Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a follow up to the 2010 sleeper hit, 9 Hours 9 Persons, 9 Doors. You follow the voiceless protagonist, Sigma, who is kidnapped and forced to participate in the Nonary Game – a twisted game where the contestants lives are on the line. With a mix of story and puzzle, is Zero Escape as rewarding as its predecessor?
The game begins with Sigma’s kidnapping on Christmas day at the hands of a man in a hooded coat and gas mask who resembles Zero, the one responsible for the events of the previous game. Sigma wakes up in an elevator next to a girl named Phi. After a brief introduction to the basic game mechanics and the first visit from an extremely annoying rabbit that goes by the name of Zero Jr., Sigma is tasked with trying to escape the elevator. Once out, Sigma and Phi meet up with a group of other kidnapped people. From there, each decisions you made take the story in a unique direction. The Nonary game is a struggle for survival as death is always close at hand (along the narrative, not during the puzzles). And while things don’t get quite as gruesome as similar scenarios, such as the Saw movies, you definitely develop an attachment to all of the characters and want to try to survive with all of them alive. There are a number of alternate and branching paths to take, encouraging multiple playthroughs.
Throughout the story, Sigma is required to solve several puzzles as part of the Nonary Game. These puzzles require careful observation of your surroundings. Clues and required items are everywhere. Luckily, there is a memo option used to write down information and an archive where important notes, documents etc. are kept. The beginning of each puzzle segment starts out on Hard mode. There is very little hand-holding here. If something proves too difficult to solve, you can always switch to Easy mode, which provides more hints. The puzzles in Zero Escape differ from other games, such as Professor Layton. They aren’t just there to test your knowledge. Sometimes a portion of one puzzle may branch off into another. Other times, you may get an answer that can’t be used until a subsequent playthrough. A certain bit of focus is required.
Zero Escape switches between the “novel” or story portion of the game, and the “escape” or puzzle portion. During the story portions of the game, hitting a button to advance the dialogue can get tiring and tedious. Zero Escape addresses this with an Auto option that automatically advances the novel portion. The “novel” sections can last quite a while, so pop some popcorn and enjoy the story, which draws you in right from the start and keeps you guessing even past the 2 and third time you reach the TO BE CONTINUED screen.
While Sigma is voiceless, the rest of the cast talks, and talks some more. While the dialogue can get campy at times, it makes for good entertainment the same way a slasher film does. Graphically, Zero Escape won’t turn any heads, but this is a game that proves that graphics don’t equal greatness. Characters animations are infrequent and usually consist of one or two awkward poses per screen. The touch screen controls on the PS Vita are very basic, but fit the gameplay perfectly. There is a menu button at the bottom left of the screen that, when tapped, gives you access to your archives, memos, settings,etc. The touchscreen is mainly used during puzzle sequences to tap on objects and solve puzzles. It advances dialogue during narrative sequences. Occasionally, a puzzle requires physical movement of the Vita, but this happens very rarely. I’m just thankful the developers didn’t make the use of the touchscreen feel superfluous.
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a great addition to the PS Vita’s otherwise lackluster catalog of games. The story is unique and the puzzles are challenging. While the game requires multiple playthroughs to get the full tale, it’s definitely worth it. If you haven’t already, I would recommend playing 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors before diving into Zero Escape, but it won’t hamper the experience if you don’t. If you’re looking to get away from the typical dog and pony show of big budget, lackluster games, or if you’re just looking for a good game to lose yourself in, look no further. Zero Escape is a very rewarding experience.
Note: This review was conducted on the PS Vita version via a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on the Nintendo 3DS