Image source from Aksys Games.
Ally, or Betray? Who is Zero?
3DS, PS Vita
Aksys Games (Localization)
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is the localized version of the game known as “Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die” (Kyokugen Dasshutsu Adventure: Zennin Shibou Desu). Despite the game being labelled 18+, the game was retitled by Aksys Games in order to accommodate the difference between the meaning of “good people die” in Japanese and English. I’ve been looking forward to this game for quite a while, so I was really excited when is came out in October.
Siliconera goes into a little bit more detail about it with their interview with the director Kotaro Uchikoshi why the name of the game is so different in the two forms. Although this is not the official Aksys’ answer to the name change, it does explain the Japanese one.
This is not a strict review, so there will be some semi-spoilers, but I will do my best to keep them out. I will avoid them as much as possible.
The words “good people die” in the original Japanese has the direct term that good people will die in the game, and the pun of “shibou,” or hope, contains the thought that “we hope for everyone to be a good person.”
The English version “virtue’s last reward,” more or less carries the same intent. As much as “Good People Die” is a very direct way of saying what the game is about, it doesn’t convey the actions of the person as well. It is possible to be a good person and still live, and the bad person doesn’t necessarily survive otherwise.
There are some characters that return, such as Clover and Alice, and the game mechanics are fairly simple.
The aspects of game play can be summarized by Aksys Games from their original announcement page, but I’ll reiterate for people that didn’t read up on it-
- Dual Language Support
- Puzzles and Story
- Fully-Voiced Novel Sections
- Numerous Endings
- Immersive Three-Dimensional Environment
- Introduces New Characters, Brings Back Old Ones
You’re a college student that has been kidnapped. You awaken in a locked elevator with a mysterious white-haired girl named “Phi,” and a watch attached to your arm. You are forced to decode the puzzles in the elevator to escape; where when you escape, you discover yourself in a warehouse with several other people. Each round of the room escapes ends in an “Ambidex Game,” where you are forced to choose “Ally” or “Betray” to win points. When 9 points are achieved, the person with the points can leave through the “9” door – however this door only opens once. If someone else gets 9 BP (Bracelet Points) and opens the door before you do, everyone else left behind will be unable to leave the facility.
The points are calculated as follows–
Team A: Ally, Team B: Ally = both teams +2 points
Team A: Ally, Team 3: Betray = Team A -2 points, Team B: +3 points
Team A: Betray, Team B; Betray = no points for either team
- 9 BP can open the “9” door to escape the warehouse
- Hitting “0” BP will result in a penalty from the GM, in this case, death./li>
- You vote in a closed room.
- Not voting of one party will result in an automatic “Ally” vote for them
- Not voting of all parties will result in a penalty.
- You begin with 3 BP.
In order to get to the rooms to vote, you need to travel through Chromatic Doors and escape from that portion of the warehouse, where you obtain keys to unlock the voting rooms.
Being an avid anime fan doesn’t mean that I would automatically pick the Japanese audio track, but that’s the one that I chose. I believe it was because I feel the experience is more immersive from my perspective. When I watch anime, I feel like I can sink myself into the story, and feel that I am learning more from reading the translation, listening, and watching the action associated the former two, and drawing my own conclusions.
I spend a lot more time that I should reading blogs like Moe Sucks, GarGar Stegosaurus, and Oguie Maniax and the analysis of the otaku content and culture, so I really do try to understand more than just that “Japanese audio is better.” I haven’t tried the English track, but I hear there’s different things like a certain character’s Scottish accent, so I wonder if not being able to recognize accents in Japanese (other than an obvious Kansai one) helps or hurts my judging of character.
Virtue’s Last Reward is not the same game as 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. Where the first game had 6 endings, the concentration was on the solving of “who is Zero,” how they could connect to another person. VLR, on the other hand, brings back some of the past characters, but they’re just as suspicious as before. The inability to trust almost anyone is one of the more intense experiences in a game I have had in a while, whereas the people you trust the most are the ones you know the least about (I’d say Phi and Luna).
