In the past ten or so years, the visual novel genre has found success in the West thanks to attempts to localise games you'd usually only find in the Japanese market. But one series that has never really had its time to truly shine is the set of Zero Escape games, which have been spread across multiple consoles. Fortunately, efforts by publisher Aksys Games have resulted in the first two titles – Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue's Last Reward – being ported to the PlayStation 4 as The Nonary Games collection.
If you've ever played one of Kotaro Uchikoshi's masterpieces before, you'll know exactly what to expect here: the Zero Escape games are told in the style of a visual novel, and are frequently compared to the Saw film series. Both games follow nine different protagonists with the lead character of Junpei linking the two, as they awaken aboard a ship in the case of 999 and an abandoned warehouse in Virtue's Last Reward. The characters must then work out a means of escape, all while being watched by the evil mastermind of the Nonary Games known as Zero.
The two games are known for their twisting and surprising storylines, and this very much remains the same with this collection. You can never be quite sure what's around the next corner or in the next escape room as the title in question throws another curveball at you – Virtue's Last Reward in particular. And with six different endings to 999 and a staggering 24 for the sequel, rest assured that your choices throughout the plot absolutely do have an impact on the outcome. If you're experiencing these gems for the first time, you're in for a very wild ride.
Outside of the plot, you'll find yourself tacking puzzles which all revolve around the main objective of escaping the room that you're currently in; they take inspiration from the story beat you're currently experiencing and work in smaller puzzles to uncover further clues to escaping. The original versions used the stylus to navigate, while the P4 version uses a round cursor similar to the one found in Destiny, and this helps with picking up keys and tools to help in your escape. The puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, from simple to complex, and the majority of them are a ton of fun to solve.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors plays just like its Nintendo DS counterpart, but a few enhancements help to make the PS4 version an even better experience. Voice acting is the biggest new feature, with characters that were voiced in later games having their voice actors return to update this initial entry. Just like in Virtue's Last Reward and the series' third entry Zero Time Dilemma – which isn't a part of this collection – the escape rooms themselves still only get the text treatment, but outside of that you'll be treated to the sweet tones of characters such as Junpei, Snake, and Clover.
The flow chart was a helpful way of plotting your path through Virtue's Last Reward, and this component has been added into this PS4 update. Your route through 999 is now much easier to shape as you can see which choices have what effect, and double back if you don't like the direction you're taking. This eliminates a lot of tedium that could be found in the DS original as you no longer have to play through the game multiple times in order to see all the endings – or search out guides to best manoeuvre your line to the "true" ending. Now, it's as simple as taking a different path on the flow chart.
However, the Nintendo DS and 3DS origins of these titles have resulted in a minor drawback for this PS4 port. Both titles took advantage of the hardware's second screen where descriptive text would be displayed, while a character's thoughts and feelings would appear on the top. The second screen of course doesn't exist on consoles, so instead the bottom screen's functionality is accessible via a separate Novel Mode. This change does the job well enough, but unfortunately it does lessen the impact of story beats later on in 999 where the bottom screen would come into play.
While Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has received two major tweaks, Virtue's Last Reward gets a much weaker coat of paint. The game benefits from the PS4 port with a slight graphical upgrade, but the improvements pretty much stop there. Don't get us wrong, the game is still just as good as it was when it released on the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS back in 2012, but it's not the collection's main focus here in terms of technical renovations. The collection seems more focused on bringing 999 up to the same technical quality of Virtue's Last Reward, rather than enhancing both titles.
For newcomers, Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is an essential purchase. You've got two excellent games that tell a wild and wonderful story that will stay with you for a very long time, and combine that with the engaging puzzles and you've got a recipe for a quality experience. For returning fans, it's a tougher sell: your purchase mostly balances on the enhancements of the PS4 edition, in which case we can only confidently recommend the package if you're looking to do a play though of the improved Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.