999 And Virtue’s Last Reward Creator Chats About Suspenseful Visual Novels

By Spencer . May 29, 2013 . 6:05pm

Now that Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is available for iOS it’s the perfect time to share the chat we had with Zero Escape series creator Kotaro Uchikoshi. We talked about Virtue’s Last Reward and a little about the third Zero Escape game. Right now, the plot is in Uchikoshi’s head and development is just getting started.


Heads up this interview has spoilers from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward.




Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors had an air of tension with a time limit and bombs strapped to the players. The feeling of fear was palpable, but in Virtue’s Last Reward the game had a different feeling. Players could take their time to explore and characters would casually talk about their back stories during puzzles.  Why did you make the change?


Kotaro Uchikoshi, Director: When we were developing Virtue’s Last Reward, we asked people in Japan who didn’t buy 999 why they didn’t buy it. Most of the answers we got was because it looks scary. One of the decisions made by the higher ups was for the next one make sure to tone it down. I made it more mellow and lessened the tension. That’s why in the first game you explore, but in the second game there was the needle. I didn’t have a choice, but to tone it down.


image100708_1452_000 image100708_1449_000


What about the next Zero Escape game or the third one in the series? Will you bring it back up?


KU: In the next game, I plan to bring it up a little because I had a lot of fans on Twitter that they liked the sense of fear in 999. I haven’t decided how much, but I will up it.


What do you prefer, the tension in 999 or the feeling of exploration in Virtue’s Last Reward?


KU: Hmm… that’s a difficult question to answer. I like both aspects. For the next game, I want to have a little of both so the game has more tension and players will be allowed to explore.


The morphogenetic field concept changes from the first game where Akane and Junpei communicate through time. The way characters communicate in Virtue’s Last Reward suggests it’s being used too. Since it’s core to the Zero Escape series, how do you plan to utilize it for the third Zero Escape game?


KU: In both games, 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, the story uses the morphogenetic field. I didn’t really state it in Virtue’s Last Reward, but it’s there. For the next one, I do plan to stay on that theme of using the morphogenetic field, but with a new concept. I hope the fans look forward to that.



What can you tell us about the third game? Will see returning character like Santa, Snake, and Ace from 999?


KU: I plan on bringing someone back, but I can’t tell you who I’m going to bring back. That’s for both 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward.


Can you tell us the fate of one character that we won’t see again?


KU: The setting of the next game takes place in between the 999 timeline and Virtue’s Last Reward. I’m probably going to brush on what happens to all of the characters, like Santa and Ace.


When the first game in the Zero Escape series, 999, was in development it was designed for release in Japan while Virtue’s Last Reward was developed for a worldwide release when it was being planned. How did that change the way you developed the two games?


KU: Story-wise, it didn’t affect much. I didn’t change the story since I had that in mind already. For puzzles, I made sure not to use Japanese characters. I tried to avoid cultural references, as well, and made more global puzzles which ended up having numbers since numbers are a universal language.


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Virtue’s Last Reward utilizes the prisoner’s dilemma thought experiment. What kind of thought experiments interest you and what are you thinking about using as a base for the third game?


KU: The story has been developed in my mind, but we haven’t started proactively developing the game yet.


Why did you want to make the third game go in the middle of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward?


KU: Because it’s interesting! It’s not conventional since you usually go in order.


Will Aksys bring the game over?


KU: I do want to ask them! Aksys is busy so if they want to work on it, I would like them to do so.


Aside from the nine character archetypes, are any characters in the game influenced by people you know in real life?


KU: I don’t think I planned any characters that way, but we were talking earlier that Seven is like Ben [Bateman, localization editor at Aksys]. But, that was after the fact. [Laughs] I am thinking about putting Ben in the game. [Laughs.]


Will he live or die?


KU: That I don’t know, but I will make him shave his beard. [Laughs].



Virtue’s Last Reward has excellent foreshadowing. Like with Sigma, Phi says haven’t you been in school for a long time or something to that effect early on. There are subtle hints like K riding the rabbit too. I think that’s the reason why Virtue’s Last Reward and 999’s stories feel so rich and well written. How do you plan these hints and weave them into the story?


KU: I usually put it in while I write, but the part where K was riding the rabbit wasn’t my idea. That was one of our staff members that brought it up. We trade ideas and bounce them off each other. Whatever I think is interesting or funny I’ll put it in the story while writing it.


What hints are in the game that people haven’t uncovered yet?


KU: [Laughs] There are some, but I can’t remember any of those subtle hints people haven’t caught on.


Ben Bateman, Editor: There’s nothing I can think of that would be a clue, but there are a couple things I can think of that would be more interestingly relevant, but I’m not going to talk about those. [Laughs]. I don’t know the full story, but I know a few things about it. In terms of hidden stuff in the game, from what I can tell most people figured out. There are even things in there that people figured out that I don’t know if even we’ve thought of it. People’s abilities to make connections are amazing. I’m not sure if it was because [Uchikoshi] was thinking of this, but when were talking about the name for Diana – Diana is a name for I think Artemis who is the goddess of the hunt and moon. People put that connection together.


