Game Review

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Mike Mason

I want to play a game

You wake up in a sealed metal bunker, surrounded by strangers, an odd bracelet secured around your wrist. You're told that there's only one way to escape: earn a certain number of points by participating in a deadly game with and against your fellow prisoners. But who can you rely on? Can you pick out allies from enemies? Would you be willing to betray the trust of others to cover your own back, to break out as soon as possible?

This is the problem at the heart of Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, a game that weaves visual novel and puzzle rooms together in an engaging and dark tale with elements of the Saw movies, murder mysteries and sci-fi. It's the sequel to DS' 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, so if you've played that you'll know what to expect: a bit of gore, tough puzzling, some horror and more than a hint of paranoia. Unfortunately 999 was never released in Europe, but fear not as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward isn't wholly reliant upon the prequel's storyline. There are some references back, and if you've played the previous game you'll get more out of it, but it's perfectly understandable without prior experience of the series.

As college student Sigma, you've been abducted and dumped in a mysterious facility with eight other victims, few of whom know what's going on. You soon learn that you've been selected by an unknown person, Zero, to take part in the Nonary Game: a trial of morality, mortality and intelligence.

Everybody has been fitted with a watch-like object, and the aim is to build up nine points in order to open the exit. Every round assigns each player a new colour and status; everyone is either a solo or pair player, the former working alone while pair players of the same hue must work together as one. Using this information they have to split off into groups of three to open up colour-locked special doors. A blue pair and a red soloist, for instance, can team up to unlock a magenta door.

These fluorescent openings lead to various rooms around the facility, each of which is rigged with puzzles that must be solved so that the prisoners can move on to the most significant part of the game: the point-scoring section. Each person earns points by going head-to-head with the captive(s) they've most recently had to co-operate with, pair versus solo, in a voting game reminiscent of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

The pair and solo player choose to either 'Ally' or 'Betray' their opposite number, and points are assigned depending on how their responses line up. If both sides pick 'Ally', all three in that group win two points. If both decide to 'Betray', nobody gets anything. But if one selects 'Ally' and the other 'Betray', the trusting party loses two points while the traitor swipes up three.

There are some nasty catches to consider, too. If any person's points drop below one, they're “penalised” with a lethal injection. The all-important exit will open to anybody with nine points or more, but anybody who tries to sneak through with less will meet the same penalty. Crucially, the escape route will only open once, no matter what.

The voting game is a balancing act between gaining points towards the goal without killing anybody by knocking their points too far down, while also trying to stop others from elevating too quickly so that they can't leave before everybody is ready. Of course, some of the participants don't care for either of these issues and are only looking out for numero uno.

You're herded through the early hours of the Nonary Game by Zero Jr., a creepy AI rabbit which is just as hilarious as it is terrifying. Zero Jr. introduces the numerous rules and snaps out sarcasm in about equal measures as rivalries and partnerships begin to form and you start to learn more about the characters. The lagomorph lends the Game a playful cruelty, and the voice actor is absolutely perfect for the role, dripping with malice and superiority.

Before long Zero Jr.'s torment gives way to a wave of suspicion, murder and betrayal, and thankfully the human characters are strong too – and despite the subject matter, it can be quite funny as well. Each comes from a totally different background and harbours a unique motive, all interesting in their own ways. The voice acting similarly remains excellent throughout; it's entirely in Japanese, with the translations only delivered through text, but it's of fantastic quality and bleeds emotion. Shinji Hosoe's score teems with menace and tension, full of subtle, atmospheric pieces and bursts of techno in all the right moments.

The anime art style is easy on the eyes, and the bright, stylised 3D character models fit in surprisingly well with the more realistic environments. It's a bit lacking in animation, however, and any video clips, though used effectively, are sadly only a few seconds long at most.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward is split into two main gameplay types: story sections with little user input aside the odd decision, and puzzle rooms. If you're not a huge fan of reading in games this isn't a title for you, as the story is the dominant factor here. What these parts lack in interaction they make up for with gripping plot that covers plenty of ground, from quantum physics to desperate survival attempts. This is a game that's as keen to teach you about Schrödinger's Cat as it is to show you the jabby end of a knife.

