Choice. Games today throw that word around by saying your “choices” will effect how your story will unfold for every little thing you do. But rarely does a choice really affect us. Rarely does a game really take into consideration the things you do, and how it effects its entirety At times, you may end up asking yourself, “Can it really be that difficult of a choice?” Hmm. What if your decision was to decide whether someone lives…or dies. This is a simple premise that, in Virtue’s Last Reward, reminds the player of a singule truth:
Memento Mori – “Remember, you will die.”
Several times in fact. However that is the nature of your choices, the nature the Nonary Game, the nature of Virtue’s Last Reward.
In 2010, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was released in North America, courtesy of Aksys Games. It was a surprise success and sold through several print runs on the DS. Two years later, Virtues Last Reward (VLR) has finally reached shores worldwide riding in the wake behind the of its predecessor. Using a new twist on the Nonary game, does it stand up to the shadow of its former?
Yes – yes it does. And it does so with brilliant direction and fantastic production. In fact, in virtually every facet it trumps its predecessor. To stress this point, lets first look at the most important aspect of any visual novel, the story.
(Before I continue, I must stress one thing: Play 999 first. It will make the story infinitely more satisfying.)
You, the player, take up role of Sigma, an average college student who clearly has horrible luck. You wake up in an elevator next to a girl named Phi, and are told by a virtual rabbit name Zero III to escape. Doing so, you will find yourself in a warehouse and consequently begin the Nonary game: Ambidex Edition. In 999, you survived the game by making it to the ninth door in less than nine hours; in VLR, you survive by having enough bracelet points (BP) to open the ninth door. BP is scoring system that tallies your points from either “allying” or ‘betraying” other characters. This refers back to the very foundation of the game, which in principal is challenged by the repetition of the prisoner’s dilemma.
For those who don’t know, the prisoner’s dilemma is the classical take on game theory. In VLR, it decides if you live, or die. In this case, if you and your partner choose ally, you both get +2 BP. However, if you choose ally and you partner chooses betray, than you get -2 BP and your partner get +3 BP. But if you choose betray, while your partner chooses ally, then its vice versa. Lastly, if both of you choose “betray,” than there is no change in BP. The firs to 9 BP can escape the game, but anyone that reaches 0 BP… Dies.
This main choice throughout the game will guide you through to the 24 endings. Yes, there are 24 endings, which is a rather large step up from 999’s six. Expect this game to take you at least 30 hours, probably more. However, is only one “true” ending, but you we need to work through the others first in order to see it. I wont say much more on the matter because in terms of spoilers, this game is littered with them. People will die, that about as much as I should say. Speaking of which, I will stress this again; while VLR could be played as a stand-alone title, you will come away from story only slightly in awe as opposed to being fully mind blown if you do not play its predecessor. Do yourself a service and play 999 first.
Anyway, the entire game basically consists of three main sections: a) The Novel Portion b) The AB Room Portion and c) The escape Portion. The novel portion is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the portion that progresses the story. The AB rooms are the parts of the game where you decide whether to ally or betray another character, but you only get to do so after you complete an escape room. These escape rooms are the main puzzle portions of the game, and you never have to do one room more than one (something that could drive a man insane in 999).
In order complete an escape room, you need to complete puzzles; these puzzles can vary from getting a certain score in a game of darts, to locating combining items you find from shelves and cupboards. I will say that this time around, the puzzles are much more challenging, and always have two solutions. One solution allows you to escape, while the other gives you more information about the setting of VLR. You want that extra information believe me!
VLR addresses a major issue that plagued 999 and that is the approach multiple playthrough paths, or lack there of I should say. Thanks to the wonders of the FLOW system, you will never have to worry about replaying a) the same sequence or b) the same escape room ever again! If you ever need to go back and refer to something that happened before, simply hit up the flow chart and be on your way. Another issue addressed in VLR is the ability to skip text that has already been seen before. Any text can now be guided through by tapping single button to put the story on auto-pilot, and once more to put the story on skip mode, which blazes through all the bits you’ve already seen and don’t wish to see again!
Another change from 999 to VLR is the addition of voice work. I admit I was rather skeptical about adding voices, but the entire cast genuinely impressed me. The main standout was Zero III, who really stole the show early on. However the entire ensemble really blew me away since rarely do I see voice acting quality like this. IN fact, the sound quality is top notch in this department. With the sound supported by the 3DS and PS Vita, the developer really took the time to edit the game so as to take advantage of each systems excellent audio. The music is well done as well; with each track supporting the mood of the novel sections both a beautiful and terrifying way.
In addition to the improved sound, we see enhanced visuals across the board. No longer are 2D sprites populated the dual screens of your 3DS or the widescreen of my PS Vita. It’s 3D baby! And it looks gorgeous. The animation fills that need for the visual part of this novel, portraying action and gruesome seen in “disgusting” clarity. While the 3D models aren’t necessarily out of this world, they are still great and clearly relay the shortcomings many players felt when they went through 999’s static artwork.
I got to hand it to the developers at ChunSoft; they found a way to address every issue that bogged down 999. They did so brilliantly in fact. I doubted that this game could come even close to rivaling the quality of 999. And they didn’t, they exceed it in every way possible. The stories that Uchikoshi-san pens for his games are nothing short of genius. Perhaps this game isn’t for everyone, and I can’t say it’s absolutely perfect in terms of pacing at times. But the end result is brilliant and mindbending.
Because in reality, there is only one thing that truly awful about this game: We have to wait for Vol. 3…
Game was played on PS Vita, however 3DS version was compatible and equally as good.
Jaime (aka Paco) was absolutely floored by Virtue’s Last Reward, and he hopes that a sequel is both made and localized post haste. If you want to help in this process, let people know about this game with social media and what-not. If you wanna talk about the ending and what it could possible mean, reach me on Twitter @RTBL1990 ! (No commenting spoilers please) Also be sure to tweet at the director/writer of VLR so that he knows we WANT a sequel.