon, Vita owners are still starving for a way to justify their expensive toy. Thankfully we now have Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, a game I can honestly claim to be the best thing I've yet to play on my Vita (also available for Nintendo 3DS). The sequel to the cult favorite Nintendo DS title 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtue's Last Reward is a similar mash up of two rare genres, combining the Japanese visual novel method of storytelling with the "room escape" brand of puzzle games. What this results in is a dangerously addictive experience, one that has kept me up long past bedtime on more than a few occasions.
This mysterious hooded figure (Zero?) is a common flashback.
Like 999, Virtue's Last Reward plot draws obvious comparisons to the 'Saw' movie series, with a mysterious entity named Zero having kidnapped the game's 9 protagonists, forcing them to solve puzzles in order to escape from a mysterious facility. To force co-operation, the characters have all been forced into a bracelet which displays their current team affiliation and point total. Any player who accrues 9 points gains the ability to unlock the main door and escape, forever trapping the remaining players within the facility. Conversely, any player who either refuses to play the game or loses all their points will have the hidden needles in their bracelet activated, resulting in death. This, plus the revelation that one is the nine players is Zero himself (or herself), means that you can expect plenty of backstabbing and betrayal as the exciting plot plays out.
Not the most stylish accessory.
As thrilling as the plot is, it's the puzzle rooms that are the real hook, filled with a fantastic variety of logic teasers sure to destroy your brain. It's hard to describe just how great some of these puzzles are without spoiling them, but let's say they involve elements as diverse as margarita machines, blood-soaked pool tables and scratch-off bikini posters.
My thoughts exactly.
Using the touchscreen interface to navigate each room's is fairly intuitive, moving the camera with swipes of the screen while poking at clues to examine them more closely. Many puzzle solutions will involve combining inventory items together into new tools, carefully studying a piece of evidence in the file viewer, or discovering hidden messages within the room itself. In short, there's no shortage of new surprises being thrown at the player, and I never once encountered a puzzle which wasn't unique in its own way. Not to mention that Virtue's Last Reward goes out of its way to assist players with the tricky challenges, providing a very helpful memo screen for scrawling out notes on the fly, and even letting players switch into "easy mode" in case their frustration levels start to peak.
Sometimes you press buttons. Yay for touchscreens.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of Virtue's Last Reward however, is the branching storyline, with each choice you make in the game resulting in a new timeline to explore. What's cool is that the game allows players to hop around on these timeline at will, and it's incredibly intriguing to see different choices result in drastic new consequences for the characters. What's even more thrilling is that these timelines aren't simply treated as alternate realities, with the main character actually strangely aware of the choices he's made in different universes. This just piles even more intrigue atop a plot already littered with pandemic viruses, anti-matter bombs and evil A.I. bunny rabbits, with "just one more timeline" a common thought as I played late into the night.
Trying to figure out which character is Zero is a major plot hook.
To be fair, I do have a few complaints about Virtue's Last Reward. One major issue is that the plot often attempts to shoehorn in some rather misplaced humor, something which severely detracts from the depth of the otherwise chilling narrative. One minute you're discovering a dead body, the next minute the main character is cracking jokes about handjobs as his female companion works a lever. This is especially off-putting given the storyline's first person perspective, and with my character constantly being yelled at for making perverted remarks and trying to glance up skirts, I began to feel strangely uncomfortable. Not exactly the kind of immersion one would hope for. Additionally, though uncovering the plot's mysteries is a thrill, the game has a very bad habit of sandwiching these segments between unnecessarily-lengthy scenes of colored dots moving around the map or doors opening and closing. I suppose the developers wanted you to get a feel for the facility's layout, but being unable to skip these tedious moments is a serious annoyance (especially when the plot has your character searching every corner of the facility in search of clues).
Here a character is asked if the game's sexual humor is actually funny.
Despite these tiny grievances, Virtue's Last Reward is still the best Vita game I've played yet, and I imagine it's just as good on the Nintendo 3DS as well. This unique puzzle title is simply not to be missed, and I look forward to dedicating hours to unlocking the remaining storylines, and solving the alternate puzzles hidden in each room of the game. For a game concerned with 9s, it sure earns that score. Check it out.
[Reviewed on PS Vita]