Final verdict: A-
Final playtime: 77 hours
Sup bitches. Today we're looking at a fairly new game. Yeah, I know, crazy. But not my fault ain't barely anything worth playin' been comin' out. But now it's different! 'cause now we've got Virtue's Last Reward, a game I've been looking forward to quite a bit. It's the sequel to an amazing little DS game released a few years ago called 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. That's why this game has Zero Escape Volume 2 slapped on the box. As such, if you're planning to play Virtue's Last Reward, you must play 999 first. Otherwise, what the fuck are you doing?!
Anyway, so what kind of game is this? Well, it's closer to a visual novel than a game. You know, sort of like Ace Attorney or Hotel Dusk and the like. Just like 999, It's divided into two parts: the novel parts, otherwise known as the parts that matter, and the escape parts, otherwise known as the parts they threw in just so they could get away with calling it a game. The novel parts are self-explanatory. That's where the story progresses and you get to watch, and eventually make a choice that'll decide what happens. The escape parts are where you get stuck in a room and you have to figure out how to get out of it by searching around for clues, using items and solving puzzles. While this may sound close to what a point and click adventure is, and the game certainly has a tiny bit of that, it has a much higher emphasis on the puzzles to the point where, if I'd call it a visual novel first and foremost, I'd definitely call it a puzzle game second.
But anyway. First of all, I need to say that I am pissed OFF about this cheap ass horse shit decision to go from good hand drawn art in 999 to shitty 3D models in VLR. This exact same bullshit happened in Rune Factory Oceans and I said the same thing in my review of that game. That's now TWO highly anticipated games that have betrayed me by taking a gigantic visual step backwards from their predecessor. Is this the beginning of a trend we're seeing here? I don't fucking know and I sure as hell don't like it. Look. Hand drawn art is clearly, CLEARLY better, that's indisputable. Not only do the 3D models look like crap, they also allow for significantly less detail and emotion. And the developer clearly knows this, because the game goes back to hand drawn art for the most important crucial scenes. And yet for 95% of the game we're stuck with crap. I know art is expensive but COME ON. You ALREADY DID THIS back in 999, every character and important scene was beautifully drawn, why go back now? God dammit.
At least the music didn't get butchered. It's still good and they even reuse some classic songs from 999, which is nice. Something that is also nice is that now it's got voice acting, and it's good. Special props to Liam O'Brien and Laura Bailey for my favorite performances in the game. Those two were particularly good, but everyone else does a good job too.
Of course, it's the story that makes these games worth playing, and the one in the Zero Escape series is especially good. Sadly I can't go into much detail because this is one of the few games where spoilers matter. I mean, if we were talking about, say, Halo, or Mass Effect, who gives a shit. I'ma spoil that shit all DAY. But here I can't because the story is actually good. And it better be, because it's the only reason to play the game. Therefore, if you know what happens the game is ruined. That's why I can't go into specifics about it. Point is, the plot is great, the characters are good, and so is the dialogue. Just like 999, it's a thriller type story filled with mysteries that you're trying to solve. Generally speaking I would say that VLR does a good job of living up to 999's great story. Some qualms I have with it is that I feel like 999 had a creepier, sometimes scary vibe, which I really liked, and I think VLR doesn't recreate that feeling quite as well. The other problem I have is that while the ending in 999 did a good job of answering almost all questions, tying up loose ends and gave a good amount of closure, the ending in VLR feels a little bit too confusing, leaves too many plot points up in the air and even downright feels like a cliffhanger ending setting up for Zero Escape Volume 3.
Something that's really cool about this game (same with 999) is the fact that it gives you real choices. Not your typical choices that just change a line of dialogue or don't even change anything, but actual choices that dictate what will happen in the story, where you'll go, how other characters feel about you, their dialogue, what you find, and even whether you live or die. I've talked about this before and I've said that even though this is definitely a very cool concept, it's simply not practical to have it in games for the simple reason that resources are limited, and if you give players choices with real impact on the game there will necessarily be content that they won't get to see. If you design a dungeon that the player never got to see because he made a choice to do a completely different dungeon, then that's just a phenomenal waste of resources that FAR outweighs the benefits of having choice. The game would have definitely been better if there had been no choice but the player got to do both dungeons. And no, giving hundreds of choices by making every dungeon generic and boring as tits like in Elder Scrolls isn't a solution, asshole. And I'm certainly not going to go through the entire game again just to pick the other choices and see the content I missed. Well, I might if I really love the game, but even then it would have been better if I didn't have to. Point is, this is why you have to be very careful about the choices you give. They can't be impactful enough that you miss out on important stuff.
But 999 and VLR are different. They do have real choices and they make it work. But how can this be when I just said that this can't work? The answer is because they barely qualify as games. Like I said before, they are visual novels. There are three reasons why it works: first, because it turns out that it's actually necessary to see other endings before you can get to the true ending. Secondly, because of the very useful skip function, which automatically skips through all dialogue you've already seen (and conveniently stops if dialogue you've never seen comes up), meaning that even if you play again you don't have to go through stuff you've already seen. Very nice. And thirdly, because of the very nature of the puzzles, once you figure out the answer, you can plow through them very quickly.
Well, this is how it worked in 999, at any rate. But in VLR, it's actually taken even further, because now on top of all that they even give you a story flowchart that allows you to jump to any point you've previously been in the story. So now you don't even HAVE to skip through stuff or redo puzzles you've already done. And even if this feature wasn't there, the way VLR is designed, unlike 999 you only have to do each puzzle once because there is a completely new one on each branching path. So those are some definite improvements over 999. It's all much more streamlined, there is a lot less repeating stuff, and the flowchart makes it explicit where the branching paths in the story are, which is appreciated because some paths in 999 were a little...esoteric and required a lot of trial and error to find. And speaking of paths, that's another area where VLR improved by quite a bit, offering a whopping 24 endings this time. As such, the game is also a lot longer than 999, which is cool.
So ultimately, which is better, 999 or VLR? It's difficult to say. They both have their good and bad points. Regardless, they're awesome games and you should play them. Yes, both of them. Easily one of the best on either system.
Final Verdict: A-
Final Playtime: 77 hours
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