Lately, trying to write has been a real slog. I’ve had a low-grade depression hanging over me for the last week or so, which hampers my ability to be productive. I also tend to default to doing whatever feels easy. I won’t try new things, I won’t engage many new ideas, I just sort of drift through my activities and hope that soon I’ll shake whatever it is and get back on track. What I can sometimes manage, however, is to focus on a game I’ve already started and just play it until it’s over. This time around, I fell back into my playthrough of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward for the 3DS. The game’s title is kind of dumb, and I don’t really understand how it connects to the plot at all, and the plot itself is actually kind of convoluted and odd, but the overall experience of the game is pretty solid. I actually really liked it.
The set-up of the storyline was really intriguing: 9 people are locked away in a strange warehouse and forced to play a sinister prisoner’s dilemma-esque game. Since most of the people are strangers, they have little reason to trust one another, making a game where their lives are on the line all the more tense. It’s largely a visual novel, but the story is interrupted by escape-the-room puzzles and decision-making elements that keep the player engaged.
Virtue’s Last Reward is actually the second game in the series, and characters from the first game are brought back. Whatever effect that was meant to have was lost on me, as I haven’t played 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors so I really had no clue what I was getting into, making the plot a bit more of a mystery to me. I prefer that, really, since it left me in the dark for so long I could enjoy the story longer, with each reveal genuinely being a surprise to me.
This game’s most interesting feature is the FLOW menu, which allows you to backtrack or hop sideways to different paths. Once you performed a task, you could return to that point and try to do it differently. I trekked through all kinds of riddles, played the AB Game, and uncovered secrets that helped me in each timeline.
The music was very well arranged, with only a handful of songs that never lost their sense of atmosphere when reused. The escape-the-room portions would tend towards high-energy electronic tracks, while the novel would stir up tension to match the character’s emotions. The voice acting, in my opinion, was also well executed. I was particularly fond of the vocal effects used for K, the man in the metal armor, and Zero Jr., the eccentric AI rabbit taunting the players.
There are a few shortcomings to the game and honestly they were by and large, the way I see it, in the last fifth of the game. While Virtue’s Last Reward relied on metaphorical examples throughout to explain some of its more confusing , towards the end they just couldn’t stop piling them on. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand hearing yet another hypothetical situation, and since the mishmash of theoretical science had already far exceeded even normal levels of anime science, I started to tune a lot of it out. Don’t get me wrong, the game is out there and I actually appreciate that, it’s just that the ending laid it on pretty thick.
Lastly, I want to cover my initial thoughts of the sequel, Zero Time Dilemma. Zero Time Dilemma, though titled far more appropriately, is a lot clunkier than Virtue’s Last Reward. For some reason, you’re no longer permitted to use your note space and the hints you discovered at the same time as you solve a puzzle. Before, you could pull out your note, have it sit on the top screen, and perform the puzzle on the touch screen. While the top screen is still just a copy of the bottom screen as it was in VLR, you can’t store any information there. This means you have to look at the hint, memorize the hint, close the hint, open your memo, write down the memo, close the memo, go to the puzzle, forget the hint, open the memo, remind yourself, close the memo… It’s needlessly difficult is what I’m saying. Especially since VLR makes it so easy – open memo, open hint, open puzzle, go! Also ZTD decided to go into a more 3-D art style than its predecessors, sort of like the way Phoenix Wright moved to 3-D. I think both look incredibly tacky and lifeless. I dunno, maybe I’m just not fond of 3-D art in general… But how can I not love the style that brought us this stunning piece of animation?
All joking aside, Virtue’s Last Reward is a pretty good game. It definitely veers sharply into the more preposterous realms of science fiction (one might even call this science fantasy), but if you can accept that not everything you engage with needs to make sense, you’ll likely have a really good time playing it. The characters, who start out looking totally bizarre and seem to have relatively stock personalities, become pretty endearing, and though the plot is filled with so many twists it’s a veritable pretzel, some of them are still pretty surprising. Though at times frustratingly esoteric, Virtue’s Last Reward is still a solid game.
All images from http://virtueslastreward.com/