"Have a nice trap," Zero III said while explaining the rules of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward’s Nonary game. They seemed simple enough. You start with 3 BP (Bracelet Points) and need 9 BP to escape the facility you and eight other unfortunate souls are sealed in. Oh, and if your BP drops below zero you die.
Virtue’s Last Reward creates a tense atmosphere starting with the very first puzzle. Sigma (read: you) and a stern girl who clearly knows more about the situation than she lets on are trapped in an elevator. You need to crack open a safe and Spike Chunsoft left cryptic clues like a poster of octogenarians and babies as help. Great. Solving puzzles in Virtue’s Last Reward involves gathering items, combining them, and a little trial and error. The other characters you’re with drops subtle hints, but if you really get suck you can switch to easy mode which practically spells out what you need to do next. What’s interesting is every puzzle actually has two solutions. One moves the game forward and the other ambiguous answer rewards players with background information that supplements the story.
And the story… wow. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward hooked me into playing just one more chapter and then another until I fell asleep with my Vita. I *had* to see what happens to Luna, a kind nurse, and the fate of Quark, a kid who got caught into the Nonary Game. Virtue’s Last Reward tactfully weaves in philosophical talking points like Schrodinger’s Cat and interacting with thinking machines. I thought humans would ride on the shoulders of giant robots into the sunset, but man Virtue’s Last Reward made me think otherwise. Aksys should get a gold star for their superb localization work. All of the characters have personality to them even Zero III, the talking rabbit AI, who taunts his (or her?) prisoners with rabbit puns. Sigma’s misguided attempts at flirting are funny too. These lighthearted moments balance out Virtue’s Last Reward since the story is fairly dark.
Being trapped with strangers in a life or death game is already unnerving. Zero III ups the ante by telling the unwilling players Zero is among them plus you have the opportunity to betray each other in the Ambidex game. Remember those 9 BP you need to escape? After each puzzle you and a teammate go into an isolated booth while another partner goes into their own booth. Inside you have to decide whether to ally or betray the other person. Here are the possibilities:
Both parties choose ally – everyone gets +2 BP and stays best friends.
If one party choose ally and the other picks betray – the betraying jerk(s) gains + 3 BP while the ally group loses 2BP.
Both parties choose betray – everyone gains +0 BP and Zero will say why bother playing. Well, it’s not like you have a choice.
Can you trust a stranger with your life? As Phi would say, the safest thing to do is betray because you won’t lose any BP, but can you be so heartless? The Ambidex game sprouts the seeds of mistrust Zero planted.
I’m the kind of player that likes to see both outcomes and I like how Virtue’s Last Reward lets you do that right away without having to reload your game. The flow chart option lets you hop (those rabbit puns are burned into my brain…) around the story and see "what if" you chose ally instead of betray. Jerk. I enjoyed leaping back and forth through Virtue’s Last Reward’s arcs, but you can also go through one story branch at a time. You will need to play through the Nonary game multiple times to see the whole story. Each path delves into the background and motivation for one or two characters.
If the premise sounds like Nine Hours, Nine Doors, Nine Persons you are correct. Virtue’s Last Reward is the second game in the series. The difference between the two games is Virtue’s Last Reward is larger in scope with more story branches. I’d have to play through 999 again to be sure, but I think I got to know more about the characters in Virtue’s Last Reward than the previous game. You’ll meet a masked man with no memory, a grumpy old guy who seems awfully close to Quark, a returning character from 999, and an exotic woman who left her shirt home. I guess Zero kidnapped Alice while she was changing? Phi, the girl Sigma wakes up with, is the brains of the group. She calculates every possibility acting purely on logic rather than emotion like Sigma. It’s an interesting shift from June, the female lead in 999, who was sort of like a damsel in distress archetype.
If you’re thinking about playing Virtue’s Last Reward (and you really should!) you have to play Nine Hours, Nine Doors, Nine Persons first. The Zero Escape games are connected and Virtue’s Last Reward’s story would have flown over my head if I skipped 999. Also, Nine Hours, Nine Doors, Nine Persons has one of the most memorable video game plot twists ever. Virtue’s Last Reward has it’s share of revelations too and I think fans of the Zero Escape series are in for a treat – or trap depending on how you look at it.