(PlayStation Vita)

Game Review

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Ramsey

Nine is a magic number

Taking place in the not-so-distant future, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward puts you in the role of Sigma, a young man who’s removed from his normal life and forced to take part in the ‘Nonary Game’ – a sick and twisted creation that ponders whether you're willing to betray in order to survive.

Virtue’s Last Reward is essentially a blend of visual novel and puzzle, with the latter presenting itself almost as soon as the game begins. It’s immediately apparent that these aren’t your typical newspaper conundrums, though, as the head-scratchers form around one main theme: escape. Whether it’s exiting an elevator that’s about to smash into the ground, or escaping an eerie, abandoned warehouse, you must utilise your surroundings effectively in order to find a way out.

The puzzles, like the game itself, are unique and incredibly engaging. While you’re always making use of somewhat mundane objects, these sections are frighteningly tense. This is partly due to the game’s cramped, dank interiors that give a claustrophobic vibe, but it’s mostly due to the inherent dangers of being subject to Zero, the game’s antagonist, and the mastermind behind the aforementioned Nonary Game.

It’s not just Sigma who’s being forced to bend to Zero’s rules, either. Virtue’s Last Reward features a rich and diverse cast of characters, all of which are stuck in the same predicament. Escaping Zero’s insanity requires the players of the Nonary Game to rack up points, which are tracked through a watch-like device securely fixed to each character’s wrist. When someone manages to collect 9 points, freedom is theirs for the taking. Keep losing points until the counter hits 0, however, and they’ll be killed. It’s not a completely original scenario, but this base concept holds the game’s plot together perfectly.

Since the game’s outcome hinges on this system, Virtue’s Last Reward could have easily faltered when it comes to actually gaining said points. However, the process not only cements itself as a pivotal part of the story, but it also becomes a gameplay highlight as well. Points are collected by either betraying or allying with other members of the cast, presenting difficult decisions upon the completion of each puzzle room. And, unlike many games that boast far-reaching consequences as a result of player choice, every decision in Virtue’s Last Reward has a huge impact. Characters will die, enemies will be made, and sudden, brutal conclusions to the game’s plot will occur with frightening frequency.

The game features 24 different endings, all of which are dependent on the choices that you make throughout. As previously alluded, even the smaller choices such as deciding which of the other 8 characters you want to be paired with can radically change the progression of the plot. It’s here that Virtue’s Last Reward offers so much more than simply solving quirky puzzles; the story has countless twists, and staying on top of the wealth of information dispensed during the ‘novel’ sections of the game is made easier thanks to some superb writing.

That said, the game often hits an extremely slow pace due to an excessive use of dialogue. While this doesn’t hamper the story or the atmosphere, it can be tedious scrolling through reams of text with no real gameplay in between. Thankfully, the puzzle sections themselves are equally lengthy. The title also makes use of a very handy save function, which you can use at any point. Whether you prefer five minute stints of puzzle solving, or hours of engrossing story, this makes the game a perfect fit for portable play.

Virtue’s Last Reward pulls no punches when it comes to shock value, either, with some scenarios – especially endings – being both graphically and mentally mature. Make no mistake, this story is not for the faint of heart – but it’s refreshing to see in a video game nonetheless.

Due to its wealth of endings, the game is deceptively time consuming. You'll definitely be shocked when you reach your first conclusion – whatever that may be – but it quickly transpires that the adventure doesn't end there. Thanks to a well implemented level select mechanic, you can jump back to a previous decision and adopt a different route.

As for the visuals, character designs are flamboyant, attractive, and typically Japanese, while the environments are grey and industrial. It’s a stark contrast that sometimes feels a little jarring – but it works for the most part. Sadly, some puzzles are restricted to 2D interfaces, which break the immersion a little bit.

Puzzles typically require you to fiddle around with the Vita’s various control methods, although some work far better than others. Tilting the console in order to manipulate sliding blocks is unruly and frustrating, while in contrast, the Vita’s touch screen can be used to click objects of importance, and is incredibly accurate. Thankfully, the game also supports traditional controls – but we can’t help but feel that the game misses the opportunity to use Sony's latest system in some truly unique ways.

Similarly, audio is a mixed bag. Although much of the game’s music is suitably tense, it loops far too often and starts to grate during long sessions of gameplay – especially when you're tasked with solving a difficult puzzle. In contrast, the voice acting is varied and emotionally driven – even if it is in Japanese.

It’s safe to say that these flaws are minor at best, though. Attention to detail is easily Virtue’s Last Reward’s biggest accomplishment, and it’s exciting to see such a complex and mature narrative brought to life on a portable system.

