SEEK A WAY OUT!
As it stands, I'm still on a whole unsure of how I feel about "Virtue's Last Reward" (from here on out referred to as VLR).
That's not a slight against the game either, it's wonderfully written, has characters that you love to hate or just outright love, and packs what feels like three times the mind-screws of it's predecessor "9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors" (from here on out referred to as 999).
What I mean by my opening statement is that after getting the very best ending possible, it's the kind of game that can make you feel like you're floating. Like you're on the edge of something great, riding a wave to it's final destination before the wave throws you off and says "Better Luck Next Time".
When I started VLR, all I could think of in the back of my head was "Will this live up to the tone and structure of 999" "Should they have just left it alone?" "Is a sequel necessary?" and as I started up the game and I got to meet the 7 new characters of Sigma, Phi, Tenmyouji, Quark, Dio, Luna and Zero III, and got re-acquainted with Clover from 999 and be introduced formally to Alice, a character that plays a part in 999 but, almost sadly, not in the way that most players perhaps wanted or expected. I for one felt like I got a raw deal with this character, but that's something for a more spoiler-ific review/discussion.
As I met all these characters, new and old, I could not help but feel bored and dis-interested. Nobody really stood out to me, nobody made me want to pay attention. As cool a character as Phi is, and how awesome her "I am No-Man" introduction speech is, I just wasn't pulled in like I was with 999.
It might have been because playing the European version I was thrown off by the Japanese voicing that had been combined with American subtitles which included obvious dialogue changes. Nothing game breaking, but, it's obvious at points during the game where lines have been changed to make things flow better in English, and I'm not talking about Zero III using embarrassing honorfics while the text has nicknames either, but either way, I wasn't getting into this game from the get-go, and then Zero III with all his translation induced rabbit puns happened, and I wanted that character to stay all throughout the story. But what really got my attention was The Nonary Game - Ambidex Edition.
The Nonary Game in 999 was fairly straight forward:
- You had 9 doors individually numbered 1-9.
- Each participant had a braclet watch also numbered 1-9.
- Only 3-5 participants could go through any numbered door at any given time, and these had to be decided via Digital Root by adding up bracelet numbers.
- Go through Numbered Door to puzzle room, solve and repeat as you make your escape.
And oh, the catch was each bracelet had a detonator inside connected to a miniature bomb in your stomach, so if you broke any of Zero's rules... BOOM!
As far as I was concerned, I knew the Nonary Game. Sure, I had watched the promo OAV, which is non-canon by the way, and I had read previews and had known about the feature that VLR sells itself on: Ally or Betray.
Well see, Ally/Betray is the kicker here, it IS the Ambidex Edition. The new Nonary Game's rules are as follows.
- There is only one No. 9 door.
- Only players whose Bracelet Points (BP) are 9 or more may leave through this door.
- This door only opens once. You fail to get through, tough luck.
- You gain BP by playing the AB Game after each puzzle solved.
- Puzzles are behind Chromatic Doors (CD) which players must pair off to go through depending on their Bracelet colours.
- Bracelets are set to two conditions - Colour and Solo/Pair
- A Solo must team up with a Pair to go through a CD and solve the puzzle. eg: Red Pair teams with Blue Solo to access Magenta CD.
- This pairing then plays the AB Game. Pair vs Solo
- Ally gets you 2 points if both sets choose Ally.
- Betray gets you 3 points if the opponent chooses Ally.
- Ally causes you to lose 2 points if the opponent chooses Betray.
- Betray gets you nothing if both sides choose Betray.
The catch? If you break any of the game's rules, then your bracelet can poison you. Firstly with an anaesthetic that was introduced in 999, and then secondly with a muscle relaxant that kicks on 9 minutes after the anaesthetic. Not quite a bomb, but, more demanding.
So, already the name of the game has not only changed, but the rules and regulations, you pretty much have all of a puzzle room to decide whether you can trust your partner cum opponent, or whether they're getting ready to stab you in the back. And these are just the rules that Zero III tells you when the game starts.
There are other rules, but for the sake of the review, let's just keep to the ones above.
