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Virtue’s Last Reward (VLR) is a 2012 visual novel adventure game developed by Chunsoft for the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The game is the second installment in the Zero Escape series, following 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999), which was released in 2009. While I have not formally reviewed 999 before, I have written about it quite glowingly. Being a visual novel the game primarily features lengthy narrative sections broken up by “Escape Rooms,” which are environments where the player character Sigma must investigate and solve puzzles in to progress.

Much like the first game, nine people wake up trapped in a strange facility, location unknown, after having been abducted by someone wearing a gas mask. Taunted by the A.I. in control named Zero III, these people are forced to take part in the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition — a variation on the game from 999. The objective of this game is to accumulate nine or more bracelet points (BP), allowing whoever has this much BP to escape the facility through a large, reinforced door marked with a 9.

The escape room’s puzzles in this game I found to be of varying difficulty, especially if you’re a completionist. Some solutions that provide bonus information are a lot more obscure and hard to figure out, while others I easily stumbled upon by happenstance. While they often get quite challenging, there is a logic to even the most difficult puzzles that the player can reasonably be expected to figure out if they are patient and work through them. Admittedly, I lost patience during a number of puzzles and opted to look up the solution in order to progress through the story. This does not reflect on the fairness of these problems, simply my mileage in trying to figure them out on my own.

While I feel the puzzles are integral to the overall experience for this series, story is the main draw. That being the case, I will continue to be as scant on the details as possible. The story and the characters are best experienced on their own. Like in 999, the plot can follow numerous paths depending upon the choices that you have Sigma make. Escape rooms are behind “Chromatic Doors,” which he can frequently choose which to go through. After each of these rooms he’s forced into the Ambidex Game, which has him either choose to Ally or Betray a comrade, who must make the same choice. The outcome of this sub-game determines whether BP is gained or lost.

All of these variables brought together create numerous branches of storylines with a great number of endings, much more complicated than seen previously. To compensate for this the player is able to access a flow chart of the story’s progression and jump to previous points to make different choices. This is an improvement upon 999, where the player had to fast-forward through previously played sections in order to get to a junction of choices again.

Humorous, tense, macabre, and heart-warming, I was deeply compelled by a story that drip feeds you details as you explore different narrative paths. I was constantly kept guessing at what was really going on. The purpose of the Nonary Game is left ambiguous until near the very end, with a lot of attention paid to who the characters are – or rather, who the game wants you to think they are. Many of them have much more to them than meets the eye. Because of this the cast of this game felt a lot stronger, and I found myself more attached to the group as a whole. I came to build understandings of who they were, but found myself mistrusting them all the same as different paths showed me different sides of them.

Unlike its predecessor, however, the plot twists and reveals did not quite pack the punch that I was hoping for. In 999, once the reveal happened I was struck with immediate awe and clarity: finally, I understood what was going on.  I understand what was happening in VLR, but the mounting twists, revelations, and required exposition were more of a strain when all was said and done.

Both games introduced high concepts, but by the ending of 999 I had enough of an understanding for the plot to be rather straightforward, having gained clarity through revelation. VLR’s ending, while containing a stack of last minute twists and revelations, was one that I saw coming – if you boil it down to its essential idea. I do think that it’s a tad overwritten in some places.

Ultimately, I did thoroughly enjoy Virtue’s Last Reward. It’s a worthy successor in a fantastic series that upped the ante of its predecessor. While I’m a little exhausted from the endeavor, I love that I now understand how this will lead into the next entry, Zero Time Dilemma. I need some time, but I’m very excited to begin it.

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