There are times where the writing takes a turn for the overwrought, but for the most part it pulls it off. Most interesting is that there's not just one way through the game: most of your decisions result in a branching storyline that leads to one of over 20 endings, good or bad. Several of the branches feature the same basic events, but how they play out depends on which story strand is followed.

There's a useful system that lets you jump back to any point in the story at any time and marks clearly where the paths branch off. You can also quickly skip through any scenes that you've already seen previously, so it's not arduous to go back and uncover new sides to the story. This ease could dampen the emotional weight of some decisions, but cleverly memories of events from the numerous timelines also blend in at certain moments; to get the true ending, it's essential to play through, learn and do everything you possibly can. You might want to grab a notepad to keep up with it all – there's a huge number of twists and turns, and the in-game memo area, which is consistent across all branches, is cramped unless you have tiny handwriting. It took us just under 30 hours to unravel the full mystery.

The puzzle sections take up a decent amount of that time. The aim is to locate a password for a safe so that you can leave, which usually involves involves hunting around a 3D room for items and solving three or four puzzles in succession. While the set ups are generally well thought out, some puzzles do take a turn for the obtuse which can interrupt the game's flow – though if you're having real difficulty, you can turn the brainteaser challenge level down to receive more hints. There are optional tasks to find secondary passwords to unlock secret files too.

The controls aren't incredible in puzzle rooms: using the stylus to turn and look about can be oversensitive, causing you to overshoot targets, while the Circle Pad option is slow. It's nothing you can't get used to and never significantly impedes play, but it would have been nice to see some sensitivity settings. There are also a few sliding block puzzles that can be solved by using either stylus or gyroscopes, but frustratingly you can't switch off the motion controls as far as we can tell. If you're playing on a rocky bus, prepare for your blocks to fly everywhere. They're not very frequent, but they can be annoying when they do turn up unless you stay completely still.

Conclusion

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward spins one of the year's best yarns, tackling various topics with maturity, intelligence and even a little humour. Its smart puzzles can be a little fiddly, but if you have any interest in story in games whatsoever and can deal with its murderous subject matter, this is a must play that will keep you engaged for dozens of hours.

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User Comments (51)

DamoAdmin

#1

Damo said:

Some of our regular readers may recall that we reviewed Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward a short time ago and that the review was taken down after a few days. This was due to an unfortunate disagreement we had with the reviewer which ultimately meant we could not keep the review on the website. Mike's review is a fresh take on the game from his perspective, which explains the difference in score. If you have any further questions please drop us a line using the contact form.

Jono97

#3

Jono97 said:

:| The demo wasn't my cup of tea. It took me a long time to figure each puzzle. Ultimately, I ended up giving up. It's worth a second try... Nevertheless, the demo proved that the game had an interesting story-line which contains challenging puzzles.

Karakato

#4

Karakato said:

I actually prefer this review over the last one. The other review focused too much on the story and it left out half of the problems I had with the game aside from the game crashing bug, inaccurate stylus controls for the puzzle segments. Great review Mike.
That aside, I was really drawn into the story. It was not perfect by any means and there are some twists and inconsistencies that had me shaking my head, but it was good enough to keep me up for a whole night. I'll be there when another sequel pops up and I know the creator confirmed it.

AJWolfTill

#6

AJWolfTill said:

Some of the previous review had been copy and pasted from IGN's review.... Most of it was fresh but there was a paragraph or so that was identical.... I'm observant :)
Score wise (well I haven't got it yet but judging by its precursor) I don't think the gameplay detracted from the game. I'd say if you are the kind of person who regularly skips cutscenes on a first playthrough then this game probably won't gel with you. Despite 999 being one of my 5 fav games ever, I've not picked this up yet due to Wii U funding.

sandwhich

#7

sandwhich said:

@AJWolfTill
But your avatar is the Funyarinpa, how couldn't you have picked up VLR?

