Virtue’s Last Reward Review — I Went Through The Mindf*** Zone!

General rule of gaming is that the second one is usually the best. Does that hold true for Zero Escape?

  • Virtue’s Last Reward is a direct sequel to 999 and even starts out with a very similar premise: nine people are trapped in an abandoned facility and in order to escape, they need to play a game with their lives on the line whilst wearing wristwatches that dictate their fates. However, this time the game is set up so that once the number “9” door opens once, it can never be opened again. Add in a system where betraying people could potentially get you out quicker, and you’ve got a situation that’s more tense and designed to sow the seeds of betrayal than the first round.
  • It’s the right kind of elevation after a game as interestingly flawed as 999, and VLR definitely doesn’t stop there.
  • In regards to the core gameplay, not much has changed from the first game or any other visual novel ever. You basically read the dialogue whilst occasionally making choices to branch out into a specific path until you hit an adventure game-style puzzle section. Said puzzle always involves finding the key to get out of the room, except this time the key is always in a safe that you have to find the password to, and the puzzling is mostly done to find said password.
  • Said password – along with other files – is permanently saved to a specific section after discovery so that whenever you go back to said puzzle in the future, you can just type in the password, get the key, and then leave without too much of a fuss. However, there are also specific story-related passwords that aren’t automatically saved and will need to be written down on the game’s memo section for future use. Or you could just look them up on the Internet. But don’t try cheating using this method to cheat your way to the good ending, because VLR won’t let you progress to certain points unless you reach a specific ending with one of the characters.

The choice regarding whether to ally or betray is gripping at first, but gets silly when you realize how loaded it is

  • Yes, there are nine character-specific endings in this game, along with about twice as many bad endings and maybe an extra one or two thrown in for the hell of it. Thankfully, it’s not too hard to discover how to get them thanks to the game’s inclusion of a flowchart mechanism that allows you to look at the different branches AND warp you to one that you’ve already gone through, meaning you don’t have to ever see a specific puzzle again at all unless you want to collect something new in them. The ones you haven’t gone through are all in question marks, but it’s not that hard to determine which ending gives you a game over and what doesn’t.
  • Pro-tip: always pick the choice that leads to the longer path. It is always ALWAYS the longer path that’s the right one. Although sometimes, you will have to pick a shorter path to go down it, which I call bullshit on. Don’t require me to game over my ass at one moment, just to go down that same path a minute later when I’ve seen in other timelines where the character was. That makes no sense.
  • The puzzles themselves are still as overcomplicated as ever, but you can set the difficulty to easy if you want to get hints from the other characters regarding how to solve them. Or if all else fails, just look up the answers on the Internet like everyone else does.
  • All in all, this game is a tremendous improvement on 999’s dated mechanics, which invited a lot of repetition. But of course, this is a visual novel, so that means we have to judge the game heavily on its storytelling abilities.
  • So yeah, Virtue’s Last Reward’s story is well put together. Mindfucks players good. Characters are likable, if not outstanding. Blablabla. However, I’m still rolling my eyes at the constant scientific explanations used to justify the time-looping and railroad-y plotting, which seem even more annoying here because of how frequently the story relies on it along with how much the characters reference it. And unfortunately, the “this is not game of the year” material problems don’t stop there.

I don’t have a problem with these 3-D sprites personally, but I do prefer the 2-D ones

  • Something I’ve noticed with Zero Escape, and 5pb stuff in general, is that they have this annoying habit of continuously raising questions without answering them until the very end with long long LONG info-dumps that I can’t bother to let the characters finish speaking before skipping through the dialogue so that we could hurry on with making something interesting happen. We don’t get much characterization until said info-dumps occur either, so for the most part, I was just getting frustrated with the plot forcing me to go in specific directions whilst assuring me that no really, these are characters I want to hang out with.
  • It didn’t work for the new Westworld either, so I can assure you that this method of storytelling has not improved with time.
  • If you’ve played the first game, you’ll know that morphogenetic fields are back again to justify the plot’s heavy usage of time travel, except this time they throw in Schrodinger’s Cat in order to justify how your actions in the present affect actions in the past. At least it’s consistently open about how it makes no sense, unlike when Steins;Gate 0 did this, but it’s still frustratingly bananas whenever it’s put into practice.
  • However, at least it’s creative, unlike the stupid “made-up disease that makes people kill each other” cliche. Yes, because it worked soooooo well when Higurashi did that (it didn’t). And while I didn’t look up spoilers for the game before playing, I called another certain plot twist regarding what’s waiting outside as soon as people brought up the disease’s outbreak no thanks to Danganronpa using it, as well as Uchikoshi doing the same thing years ago with Ever17. Admittedly, there’s a twist to that reveal that I didn’t see coming, but I didn’t really think much of it afterwards because…eh.

Don’t trust anything this motherfucker says

  • Also, there’s one big twist near the finale that is hinted at well enough, but you’re telling me that that guy never touched his face or looked in a mirror or heard his own voice once? Even with supplementary justifications, come the fuck on.
  • I should also point out said twist relies entirely on everything taking place in a first-person perspective, so at least Zero Escape still recognizes that it’s a video game if nothing else.
  • Character-wise, they were all fine for the most part with great dubbing for all of them (I play Japanese games in English unless I find the dubbing too intolerable to get through). However, it’s not until near the end of their character arcs that they start to get developed, so until then you’re just left with their base personalities like Dio’s bastardly nature, K’s mysteriousness, and Clover’s energy. That’s fine for a bit, but after a while, it gets wearisome to try to care about characters who we only stick with because they’re in a bad situation like we are. Especially when said base personality is being a whiny little bitch.
  • Not helping is that the character animation isn’t exactly stellar. When Clover stated she was going to kill us at one point, it was hard to take her seriously because the character model looked like a little kid (dressed like a hooker) smiling the entire way through – a stark contrast to her creepiness in 999. Y’know Japan, I may talk shit about your use of 2-D drawings at times, but they are a lot more expressive than most moving character models (Bioware’s for example) and thus maybe you should stick to them.

I am Zero!

  • Frankly, while I enjoyed my time with Virtue’s Last Reward, I also felt immense frustration with its niggling flaws during the twenty or so hours required for me to complete it. The plot was pretty much every visual novel storytelling trick in the book even back then (the game came out in 2011), the characters are only decent at best, the mystery relies too much on McGuffins, and the gameplay ranges from engaging to frustrating depending on how long a certain element lasts and whether or not you need to get a game over during one path to go down another.
  • It’s certainly well put-together with clever ideas, but it also lacks replayability, and I really value that in regards to Japanese games. So while I can recommend the thing, I’d recommend the games belonging to Uchikoshi’s more popular friend over it.

Minor Quips

  • Keeping silent regarding whether “everyone” includes me personally. However, I will officially state that there is no shame in using Gamefaqs for that lab crap.
  • At the very least, I won’t be having too much disappointment when I play Zero Time Dilemma.

2 responses to “Virtue’s Last Reward Review — I Went Through The Mindf*** Zone!

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