Tuesday, August 26, 2014
First Impressions: Zero Escape- Virtue's Last Reward
The second installment in Spike Chunsoft's Zero Escape visual novel series brings another tale of conspiracy, death, and mind-bending plot twists grounded in a science-fiction universe. The first game in the series, the excellent 999, introduced players to the Nonary Game, a life-or-death high stakes competition set up by a gas-mask wearing individual called Zero. Virtue's Last Reward begins with the new protagonist, Sigma, awakening in an elevator, accompanied by a mysterious girl and instructed to escape by an artificial intelligence known as Zero III. So begins the brand new Nonary Game- Ambidex Edition, a prisoners dilemma style twist on the original premise. Once again, nine individuals have been kidnapped and forced into this deadly game, and it's up to the player to piece together the mystery by solving puzzles, making decisions at various points, and then playing through the various branching paths of the story in order to see the whole story.
Virtue's Last Reward makes one major improvement over the original. In 999, you were forced to replay the game from the beginning in order to play through different branches and receive a different ending. While you could still fast forward through previously viewed text, it still was a somewhat aggravating and repetitive process since the puzzle rooms needed to be re-solved. VLR fixes this by including a flowchart that shows every key moment in the story as a node on a flowchart, and allowing the player to jump to any point they've previously reached. This reduces the need to replay puzzle rooms, although optional files that provide further insight into Zero Escape's insane world provides incentive to revisit puzzle rooms.
Speaking of which, all of the puzzle rooms are set to 'HARD' difficulty by default, and the difficulty can be bumped down to 'EASY' for the duration of the puzzle room, although it cannot be changed back until the puzzle is solved. Reducing the difficulty provides more hints (as well as some humorous banter between the characters), but seeing as the hint system was a normal part of the original game, and some small pieces of content (such as files and a secret ending) can only be obtained by completing all puzzles on 'HARD', I personally find this to be a change for the worse. Still, at the end of the day, it's hard to find too much fault with a sequel to one of your favorite games, and I look forward to seeing what surprises VLR has in store. Look for a full review sometime in the future!