@Mike Mason

Anyway, the text and score don't really seem to fit. Your only complaints are the sometimes unwieldy puzzle room controls (which I agree with), but other than that your text is nothing but praise. Did it score an 8 because 'it's not for everyone'?

Also, you forgot to mention the 3DS's PEC room save bug.

EDIT: to all people judging thiss on the demo, note that this game's selling point is it's mindblowing story and ending, something which is hard to highlight in a demo.

stipey

#8

stipey said:

Nice mention of the overwrought writing. It really irks me, and I've hardly seen anyone mention it. Also a heck of a lot of f-bombs compared to the last one, seems a bit overdone. Maybe it's appropriate considering the horror setting, but then so much of the dialogue's also light and silly. Still enjoying it though!

EaZy_T

#9

EaZy_T said:

hmm, interesting.. maybe if NA gets the demo I'll be able see if I would like this.

Bass_X0

#10

Bass_X0 said:

The purpose of a demo is for potential customers to make a judgement on the product before they make a purchase. A game should have more than a mindblowing story and ending. Otherwise its a visual interactive novel at best. I played the demo and found it okay. It didn't make me want to go out and purchase the game. Story so far was interesting to me. Gameplay was not.

And who was the previous reviewer? Will they continue writing reviews for NintendoLife?

LEGEND_MARIOID

#12

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

Its good that the site cares so much about accuracy and quality of reviews. Though the last revw was well written and interesting.

C-Olimar

#13

C-Olimar said:

Ah. I'm disappointed at the lower score but glad that a new review has been posted - it's really about the content of the review and not the score at the end.

Araknie

#14

Araknie said:

This 8 is more valuable than the other because of what you say in it.
I'm not a score only reader so i'm glad to see that the story is strong, the puzzle are challenging and why not even frustrating at time and some horror elements.

It's a pity that the rest of the gimmicks were so simple done. I won't buy it because i'm not for puzzles so challenging, but i'm glad you (talking to all NL staff) care for good reviews.

RetrogamerFan

#15

RetrogamerFan said:

Still sounds like a good game. This second review places less importance on playing the first game in the series, which makes me more likely to pick up this game. I was considering tracking down a copy of the original, as the original reviewer strongly reccomended playing both this and 999 beforehand.
In my unscientific sample of 1 (i've only got 1 import game to test) - I've found out my USA copy of New Super Mario Bros, won't work in my 3DS so i won't be getting any import titles for my 3DS. I was able to try out the NSMB cart in an old DS Lite and it does still work, i'm assuming region lockout has been added to 3DS.

ueI

#17

ueI said:

This is a nice review; I like how specific you are in describing the game. I think you should have mentioned that you reviewed the European version, however. I honestly don't remember the previous review very well, apart from the score. I have the impression that it wasn't very detailed.

@RetrogamerFan You should still get 999. You may end up liking it more, like I did, as it's a better game in some ways.

ToxieDogg

#18

ToxieDogg said:

@RetrogamerFan Region lockout was added as far back as the DSi...Mario vs Donkey Kong Mini Land Mayhem for instance would only play on a same region DSi. Not all DS games had this issue though, and all DS games will work with any region original DS and DS Lites. Every 3DS game is region locked though :(

Banker-Style

#20

Banker-Style said:

I really want to get this,but I keep putting it of,because it'll be dirt cheap after Christmas.

Chrno-x

#21

Chrno-x said:

For me it's the best title for 3DS and I hope that in the future I will get a chance to play more of these and not only Mario (sorry but for me Nintendo is making too much games with the fat plumber and they're not concetrating on another genres and series).

