The PlayStation Vita is showing to be home to various unique titles that provide different experiences than many gamers may be used to. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a game that most gamers over here are not used to, and that may not be a bad thing. The best part is that the game is available to both the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, so gamers do not have to miss this unique experience.
The truth of the matter is the game is actually more of a visual novel than a game. There are gameplay moments but there are many many more narrative moments in the game. This aspect of it may not suit some gamers’ tastes. But, it calls back to many of the old choose your own adventure styled books and games that feature a twist on how the branching stories are handled.
The story of the game puts players in the shoes of Sigma, a 22-year old that is kidnapped from his car and finds himself trapped in a warehouse with eight other people. An AI that looks like a rabbit appears on several screens and is called Zero; eventually nicknamed Zero Jr. Zero Jr. informs the people that they are now part of a game with their lives at stake and that Zero Sr. may possibly be one of the nine people.
The game that they are pulled into forces them to group and solve puzzles to proceed forward. After completing puzzles, players have a choice to get points that can be used to open a door to escape from there by either allying or betraying their compatriots. Any person whose bracelet reaches zero is killed.
From here on the story has the ability to go down several branches based on the choices made by the player. Being the centerpoint of the game, the story is quite excellent with the different branches, how each character is eventually fleshed out, and how everything pieces together. The narrative of the game gives the feel of a choose your own adventure game until you start fleshing out more of each branching point.
Branching points in the game actually lead not only the narrative but how the game is actually played as well. These branching points occur in the Flow System that allows players to jump between different points of different branching stories to see more of each story. Some stories feature points that are blocked until another story’s branch is worked down. Different choices can lead to new branches such as choosing certain characters to pair up with or selecting to ally or betray another character. This actually makes the game very engrossing and I actually found myself wanting to travel through as many story branches as possible to unlock more details.
Speaking of branching points, there are several moments as mentioned earlier when a player must choose a person to team with to enter a puzzle room, aka escape room. These rooms have players examining things in the room, solving puzzles, and using their wits to find a way to escape from the room. During these segments the player is in full control and uses either the touch screen or buttons to move around the room. While both sets of controls work great, I actually found myself favoring the touch screen more than using the buttons.
The game also provides several tools to solving puzzles in these rooms and during certain parts of the story. There is the memo pad where players can write down things that may help in solving the puzzles in the game. Also, the archives provide a place where more permanent files and clues are placed for players to use in solving the various puzzles in the escape rooms. These tools all proved very useful when keeping notes on puzzles or for things I would need to remember later.
There are two difficulty levels for those looking for a challenge and those looking to complete puzzles as quickly as possible to get back to the story. The hard difficulty has players trying to solve puzzles without any help or hints from the other characters. The reward for solving the puzzles in this mode and getting a blue code for a safe in every room is a gold secret file. Easy mode, on the other hand, provides tons of hints from the other characters when a puzzle cannot be solved and when a blue code is earned a silver secret file is unlocked. Gamers wanting to challenge themselves will want to play on hard difficulty for that great feeling you get after fully completing a room.
The story is great and the game is fun, but how does it look and sound? The game does not look bad at all, but the graphics are not cutting edge or anything that looks to push the Vita to its limits, which is understandable since the game was also designed for the Nintendo 3DS. Sound, on the other hand, looks to set a creepy tone that is fitting to the story and proved to be quit intimidating around 1 AM. This, being of a visual novel, made sure that the sound brought and ambiance to the game that gives it a feeling of mystery and never knowing what will happen next or leading players with what is being played. Fans of Japanese tracks will also be excited because the game features both English and Japanese dialog for those who prefer either.
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a game that will resonate more with some gamers because it places a greater focus on telling a strong narrative. What the game does right, it does it very well, from the ambiance, to the story, to the puzzles that give a gratifying feeling when solved. The game also leaves a little to be desired in terms of graphics. Gamers looking for a choose your own adventure with tons of paths to work down and a story that is overarching several smaller tales will want to pick up this game for sure. It would be interesting to see more titles like this that give a unique way to experience a narrative in the context of a game.