Conclusion

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a deep, engaging, and incredibly intelligent visual novel. It's a shame that the game doesn't do more with the hardware, but its meaningful player decisions, taxing puzzle elements, and unforgivably mature themes fuse to create one of the best Vita titles so far.

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User Comments (14)

THENAMESNORM

#2

THENAMESNORM said:

Over on PushSquare's sister site, Nintendo Life, it was awarded at 10/10 however the review seems to have gone....strange. The review is still on metacritic but clicking on the link takes you to the game profile page and the review is nowhere to be seen. very odd.

There's a demo on the 3DS eShop if you want to try that version, not sure on a Vita Trial though.

Squiggle55

#3

Squiggle55 said:

I'm playing it on the vita right now and I wish I was playing it on the 3ds. I'm basing this simply on how much better I like the controls of 999.

ShogunRokAdmin

#4

ShogunRok said:

I found the game controls far better when using a mix of traditional controls and the touch screen. Using touch to move around, for example, can be particularly frustrating. It's honestly one of the game's only downfalls.

Squiggle55

#5

Squiggle55 said:

@shogunrok that's exactly right. moving around is the worst so I use the joystick for that. I even use the left trigger to zoom out and I often use the joystick for looking around and selecting things too.

I liked the drawn visuals of 999 a LOT better too compared to this 3D environment and character models. But I'm sure I'll like the story and puzzles just as much hopefully.

Stuffgamer1

#6

Stuffgamer1 said:

So the version with the crashes and save-file-erasing bugs gets a 10 on NLife, and this one is only an 8? I'm guessing they weren't reviewed by the same person. :P

I played this to Platinum completion on Vita, and I thought it was fantastic. For what it's worth, the English voice acting in the North American version are mostly pretty good, but Zero III is superb.

Kimiko

#8

Kimiko said:

In the N-American edition, you can select English or Japanese voices for the audio. You might want to add that detail to your review. Perhaps you had the European edition? I heard that one only has Japanese voices. It wouldn't have mattered to me because I'd have picked Japanese over English anyway, but some might like them.

And yes, what's up with the same game getting such different scores from the same team of reviewers? It's not a night and day difference, but still, two points on a ten point scale is pretty big. I just started the game myself, but if this is as great as 999, I'd give it a 9/10 at least.

get2sammybAdmin

#9

get2sammyb said:

@Kimiko It's not the same team of reviewers. Obviously, we share members at times, but Push Square is mostly autonomous from Nintendo Life when it comes to reviews. For example, I only found out that NL gave it a 10/10 in this thread.

ShogunRokAdmin

#10

ShogunRok said:

@Superconsole Thanks very much!

As for differing review scores, they're subjective. Maybe Virtue's Last Reward plays better on the 3DS thanks to the stylus - I can't say. All I know is I stick by the score I gave it. An 8/10 is an absolutely solid score, and a game as good as this deserves it.

moomoo

#11

moomoo said:

I think a part of the differing review scores is that one was played by a person who hadn't played 999 (makes sense, considering it didn't come out in Europe) and one was reviewed by one who did. So if you liked 999, it's a 10, while if you never played it, it's an 8.

EDIT: Wait, where did the NintendoLife review go?

SuperconsoleAdmin

#12

Superconsole said:

@moomoo I think you're right there. I imported 999 so had the experience of playing both, and there were a few nods towards 999 story-wise that wouldn't have been so important and shocking if you hadn't played the original. But then again, 10 is a very high score - you have to ask yourself, is any game true 'perfection'..?

Cloud7794

#13

Cloud7794 said:

@Superconsole Woo for late comments! Anyways, I only semi-recently platinumed the game and never played 999, but personally I would give the game a 10. Obviously this is a 10 in relation to it's genre and story. This game kept me gripped and thinking, and although it makes some plot points obvious, that only serves to better hide the non-obvious ones. Few games have ever legitimately made me feel like I knew a character, and even fewer have succeeded in making me feel betrayed by pixels on a screen (as well as heavily mortified by my choices, I never want to betray TT_TT). By the time I finally put the game away, I had been shocked/thrown for a loop more times than I could count and made choices that kept me up at night. As far as controls, I didn't have a problem at all, but having never owned a DS, I may just not know what I'm missing there. All in all, this had become my favorite game on Vita by the time I was through, it's just a shame that there's no replayability, I have the story now, and that's what the game mainly has to offer.

SuperconsoleAdmin

#14

Superconsole said:

@Cloud7794 Glad you enjoyed it! :) I know what you mean about betraying, I felt awful too, but not as bad as when I accidentally permadeath a character because of my own rubbish tactics in Fire Emblem!!

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