AJWolfTill

#22

AJWolfTill said:

@sandwhich I know right, :'( It's right at the top of my games list promise!!! My enthusiasm was dampened by the lack of English VA considering the quality of the voice actors involved. I'm still kind of hoping that they will release it in some form even if it's paid DLC :/
@mudjo indeed, however Ign's review went live a couple of days before this site's so I doubt it.

Mason

#23

Mason said:

Thanks for the comments guys. :)

@sandwhich I had a couple more complaints than that: writing sometimes OTT and long winded, animation a bit lacking, and I wasn't fond of some of the puzzles as some were somewhat obtuse. I feel that the puzzle room controls are the major one, though, as they take up a significant portion of the game and I see no reason for a lack of sensitivity options, choice over whether to use gyroscopes, etc. Nothing game breaking there, but enough to stop me giving it a 9.

As for the save bug, I never encountered this and was unaware of it. When I review games I basically lock myself away from anything about them, so it's only now that I see there have been mentions of it online. As I never saw it for myself, I couldn't really comment.

@uel There's a little flag at the top that says it's the PAL version reviewed; maybe this is something that we could look into making more visible.

@RetrogamerFan This is mainly because Europe never got the first game and so I was unable to compare the two fully. I think there's a reasonable chance that, if you're a fan of the first game, you'll get more out of this title, but as somebody who never got round to importing 999, I had no problem following the story. There are definitely references back, including a couple of characters, but I can only recall one segment where I was a bit lost, and even then it was explained within this game fairly rapidly.

Hokori

#24

Hokori said:

Actually Japanese DS games WILL work on ANY DSi/3DS so that means you CAN import and play on 3DS

C-Olimar

#25

C-Olimar said:

@HarmoKnight No they won't, no you can't. It even says in the 3DS XL's manual that foreign games may not work on it. I had 2 US version Layton games that worked on DS Lite but not DSi, 3DS or 3DS XL.

ClockworkMario

#26

ClockworkMario said:

@C-Olimar
That's because from DSi upwards all the consoles have been region locked, so ANY game that's from a different region than your console won't work.

moomoo

#27

moomoo said:

That's weird, because Japanese games and games from Europe work fine on my 3DS. I'm pretty sure it's only games with DSi features. So 999 should work.

csad

#28

csad said:

@Mason Unfortunately, playing 999 is almost essential to fully enjoying Zero Escape. By itself, the game may be only be a 8/10, but with the full story from 999, it is easily a 9/10 or 10/10. Reviewing this game without playing the prequel is like reviewing the second book in a series without reading the first. It really does not do the game justice. Otherwise, the review is excellent.

moomoo

#29

moomoo said:

What @csad said. This is easily my favorite game this year, and I doubt that'd be the case had I not played 999. I understand the approach, seeing as how this is a European site, but the game is drastically better when played after its predecessor to a point of the story from being "really great" to "the best story to grace the gaming medium".

Mason

#30

Mason said:

This can be followed as a standalone release, though, and I think that's important to note considering an entire territory didn't have easy access to the first game.

Birdman

#31

Birdman said:

Eh, for me personally, who did play 999 before VLR, while it did make VLR a bit more dramatic, especially with the backstory of one of the characters, I wouldn't call playing 999 beforehand essential. With ZE3, it'll be interesting to see how they handle explaining VLR. If they make that a fully stand-alone game like VLR, kudos to Aksys for that.

Regarding the old interview: I can see why you took it down. The review and the review score didn't match imo, but I guess there was more to it than that...

Regarding this interview: Lagomorph - I see what you did there...

ueI

#32

ueI said:

@Mason Oh yeah, I've noticed the flags. I only think you should have drawn a bit more attention to it in this review because you mentioned a detail that only applies to your version.

Even if Mike had played 999, I don't think it would have made THAT big of a difference. I played both games myself and would give VLR no more than an 8. The horrid ending is the main reason.