VLR stands by itself, and not more of the same that describes the “success” of some franchises.
When you are introduced to each of the characters after the escape portion of the beginning of the game, you are given the introduction of each character. There’s the design aspect of each character, and their appearance, but also the ways in which they act. I guess some people might say that the gesture of each of the models is what characterizes them, but the ability to read and understand each person is left to the end of their “route,” where your impression of them is affirmed or overturned. but at the end, you really will like all the characters, I guarantee it.
I ended up skipping a lot of the audio near the end of the game, not because I didn’t like the voice actors (they had some pretty good ones, like Yukari “Yukarin” Tamura, but because I was so nervous about the ending, I just kept on clicking to read. The “Log” function was useful for back-tracking if I clicked too fast.
Plus, it was fun to listen to Zero III, voiced my Tarako, being completely sadistic. XD
This game came with a memo to take quick notes, so it was pretty cool for scribbling down things. The drawback is that the memo is only as big as the screen, and the bigger problems that require a lot of math or trial-and-error still needs the paper and pencil to solve. On the PS Vita, there is no stylus, so using it is less than likely unless you have good finger writing.
The biggest draw from this was something I had not anticipated before, and that was the world of games. When I originally found the trailer for “Good People Die,” I had not anticipated much action after that. But with the power of the places I post, I was able to find another person that could tell me a bit more about it, and another that could lend me the original 999 game.
It’s really cool to be able to speak in a different short-hand once you’ve played the game, where you can make rabbit puns or Schrodinger’s cat jokes. Shows that language and personal codes between people can change in the matter of lightning speed, right?
Visual Novel “Map”
The endings of the game were all mapped out in a chart, and “jumping” between timelines was a lot easier than in the last game. Where visual novel games like Hakuouki are based on online guides/quick-saving between points, The jump function became part of the story. I will go into details further down about the concepts of the story “root” below. As much as this is a puzzle game, this game is only so good because the story just sucks you in, and you can’t help playing it.
The visual novel format is not something new, but this is a rare format that can be integrated so well into action and adventure. The “visual” novel is exactly as seen, where there are environments, and characters and actions can be taken. While the actions of the character can cannot be directly controlled in the game (there are no bullets to dodge or swords to wield), the actions of each fork controls the direction of the story later on. In VNs, we call those “flags,” where if you touch one flag, you will be able to activate another aspect of the story. The “To Be Continued” ends are a clever aspect of the game that enforces the need to travel down another story path to find the truth before returning.
The Coy, The Liar, and the Fool
The strongest part is the emotional investment you have with the characters. You are not some nameless, faceless character that can do everything, and when someone does an action that affects you, the emotional aspect hits very close to home. While it is certainly possible to for everyone to leave the warehouse in 3 rounds if they all just voted “Ally,” the fear of betrayal and the promise are too great for that to happen. Two “Betray” in a row will result in 6 BP in 2 rounds, and most of the characters will try for that to guarantee their safety/escape. It hurts even more when the other party asks if you will choose “Ally,” and you somehow fall for it, and they “Betray” you.
But that’s all “just” part of the game, right? How much of the game is reality, and how much is not? The “Betray” function has to be used as a defensive measure, but everyone picking “Betray” will result in no points overall. The need to choose Betray to finish a route shows both an analysis of moral behaviour, and how to counter-act words and actions by the other characters. Where’s there’s overly optimistic characters that will vote “Ally” every time, there’s other characters that will manipulate others to vote that way so they can get the +3 BP from “Betray.”
One of the biggest analogies in the story is the comparison of the story “branches” to a root. All the paths begin with you waking up in a locked room, and the 3 doors at the beginning of the game determine your teams for the next few rounds. The branches themselves all lead back to an original sources, so actions change dramatically close to the end of the roots. Not all the endings are desirable- the ending where everyone killed themselves (or were killed by Radical-6!?!) was probably the worst one. However, “bad ends” yield information and hilarious revelations (the “arm” ending, ahaha).
