Virtue’s Last Reward Creator Talks About The Essence Of Visual Novels At GDC Panel

By Spencer . April 1, 2013 . 2:30pm

vlr_1Kotaro Uchikoshi, Game Director at Spike Chunsoft and the creator of the Zero Escape series, has a sense of humor. He started his GDC talk going off script with a joke about returning home to his wife without a Game Developers Choice Award. Uchikoshi was nominated for best narrative, which The Walking Dead from Telltale Games won. Uchikoshi humbly thanked his fans and Spike Chunsoft for Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. Then, he pointed out that three of the most nominated games Journey, The Room, and The Walking Dead were all adventure games and titles that he played.




What is a visual novel? Uchikoshi defined this as a sub genre of the adventure game genre. Since Virtue’s Last Reward features a lot of puzzles, Uchikoshi said it may not be a visual novel in the purest sense, but it’s safe to say it fits in the genre.



Still on the definition of a visual novel, Uchikoshi pointed out Real Sound: Wind of Regret, a Sega Saturn game from D creator Kenji Eno that lets players make decisions, but the game visuals are limited. Stepping back from visual novels, Uchikoshi talked about sports. Baseball and football are by definition sports. What about darts, fishing, pool or lingerie football? (There’s Uchikoshi’s sense of humor again!) Uchikoshi believes all of these are sports because they require participants to be competitive, but some people might disagree that lingerie football is a sport the same way some people disagree that a visual novel is a "game."


If being athletic, competing, and using your reflexes defines a sport. What is the definition of a game? Uchikoshi’s view is it’s something where the selection made by a player’s decision changes the history of events or outcome that takes place within a given set of rules.


In other words, in Tetris players decide where to drop blocks and that affects the game board by clearing lines. Lingerie football is also a game, Uchikoshi joked again.


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A visual novel is a video game that specializes in selectivity, Uchikoshi said. It’s a primitive game or the purest form of a game. Having selectivity makes visual novels different from anime, manga, movies, and other media.


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Virtue’s Last Reward and the Zero Escape series were inspired by the Super Famicom game Kamaitachi no Yoru or Night of the Sickle Weasel. Players have to solve a murder mystery that takes place in a ski lodge in this Chunsoft classic. We’re going to talk about similarities between Virtue’s Last Reward and Night of the Sickle Weasel below. There are some spoilers, mostly for Night of the Sickle Weasel, which has only been released in Japan.


Night of the Sickle Weasel is interesting because the game doesn’t use "flags." The oversimplified explanation is a flag is either raised (set to true) or lowered (set to false) and used to determine if an event has been triggered. Visual novels commonly use flags to check if a player has made a certain decision or seen a certain event scene to determine which story branch players are on.



Night of the Sickle Weasel has a different flow. Players start the game when they discover a dead body. Then they can enter the name of who they think is the suspect. If they pick the suspect right on the first try they can skip straight to the good ending. However, most players will probably go through a different route like B, C, D, E, F, or G… etc. All of these other paths have clues to who the real killer is and a tragic fate for the protagonist. The "flags" in Night of the Sickle Weasel are actually stored in a player’s brain. After you go through route B you know not to go down that route and remember or write down clues that help you get to the good ending. In an extreme case, players might guess the right answer or use a strategy guide. In that case, they skip the entire game.


Virtue’s Last Reward has a similar structure with the password system. Players have to remember passwords procured from going through different routes.



Uchikoshi says his stories are inspired by putting characters in a state of discomfort. In Night of the Sickle Weasel the game starts with a murder, which is discomforting. 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward begins with the players trapped with no escape, not exactly a pleasant situation either.


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In Night of the Sickle Weasel the main character can only see one chain of events and usually meets an unhappy ending. The player keeps track of all events past and future similar to how the morphological field in Virtue’s Last Reward lets characters transfer information from one person to another. To make this easier for players, Virtue’s Last Reward has a flow chart which was a requested feature from fans of 999.


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Reality in video games is different from our reality, Uchikoshi stated. Take RPGs for example or action games where your character has a lot of equipment, but you can only see one item. You also get money, healing items, or ammo at just the right times, which is unnatural. Players accept this in the confound of what a game is so in Uchikoshi’s opinion we shouldn’t get hung up on games being too real.


Where do adventure games go from here? Uchikoshi says that adventure games are on an upward swing thanks to digital distribution. He also thinks adventure games are fitting for smartphones and can be a new way to tell a story like manga, anime, or movies.



Speaking to the audience, Uchikoshi said he hopes someone sitting in his session will be able to create an amazing game in the future and if he can assist with that he will be really happy.

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  • Vesperion

    Dat Flowchart

  • Brimfyre

    Just finished Muv Luv Alternative. It is such a unique form of storytelling that more people need to be able to experience. I wish it could catch on here.

    • Aristides

      The hell? Seriously? I’m like almost at the end of the game lol What are the odds of that XD. I agree it’s an amazing VN, it’s very inspiring I hope to make make a vita game like it sometime in the future ;)

  • shuyai

    should i play the DS 999 door game first? or does it matter?

    • Youko

      If you plan to play Virtue’s Last Reward, then yes, it is highly recommended to play 999 first. VLR is a sequel that connects events and characters from 999.

    • ( `Д´)ノ)`ν゜)

      Yes you should.

    • hunterslasher13

      If you have a DS I would recommend getting it, it’s a good reference when going through VLR.

      I didn’t have one so I just watched a full walkthrough of it.

