Review: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors may have been no more than the gaming version of a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book with some puzzles thrown in, but it was dark, engaging, and well written. Can its sequel, ZERO ESCAPE: VIRTUE’S LAST REWARD match up to it?
Making a sequel to a standalone cult classic Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was always going to be difficult. Virtue’s Last Reward approaches this task by adding more endings, more puzzles, and more “out there” plot reveals. Inevitably, this does mean it lacks the sharper edge of its predecessor, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The game has you play as Sigma, a 22-year-old college student who gets knocked out one night and finds himself waking up in a mysterious complex with eight strangers. A computer generated rabbit (yes, really) then pops up on a monitor, telling them that all nine of them are taking part in something called the Nonary Game, Ambidex Edition. This revolves, at a basic level, around the bracelet on your – and the eight other players’ – wrists. They each start by displaying the number three and are a specific colour. When these colours are combined (you find yourself splitting into groups of three) you can reach certain puzzle rooms and get items to progress and ultimately escape.
It’s time to play, Ally or Betray!
So far, so Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. One new element is the reason why Virtue’s Last Reward has far more endings and potential conclusions, though, and that’s the addition of the AB Game. After each puzzle room you’ll get the chance to go head-to-head with one or two of your fellow prisoners where you can choose to Ally with them or Betray them. Choose to ally, and both sides will gain two points on their bracelets if the opponent does the same. Betray while they ally, however, and you’ll gain three and they’ll lose two points, and vice versa.
It’s a little like the old gameshow Golden Balls, but with less Jasper Carrot and more lethal chemicals – as these get injected into you if the number on your bracelet reaches zero. Throw in that the person responsible for setting up the game is one of the participants – and that everyone is very guarded about their identities – and it’s not an exaggeration to say you have a fair few mysteries to solve.
You’ll try to suss out your competitors and learn more about them through dialogue, the vast majority of which is text. Reams and reams of text. Fortunately it’s well-written and convincingly delivered, boasting an appealing mix of humour, horror, and science fiction. It is an odd choice to have the European version of the game feature dialogue only spoken in Japanese – the US release had English voice acting after all – but the emotions being expressed are clear, even if you don’t understand a word the actors are saying.
The puzzle elements, which see you in self-contained areas gathering objects to combine and use to solve conundrums, are satisfying and well-designed, but it’s no surprise to find it’s the sprawling plot that’s ultimately the biggest draw here. Each decision you make, be it the puzzle room you decide to enter, or how you vote in the AB Game, influences the ending you receive.
And The Lord of the Rings ended how many times?
With over twenty possible conclusions you have to root out which ones you can finish and which ones you need to complete in another playthrough. Gaining information from one ending and using it in another is essential to reaching the true ending – seeing one plot thread is only scratching the surface. It might seem that it’s a tedious task to complete the game, then, but unlike Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors there’s the welcome addition of a flow chart in your options toolbar. With this you can travel back to specific points and make different decisions with just a couple of taps on the touchscreen. You can also fast forward through dialogue you’ve read before.
This does mean your initial hours with game manage to feel a little frustrating, as you only manage to catch glances of the bigger picture – but it doesn’t take long until you’re fully immersed in the world and its characters. There’s a hypnotic quality at work as you watch plot threads and identities untangle – and then see them tie back together by the time the twist-heavy conclusion comes into view. You’ll experience moments with significant emotional heft throughout that should stick with you for a while, with the haunting soundtrack only helping to amplify their power.
Sadly, this does make the more convoluted, frustrating, and over-elaborate moments of the game all the more jarring. One of the main problems is that in offering more in terms of content, Virtue’s Last Reward’s plot actually ends up feels less complete than the one in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. More endings are left hanging, and the true ending – although impressively grand in its scope and complexity – is less conclusive and not as satisfying.
It’s still a hugely impressive narrative driven experience of course, and is the type of game we sadly don’t see much of outside of Japan. Thanks to the moral conundrums that the AB Rooms conjure it’s a thoughtful and enjoyably intelligent title. For fans of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors it’s a must play, but I imagine if you’re in that camp you’ve finished it already anyway. Newcomers, however, are encouraged to dive in and see what they’ve been missing.
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, by Rising Star Games and ChunSoft, is available now for 3DS (reviewed) and PS Vita.