The new rules created a buzz of excitement for me personally, and as I played through each puzzle and got to know the ins and outs of each character, I'm really happy to say that I started to fall for this game as much as I did 999. Of all my games, it's one of the few that are in my "never trade-in" pile.
The puzzles are intricate and have two settings "Easy and Hard". These don't really change the puzzles per se, as I didn't notice a difference when playing the Demo version which was set to "Easy" by default and playing the puzzle on "Hard" in the actual game. The settings really do two things. One important, one not so important.
In each puzzle room, there is a safe which holds the keys you need to escape and usually something for your characters to discover and help unravel the plot.
To get to these you get a combination for the safe whenever you finish a puzzle. However, each room has a secondary combination. This combination when playing on Hard gives you Golden Files, and Silver when playing on Easy. Furthermore, when playing on Easy, the characters will give you more hints, if not outright tell you what to do if you get stuck. This particular player managed to beat everything on Hard Mode if you must know.
Collecting all the Gold Files will lead you to not the True Ending, but a literal Golden or True True Ending, and for a novel game I found this to be mentally exhausting. It's not that the puzzles are overly difficult. They're not. Each room is unique bar one, and bar this one room, no puzzle methods repeat themselves, so you're never in a position where Room X solves identically to Room Y.
What's exhausting is the information that getting these files gives you. If you played 999 and thought that all the Morphogenetic Field stuff was tough to wrap your mind around during it's six possible endings, then all I'll say is: Play VLR and wait til you see what it does all in the name of outright telling you that there will be a Zero Escape: Volume 3 (as recently confirmed on Twitter) during the course of it's twenty-four.
As I type this, I easily reminisce on just how much I loved VLR, clocking in a playtime of 41 hours and 31 minutes. It became more than just the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition, and the feeling of urgency as I tried to work out who was likely to Betray me in an AB Game and plan accordingly, but the characterizations which go back and forth against and with the expected tropes assigned to these characters. I came to love how when you think you have something figured out, and have answered the questions, you run into a Game Over screen, and the game changes the questions in another timeline, and more often than not, a timeline you need to progress the overall plot.
Controls are nothing special. Puzzle rooms are a point and click affair, though you can navigate with the shoulder buttons and circle pad.
And yes, I said timeline. If you've played 999 then this is nothing new. And as you noticed earlier, I mentioned twenty-four possible endings. The game plays a fair bit with the Timey-Wimey ball and shows that the Doctor may have been on to something. Heh, Doctor...
But more than that, I became engrossed in the story, I wanted to see how it all played out, I wanted to see how the game would heal old wounds it dug up as I played through in it's self-reference, and at the end of the 41 hours, as I closed the 3DS, and stared at it, all the new information processing in my head and trying to make sense of itself as I digested it, my mind was alight with theories and what-ifs. Most of all, I just wanted Volume 3.
So, in the end, do I recommend Virtue's Last Reward? Yes!
Does it triumph over a foundation left by 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors? Yes!
Do you need to have played 999 in order to play VLR? No... and Yes.
I'll end my review with this, and try to be as spoiler-free as I can.
VLR carries on a lot of 999's story, but more-so toward the end of the game. You get a minor reference to it from Clover during a part of the game where you're trying to solve a mystery rather than a puzzle, but unless you've played 999 and know the story of those 9 Nonary Game players, then there is a lot lost when revelations are made and you start thinking back on something said by Character A to Character B when piecing the plot together in your mind as you play the game.
As it's not 100% necessary, I still whole-heartedly recommend you play VLR as it's main story stands on it's own two feet and makes for one absolute roller-coaster of a visual novel game. Play it, love it, enjoy it. Just don't save in the puzzle rooms, please.
But, if you can grab 999 since it's been re-printed then you owe it to yourself to play this story out in full.
For EU/AU players, even though the 3DS is region locked for 3DS games and certain DSi enhanced games, it will still play regular DS carts, so get it while you can if you can.
Thank you for your time everyone, hope this has been a pleasant read.
Til next time,
YOU FOUND IT!