    • benhofb

      YES. VLR is a SEQUEL to 999 for a reason, man. They may not be insanely connected… Wait, no. They are. So just play them both! You won’t regret it!

      • jengo

        Is there any benefit to playing VLR on 3DS over Vita? I heard of the save bug in the 3DS version, but I wonder if there’s any reason to keep it all on one platform (I have both)?

        • benhofb

          The Vita version was better for me, but the in-game notes system is way better on the 3DS. Granted, I just screen-shot certain passwords/clues rather than writing them down, but the notes system does come in handy when doing a puzzle. The Vita version AFAIK does not have the save bug. I have heard rumors on some sites that 1-2 people got it, but nothing as bad as the 3DS one that impacted a bunch of people. The better thing about the vita version is also that you can put your vita to sleep at any time, so you don’t really have to ever shut it down ( I never did for my 40-something hour playthrough). Of course, graphics and audio is a lot sharper on the Vita version, and the game has trophies (the platinum is really easy to get). So yeah. I’d say Vita all the way.

          • jengo

            Thanks! If there was some save file carry over from 999 to VLR on the 3DS, then I’d go with that… but as you mention, I prefer the visual fidelity on the Vita.

          • epsiblivion

            the 3ds has a sleep mode as well. you can just close the lid like the old ds. and the save bug is perfectly avoidable since it only happens in puzzle rooms. if you only save in conversation modes, it is totally safe. that said, it’s a pain to have to remember this all the time so if you have a vita already might as well get it there.

        • If you have a Vita, then just get the Vita version. It saves you a lot of potential heartache and time-wasted from losing your save file on the 3DS version. I also found the screenshot function of the Vita to be invaluable for solving many of the puzzles.

    • komiko12

      Some people would argue that VLR has an independent story and doesn’t require playing 999 to understand. For me, I think playing 999 would allow you to fully appreciate VLR. There is an upcoming third game that would really need some knowledge of 999 and VLR to put all the pieces together.

  • A shame that this article is about Visual Novel but don’t even talk about Ever17, which is the main work of Uchikoshi and a pure visual novel, unlike 999 and VLR.

    • Detrimont

      while i agree, it was an american conference, and ever17 isnt as well known as 999 or VLR as it had a very limited PC release.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      We’ve spent plenty of time with Ever 17, and it is indeed the reason 999 first took hold. It’s just too bad Peach Princess wasn’t able to do a DL version of it as they did with Yo-Jin-Bo.

  • Manny Being Manny

    Good luck ever having visual novels go digital only like he wants at the end. The industry is struggling enough as it is, they can only survive by charging high prices for special physical editions that come with extras. Nobody in Japan would pay those high prices for a file.

    • benhofb

      I agree. I think one of the biggest things that made fans of the Zero Escape series buy VLR was a physical release. Personally, I drove out 20 miles to find a GameStop that was carrying the game, exactly because I didn’t want to go digital. Granted, I also didn’t pre-order, but I have since learned my lesson…

  • benhofb

    Hrm… Well, I will agree that digital distribution is a great way to get more visual novels/adventure games out to the public, I really hope that isn’t going to be the medium for Zero Escape Vol. 3. I would really miss those sweet watches they give away as pre-orders.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      I think digital really allows a spot for 2nd tier hybrids like Corpse Party or pure visual novels. At least on the PC, ELVNS are carving out a nice little niche in the digital space. I do think however, it is also a place folks need to be more price aware. $20-30 for a cold buy is just a step too high to really grow the market.

      • benhofb

        Agreed. Yeah, I mean the digital platform is great for the growth of the genre in the states, because thankfully there is a nice niche for it. Personally, I just hope that certain publishers continue special edition releases for their games. One of the best things about VLR was it’s amazon promotion. I mean, I see those watches sell for a lot online these days.

        • Detrimont

          it’s a shame only america got them

  • jengo

    Thanks for covering these talks! I was really interested in this, the Marvelous one and the Dragons Dogma one, but I can only afford a student pass to Gdc :(

  • Natat

    Great article! I’ve been playing VNs for years now and while I haven’t found a VN that topples Sharin no Kuni for me, I still enjoy them a LOT.

  • Craig

    I still think Uchikoshi’s flowchart in VLR is a revolutionary idea to VNs.

    • Kelohmello

      Revolutionary would imply it hasn’t been done before. It’s been done plenty of times in japanese VNs, English VNs are just not very common in the first place for you to see it.

  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    Really nice seeing this talk here especially when there is some mentioning of Real Sounds which is a game designed for those who are unable to see.

    I actually would love to have some game like that too as rather than beautiful images, it relies on once imagination and the atmosphere, the story is able to create like novels.^_^

  • Wow. I never thought of games like The Walking and such being the same interactive level as a visual novel, but he makes a fine point (especially on the digital part, something fellow fans will have to understand someday).

    I have few friends that are absolutely certain that a games like the Talltale Games’ TWD are not actually games. It’s little annoying, but it also shows how games CAN change. I think that’s important than it staying the same for so long.

  • ZekeFreek

    Kinda funny how Virtue’s Last Reward beat Bioshock Infinite to the punch with an oddly similar twist and managed to do it better.

  • The first time I saw the timeline map the first thing I thought is Kamaitachi no Yoru! More VNs should use this system (or the one from 428)

  • Brimfyre

    Also the iPad and mobile devices are perfect for VNs. I usually have my VN running on my computer and then use Splashtop and play it on my mobile device. It’s as good as curling up on the couch with a good book. That is where they should invest the money.

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