SheldonRandoms

#33

SheldonRandoms said:

A 8/10 seems more right for this game than a 10/10, but that's only my opinion, though I haven't played 999 or this game yet.

1upsuper

#34

1upsuper said:

^ Then you really have no right to judge then, do you? Nice they got up a "fixed" review. I understand the old one was taken down due to a disagreement, but I can't help but feel VLR got shafted scorewise.

RetrogamerFan

#35

RetrogamerFan said:

@Mason, and all the others who commented on my earlier post.
Thanks for the feedback! Will pick up a copy of this soon, even though i'll be missing out on 999.

SheldonRandoms

#36

SheldonRandoms said:

@1upsuper I only said that based on the review, I was a little confused as to why it was changed from a 10/10 to an 8/10 at first, also it's just my opinion.

kittee83

#38

kittee83 said:

I really enjoyed the Demo version (3DS) of this. It took a few hours to get through, but managed to finish it. Used the Memo a lot, keeping track of numbers, shapes, and details. Definitely going to get the game at some point :)

Rawden

#39

Rawden said:

@RetrogamerFan Region Locking on a DSi only applies to the eShop and not to cartridges - that is a common misconception widely promoted by those pirating software because the extra fraud detection on a DSi means it refuses to play their fake copies of games. I have a European Dsi on which I've played both genuine US and Japanese imported DS games, but also have a European game that works fine on a DS or DS Lite, but my DSi refuses to play because it turned out to be a fake copy. But as you say, all 3DS games are region locked.

@ToxieDogg I believe the 3DS is the same as the DSi with DS cartridges, so I think it's not that your copy of New Super Mario Bros is the US version, but that it is a fake. With popular games like this or Mario vs Donkey Kong Mini Land Mayhem there are so many fake US copies around it can be hard to find a genuine one - especially on places like eBay! If someone says a game only works on a DS or DS Lite, then whatever reason they might give for that, what they are really saying is - This is a fake copy! Buyers Beware!

tovare

#41

tovare said:

It's really anoying that the European release only has Japanese voice acting, while you can choose in the US release. Region locking sucks big time !

I've learned that the Publisher for europe Rising Star Games is owned by Bergsala, which also distributes Nintendo in scandinavia which is also the reason why there's no Nintendo Club in Scandinavia.

hellokitty216

#42

hellokitty216 said:

I enjoyed this game so much more than 999. I didn't replay 999 before VLR and I was able to follow just fine. As far as that goes, I do think they could have tied some of the extra characters in a little better for the ending. after all you learn, and I haven't seen anyone suggest a notepad or something to have on stand by while playing, I felt the ending(s) were a bit of a let sown after investing 50 hours (in my case) to the game. that said. I would agree it should score higher than 8. it was by far the best game I've played this year.

contagioned

#43

contagioned said:

I strongly disagree with giving this game a score lower than a 9, when Crimson Shroud was given that score. I realize that there are lower standards given to a game from the eShop and subsequently 1/4th of the price, but unless the standards are exponentially lowered, then I do not agree with the scores given. I realize they are also different reviewers, but being from the same site, I feel it's safe to say that the site as a whole agrees with the reviews. Plus the 'near endless replayability' of Crimson Shroud is quite untrue.

Tohru

#44

Tohru said:

999 was a masterpiece on the Nintendo DS itself, and now that the sequel has been released on the Nintendo 3DS, I'm utterly excited. I've played the sequel demo, and I've got to say, even though there are a few tricky puzzles in the game and demo, Virtue's Last Reward has certainly made it to my list. I seriously think you could have done a better rating to the game, as I would of given it 9 or even a 10.

sodastir

#45

sodastir said:

(This is a bit long, but topical!)
I'm a "North American" gamer, and have never had any issue with ANY DS/DSi/DSQXGPLX etc game/system....NEVER, until this beautiful game. "999" ran perfectly, without a hitch (as an aside, "999" MUST be played before "Virtue"...while looking for coverage of the bug I read several reviews that actually claim you can play play them out of order without damaging the experience of either - this is TERRIBLE advice!).
Anyway, I was 65, SIXTY-FIVE HOURS into "Virtue", and had just finished the "Dio" ending. The game had frozen three times during the PEC room, but a reload and save overwrite in the warehouse got me a little more along each time until PEC was finished. Had probably completed 10 endings (the shorter ones) when I finished the "Dio ending". Just like before, it offered me a save screen, and just like before, I saved, then properly powered down. My next story arc/ending was going to be one of the really good ones. An hour later, I powered up, started the game, chose continue, and loaded my save...black screen on top and bottom, and nothing else. A couple twitches of the activity LED, but absolutely nothing else. That feeling of impending doom set right in, and try as I might over the next couple of hours, I couldn't get my 65-hours-completed game to load, and I tried every voodoo trick I could create.
I am calm, yet quite angry about it. I've read on other forums gamers actually being blamed for "causing" the bug to manifest itself during their game, that "since you didn't do the research and find out about the bug" that somehow the gamer is to blame! Almost every bug post mentions to not save in the PEC room, puzzle OR novel sections, or ANY puzzle rooms. My sin may have been saving during the novel section of the Crew Quarters very early on - the NOVEL section. So what that tells me is you basically should never save at all! Obviously the DSi save system is broken in this game, and that breaks the entire game. And what's worse, both the developer (Spike Chunsoft) AND the publisher (Aksys) knew about the bug early after release in Japan, which pretty much means they knew about it during the end of Q/A. Nintendo has patched one of the Mario Kart series previously, so DS game CONTENT can be patched, but perhaps not the file system itself.

I didn't "do the required research" and educate myself on the bug because I didn't want to know one scintilla about "Virtue" - I loved "999" so much that I didn't want ANYTHING to be tainted going in. The thought that a game-killing, save file-destroying bug would be in a final-release, Nintendo-licensed game (they have no culpability, but one expects a certain quality here) never entered my mind...why would it?

65 hours gone. Why shouldn't Aksys/ChunSoft take back cartridges with verifiable, corrupted save files on them and issue refunds? The game is broken! And 2-3% of users is considered "statistically significant", it doesn't have to be 30% of users with crashed saves. "Well it's just a sign of the times - games are pushed out the door with bugs all the time!"...and what? This is acceptable somehow because of some arbitrary "sign of the times" and "other companies do it" arguments? When we stop buying bug-ridden games and their pocket-draining DLC, the developers/publishers will get the message. But most of us won't (i.e. those who actually defended the developers of the scam that was "WAR Z"), because I would've remained blissfully unaffected had it not been for this disaster of a bug.

I own a PSVITA, but playing the demo only proved that the DS version is better because of the dual screen MEMO function. However, I'm probably going to buy the VITA version and am considering sending my DS cart, case and all, to Aksys' U.S. HQ and insisting on SOME kind of renumeration. Wonder what kind of form letter with coupons I'd get back. It'd be more than they've done so far.

zip

#46

zip said:

@sodastir Err..This isn't a DSi game, it's for the 3DS.
Interesting to know would be if these bugs occur with the download version also.
Btw, I believe you can extract your save with some chinese dongle or so. If your save is corrupted you can export your backed up save back in your cart.

Tanuki

#47

Tanuki said:

This game was sadly the first download-only title in some countries (Code Of Princess for the others).
:(

shimage

#48

shimage said:

I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who can't use the word "prequel" properly. That goes for you too, csad.

Birthday_Boy

#50

Birthday_Boy said:

I hate how this review was modified.
Why don't you modify all your reviews for that matter? I'm sure not everyone would agree with your Kirby's Epic Yarn review.

Kolzig

#51

Kolzig said:

When why and how was the review edited? Was it 10 before?
This is one game that deserves a 9 at least, but who's looking reviews for the grades anyway.

This game is one that people should buy in any case, as it's excellent.

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