So you may have heard that we are releasing this game, and calling it “Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.” You might have also heard of this game before, and heard it called “Good People Die” or even “Zennin Shiboudesu.” Maybe when you heard that we were calling it Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, you said to yourself, “What in the Sam Hill is this?! I liked ‘Good People Die,’ gosh darn it!”
Well, truth be told, so did we. But “Good People Die” was a relatively direct translation, and as is often the case with that sort of thing, something was lost in the move. Specifically, in the original Japanese the phrase that was translated to “good people die” would be read in two different ways: either as “these people (who are good) are going to die” or as “I want to be/become a good person.” Although “Good People Die” as a title communicated the first meaning quite well, the second was lost entirely.
That didn’t sit well with us, or with Kotaro Uchikoshi, the creator and director of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. We wanted to preserve some of the layers of meaning and wordplay of the original title, but that would mean coming up with something completely different in English. To that end, we sat down and looked at what some of the core ideas were, both with the game and with the title. In this case, it seemed as if the primary messages were “in order to succeed, you need to be good” and “sometimes being good (in the context of the game this could mean choosing to cooperate) will get you killed.”
So how do we communicate that in something that’s not a sentence?
Japan has it easy: They can stuff something full of Kanji, and in three characters you can say something that takes a sentence in English. So, we asked ourselves, how can we get something like that in English? The answer was with idioms, euphemisms, and other turns of phrase imbued with heavy cultural meaning. In this case, you’ve got two:
• “Virtue is its own reward” — You do good not because you expect to get something for it, but because it’s good.
• “Gone to his last reward” — A slightly more pleasant way of saying “He’s dead.”
Squishing these two together gives us “Virtue’s Last Reward,” which can be read in a couple different ways:
• The only reward for virtue is death.
• Being virtuous will, ultimately (“at last”) be rewarding.
We considered and discarded several other possibilities (“Die by the Sword” sounded cool, but made it seem like there might be swords; “Deliberate Betrayal” used homographs cleverly, but was too straightforward and gave the reader no reason to consider deeper meanings; “Just Death” was just silly) before settling on this one.
For “Zero Escape” we wanted to create a branding umbrella that Virtue’s Last Reward, 999, and any future games could rest under comfortably—a little like the Ace Attorney brand, if you will. To do that, we thought about what it was that defined 999 and VLR and was common to both games, and eventually settled on the character of Zero and the idea that each game involves a dangerous escape. Hence, Zero Escape, which has the nice, ominous double meaning of “You have zero chance to escape.”
This means that the official names of these two games are as follows:
• Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
• Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Hopefully that answers all of your questions. If it doesn’t, then I have this nice watch for you…
Note: Box art from 3DS version, screenshot from Vita version.