15| Virtue's Last Reward

Released: October 23rd, 2012

Definitive Version: Playstation Vita; Also On: 3DS

It seems that what's all the rage these days are escape rooms. I've noticed that many of my coworkers often talk about how they often look forward to going to local escape rooms around the area with their friends, or playing various iPhone escape room themed apps. For those unfamiliar what an escape room is, it essentially puts people in an unfamiliar room with various puzzles and tricks. It is up to the individuals to solve these puzzles and trickery in order to unlock an exit to the room. It's a simple concept, but it results in a lot of fun. As such, these businesses have been popping up everywhere lately.

However, those who are familiar with gaming, especially that in the handheld sphere, are no strangers to escape rooms. Over half a decade ago, Western players were introduced to a title called "999" which gave gamers a familiarity with the concept. The game was essentially part visual novel and part escape room. The game was progressed with heavy text cutscenes, in visual novel fashion, followed by an escape room puzzle. It was pretty much rinse and repeat after that, however, the puzzles and story were both so engaging that this was welcomed. But what really made it stand out was it's branch pathing gameplay.  Throughout the game players make choices of what to do in various events. This mostly included who to partner with, usually to unlock various doors within the game. To summarize, each character was assigned a number, as were the doors throughout the facility. In order to open up the doors, the player must team up with enough corresponding characters to add up to the number on the corresponding door. It may seem silly, but it is interesting and adds a lot of replay value as different puzzles are encountered and different events occur.

999 was very well received and quickly gained a cult status within the gaming community. It also had a soft rivalry with the Ace Attorney series, as it arguably still does, since it was a contender for the best visual novel/adventure game on its respected platform. However, the game was released at the tail end of the Nintendo DS's life cycle and new platforms were approaching. A sequel to 999 was soon announced and that it would be released on both the upcoming Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita. The title was released a bit over a year later.

Virtue's Last Reward takes place a few years after the first title. I don't want to give much away, so I won't explain much, if any, of the story. The basic format is still all there. The game is essentially half visual novel and half escape room/puzzles. Though there are a few key differences. The biggest difference is that while the game still extensively features branch pathing, the player must explore every possible path throughout their playthrough. While one has to restart their playthrough with 999 after each, often gruesome, ending, during Virtue's Last Reward the player has the ability to navigate through a web of various events throughout the storyline and jump back and forth in between them, exploring every possible option. In 999, you are at the whims of the timeline you choose, while in Virtue's Last Reward you wield it. It is very interesting seeing just how things can progress so radically different just by altering one single event. There is also the fact that rather than using the cumbersome number system, the game has each player and door assigned a "color" instead. It takes out the complication of math and makes things more straight forward.

But arguably the most interesting change to the game is the "ally" and "betray" system. Basically, the way it works is that before each escape room each "contestant" is paired with a partner. In order to exit a room, each pair must cooperate with another pair to solve the puzzles. After the escape room is completed, both pairs go into a private room where they vote either "ally" or "betray". If they vote "ally" then each player gains 2 points, if you choose "betray" then you gain 3 points, while the corresponding person gains no points. The purpose of these points is that those who receive more than 9 points are released from the facility, those who do not stay until they reach 9 points. The solution may seem simple enough. Just have everyone vote ally so everyone gets out. Unfortunately, knowing human nature, things aren't that simple.

The result of these changes is a very engaging title that is overall bigger and better than the first game. Virtue's Last Reward takes everything that was great about 999 and builds upon it. This isn't just from a gameplay standpoint, but also a story standpoint. A lot of dots left over from the previous game are connected, while in contrast a lot of new single dots are created. There are also a few recurring characters from the previous title as well as plenty of new ones. Virtually all of them stand out and are arguably the best characters in the series. This however, could be argued as a "weakness" as the title really is best when playing the first game in the series to fully understand the situation.

I also have to touch upon the game's music. The soundtrack is great and fits the game perfectly. It is no wonder that the next game in the series uses so many, if not the majority, of it's musical pieces from Virtue's Last Reward. The trance like state and disillusion feeling the music brings is perfect for the game's atmosphere.

The series has supposedly come to a close with the recently released Zero Time Dilemma. The game was released for the PS Vita, 3DS, and to a pleasant surprise Steam. It's a great game and all, and is in-line with the other games in the franchise. Unfortunately, I find the game to be the weakest in the series, though that isn't saying much being how well made these titles are. With the series supposedly at a close, I can comfortably say that Virtue's Last Reward is the best game among the three. It has the best story, the best gameplay, the best music, and really the best everything. It represents the pinnacle of the series and is at a peak that very few games reach. With the popularity escape rooms are getting it is difficult for me to imagine that this is the last we will see of the nonary game. I hope that I am right.

Posted by Punk Rebel Ecks Sat, 17 Dec 2016 18:18:43 (comments: 4)
Sun, 18 Dec 2016 20:22:24
I still remember 999 as one of those games I missed out on.  Perhaps one day I'll track these games down and play through them.  I imagine that day will come when I am retired and have gotten rid of my backlog.
Sun, 18 Dec 2016 20:25:37
Just checked Ebay, and someone's selling a copy for €35, which I assume is pretty cheap for such a cult hit.

Sun, 18 Dec 2016 23:46:06
SupremeAC said:
Just checked Ebay, and someone's selling a copy for €35, which I assume is pretty cheap for such a cult hit.


999 and VLR are coming to Steam. That said, 999 really should be played on the Nintendo DS.

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 12:59:14
Glad you are continuing this. I tried the demo for this game, but couldn't really get into it.
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