KU: [Laughs] Yeah I put that connection in.


BB: I figured that was on purpose. Nobody even talks about that in the game. Her name is brought up once and people talk about it.


Noba Nakayama, Lead Translator: There was one thing we were talking about. We were asking [Uchikoshi] about Junpei’s last name, Tenmyouji. The way the kanji was written was very specific. The "ten" in Tenmyouji means heaven. The "myou" is a combination of the kanji for sun and moon. The "ji" means temple. That’s something that may not be noticed by US fans.


If you were going to give Akane life advice, what would you tell her as her creator?


KU: [Laughs] She has special abilities and it’s something I would never be able to understand because I don’t have those abilities, so I would say to her do what you think is right.


Do you think what Akane is doing is right?


KU: That’s a hard thing to answer. The way I wrote the story was for players to come up with their own conclusion so I don’t want to put my own opinion out on that. I want players to decide whether she is good or bad.

  • AlexanderPappas

    I’m hype for ZE3.

  • AkuLord3

    lol “Because it was scary” can’t help but laugh at that answer but is sorta understanding, still i’m happy they’ll considering bring up the fear and tension into the third game.

    • psycho_bandaid

      seriously. If this game is considered too scary then I can see why horror games arent made anymore.

  • Alestaos

    I never played 999 or virtues reward looking at both VR for the vita though. Are they good games?

  • Wrestling_God

    I really hope they release the third game for the Vita too.

    • sfried

      Does this comment qualify as port-begging?

      • Wrestling_God

        Anything wrong with that?

        • MrSirFeatherFang

          yeah, it’s against the rules. Although not sure what you’re worried about, since VLR was released on the Vita.

          • Wrestling_God

            I’m a little worried because I believe VLR it sold well on the 3DS compared to the Vita and they might change directions to develop the third game only for the 3DS instead. But yeah, I’m optimistic it will. And no, I’m not really begging, just hoping for it.

          • MrSirFeatherFang

            oh I see, well next time you might want to add that info nest time you amke a comment like that. Then (I don’t think) it would have been considered begging.

          • M’iau M’iaut

            Featherfang has some good suggestions, it is one of the little things we ask the community to consider. Valid point on your followup and welcome!

  • Charles Parker

    The order of these games makes me think of Yahtzee’s Chzo Mythos series and how it went from 5 Days a Stranger, to 7 Days a Skeptic, and ended on 6 Days a Sacrifice.

  • ZekeFreek

    Why does Siliconera focus so much on the “3rd game is set in-between” aspect? Anyone who played VLR to completion understand why, it wouldn’t make any goddamn sense if it took place after.

    • Well it could… but with completely different characters.

      • ZekeFreek

        Not that way it’s set-up, no.

        • Yes it could. Why are you so against it.

          • ZekeFreek

            Explain it then. This game perfectly sets up the 3rd game to take place in-between the first two. There is literally no wiggle room without making it a completely different story.

          • They could set it several years after with Tenmyoji and Quark after things settled back down on earth. Or on a different space site. And the little story between 1 & 2 could be handled in 4 if nothing else.

          • ZekeFreek

            Which would be completely besides the point and go against everything VLR sets up.

          • VLR came out of no where too. So. :/

          • Silent-Hal

            Except 999 didn’t leave any really obvious sequel set-up, whereas VLR ends on a colossal cliffhanger…

          • Prequel* But that isn’t to say a sequel couldn’t be made though?

          • Silent-Hal

            Considering the whole point of VLR’s ending is that Sigma and Phi need to go back and create a timeline where VLR’s future didn’t happen, that sounds like it would be one huge narrative dead-end to me.

          • ZekeFreek

            Exactly, there’s nowhere to go in that timeline.

          • There could be other things the way though is unhappy.

  • Laith Rem

    So if the first one was communication between time and space and the second one is communication between universes, then the third one is going to be communication between dimensions. That’s the theory at least.

    • Dimensions? Isn’t that what time and space is… and “universes” too.

      • Laith Rem

        Nope. There’s the 1st dimension, a simple “.” (dot)

        The second one is “-” (A line)

        The third one is a figure, the simplest one is a cube.
        So the next one is the 4th dimension, something that already happened in Ever17

        • 4th dimension is time. According to the 11 dimensions of reality or whatever it is called. And the first three dimensions are “space”. Universerses are just “space”.

  • PreyMantis

    “I’m probably going to brush on what happens to all of the characters, like Santa and Ace.”
    It’s official. Ace and/or Santa will be in the next game.

    • At least mentioned. Personally Ace can suck my… but Santa is awesome, and he is Akane’s brother.

    • Raze

      Well I think I can guess some of returning chara…

      Phi…Sigma…Luna the original one…Not the robot….

      The mysterious “?”…K in “?” body…Akane…

      And Snake too maybe?

      • The Sigma clone dude won’t be in 3… will he? That would be weird.

        • ZekeFreek

          Kyle will probably be there, possessing someone else’s body, since he doesn’t have his own in that time period.

          • Eh… I dun like that idea. But who knows.