This is not a game you want to play by yourself in a dark house. You never know when you’ll be kidnapped to play a Nonary Game. The creepy music really helps with the sense of urgency of having to get out, but there’s softer moments as well.
The sprites are surprisingly “realistic” in this game. They were 2D sprites in 999, but this time, they opted for the 3D model. It’s a little odd to see K breathe, but at least we know he’s human…? The expressions and hand gestures are pretty good, and the cut-scenes help make the story
The game had a lot of puzzles for the different paths, and lot of it was the same as in the last game. The biggest thing about the items is that once is goes in your inventory, you have to remember to examine it, because it often has an extra clue as to how to use it that comes from your teammates.
The “combine” function often operates in a predictable manner, so it’e nearly impossible to combine the wrong things.
However, it is possible for things to be too small to be clicked. In the case of the Laboratory Room, undue amounts of frustration came from the inability to see the glass jars on the shelf, since no matter if you clicked it, it would say that nothing interesting was there.
“Cheating,” or looking to an online walk-through will happen, and you should feel too bad. I spent a lot of time staring at the “triangle colour” puzzle, and the last dice rolling game was a pretty bad. I also spent a lot of time trying to get the ice cube out of the box. Grr. But, the thing is, once you looked it up, you feel kind of foolish because it was “pretty logical.” When the final puzzle codes came around, I had to look that up as well, since I was mixing the codes, and nothing was happening. I had forgotten to write down the first bomb code, which really didn’t help. But overall, it was really fun, and challenging to try the inventive puzzles. The use of objects is very user-experience driven, because so much of the “combining” or “looking around” was able to be guessed without too much hand-holding.
The gold files are an extra code you can use to get into the safes in the rooms. “Gold” files are the extra information that you can get, but it won’t affect the gameplay. You get “Silver” files if you play on “Easy” mode. There’s worth spending a little extra time on the puzzle to get the code.
Easy vs. Hard Mode
Where 999 only had one mode, VLR has the option to switch between “Hard” and “Easy.” On Easy Mode, the characters will give you clues if you fail the puzzle, and the clues get more and specific to the answer the more you fail. On Hard, there is enough information, but there’s less clues when you fail. I spent a lot of time mulling over things, so Hard mode isn’t too bad if you know to ask for help when you get stuck.
The puzzles are really fun, though, with the zooming and picking up items.
Food for Thought
My favourite part of this game, aside from the characters (I like puzzles too, but story, always, always, comes first) is the questions it asks. A lot of people might think that learning through games doesn`t actually teach anything, but for someone who’s a reluctant gamer, and didn’t really grow up with games and game consoles, I would recommend this game.
While 999 concentrated on the concept of morphogenic fields and the other philosophy questions like “Locke’s socks” (for those who like Ghost in the Shell and Psycho-Pass might recognize that concept), this game was very much about idea of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Chinese room, and…of course, Schrodinger’s Cat.
…are required for achieving the “True End” of this game. Though, in application of the theories from the game, the entire game is a “Bad End.” Har har. We’ll need a sequel to rectify that.
Rating: 9/10, Excellent
For a self-declared non-gamer, I really, really like this game, and would call this my favourite 3DS title this year. Considering I went on a road-trip to the US to get it with the pre-order bonus watch (with friends, and I had a really good weekend). Fun puzzle solving, creepy atmosphere, heavy emphasis on story, and a brilliant unveiling of the final ending really made this worth every cent I paid for this game, and some more. There simply is no way to play one route and say “that’s it! I’m done.” You have to continue, and each ending unveils a little more. You can relate to all the character, and none of them fall into a cliche.
On that note, this game pretty much needs a sequel to tie 999 and this game together, so expect another game with the cast of both games in the next one.
So, hop to it and get it!