          • ZekeFreek

            The epilogue basically flat-out states Kyle has gone back in time. Actually… it wouldn’t surprise me if Kyle is the player-character in 3.

          • Did it? I need to replay VLR then! xD

          • Raze

            Another time end basically telling us that K’s mind and memory go back with Sigma to “?” …
            Basically He will take part in 3rd too…He will be in “?” body I think …

          • I forgot a couple of details like that. It was confusing as fudge ending.

          • SHSL Big Bro

            But it’s not Kyle who’d be possessing a body, because ? is not Kyle.

          • ZekeFreek

            ? was in Kyle’s body. Akane says it is possible for Kyle to go to the past in the body of someone who lived in that time period. Aka, ?’s original body.

          • SHSL Big Bro

            I don’t know how to prove you wrong without massive Ever17 spoilers. Can you do me a favor and beat Ever17? Then you’ll realize who ? is.

      • komiko12

        Hopefully there would be enough space for new characters.
        Those who were confirmed were:
        Phi, Sigma and Diana (original Luna)

        Junpei Tenmyouji and another clone of Left (different from Dio) are also set to appear, though I’m not sure whether they are players.

        Assuming that all of them would be players, there would be 4 slots left. Now, if the returning character would be a player, then there are just 3 new characters.

  • Scrooge_McDuck

    The franchise has delicious mysteries and I love the intricate plot they are weaving, but I do hope they’d edit their narrative better for the third game. There are so many needless expositions that drag the pace in VLR.

    • ZekeFreek

      I’d argue that’s part of the charm.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      As noted, it is kind of a hallmark of the writer. The kick the can scene has already been noted and Remember 11 even opens with such an exposition.

      • Scrooge_McDuck

        Hallmark? Could you elucidate on this?

        I probably should clarify that I don’t mind (even long) expositions that set in the tone or expound on characterization. I don’t mind the long, theoretical, hypothetical discussions.

        What I mind is the repeat explanations and plot points. Over and over again. And they tend to linger too much on expounding even the simplest concepts.

        • M’iau M’iaut

          He does them a lot, and probably too much. I just appreciate how Ever 17 ended up to hate the weaknesses too much. Nothing in my gaming experience has impacted me quite the way Tsugumi’s end did on my first play through.

          PS — A lot of the issue with the repeat plot points is that in Ever 17 (and plenty of other VNs)each path shares a significant number of events. Leading folks to experience kick the can on endless loop.

          It was like — damn, that’s what I would have done.

    • Silent-Hal

      I agree with this. In particular the game’s ending fell a bit flat for me because it basically all amounted to one huge exposition dump, with very little actually getting resolved. I liked the game, but that was a bit of a let down after how well 999 wrapped up.

      • Scrooge_McDuck

        Oh, I’m not really talking about the exposition dump. It’s just the little, sporadic, repeat explanations that adds up and becomes pretty grating.

        Off the top of my head:

        Luna: Counting the rightmost box as #1, I came from box #2.
        Sigma: What do you mean?
        Luna: It’s the box immediately left of the rightmost box.

        Are those last two lines necessary, really? Also, all those paragraphs wasted on who gets to be with who based on what color – every single time they need to go through doors. Just display a diagram for the players or something.

  • PreyMantis

    Why is there an Exstetra screenshot on there? Ohhhh… I see where this is going. To survive, they must kiss each other to become Prisma Knights to combat the release of the Radical-6 virus.

  • Silent-Hal

    I really hope he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. VLR’s ending was very messy and there was so much left unresolved that I feel like he may have written himself into a corner. The biggest problem: the element of surprise is gone (or so it seems), since the way VLR ends means we already have a good idea of what needs to happen in ZE3 for the whole story to work. Fingers crossed it can end the trilogy on a satisfying note.

  • Hours

    I’m glad they are gonna bump up the tension again in Vol. 3. VLR certainly wasn’t devoid of it, but it did feel a bit more leisurely. (Though, that in and of itself was kinda unsettling, since it made the group seem very isolated.)

    I’m very excited about Vol. 3. I hope we get an official reveal soon.

  • komiko12

    * Make it scary!!
    Honestly, the way the doors in 999 opens is more scarier than Clover’s ending in VLR.

    * Personally, I would like Lotus to reappear, but I think they would probably introduced a new big-boobed character with smarts.

    * Even Uchikoshi has trust in Aksys :D

    * Tenmyouji’s name is epic

    * Lastly, I hope we would get clarification about All-ice and Ice-9

  • Ssylex

    This whole article is a giant spoiler-fest; I had to avert my eyes about 1/3 of the way in. It’s my own fault for only just now finding 999, I guess. ;)

  • redhood56

    Right when i was starting to forget about the zero escape games.. all this news comes up! Man I am sooo hype for ZE3!!!!!!1

  • SHSL Big Bro

    I’m still confused as to what kind of surprises I should expect from Game 3 due to the massive information dump that was the VLR ending. It basically sets up the location, the main character, the ACTUAL main character, the goal of the game, and the only thing left unanswered is basically everything about Phi.

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