Reviews: Virtues Last Reward
Very good intentions, not that much success
999 was a masterful combination of engaging storytelling and fancy puzzles, and its sequel strives to top that with a greater scope plot, more powerful graphics and sound, and new game mechanics. Now, how well did that work? In VLR we get a much needed Memo function and the ability to jump between story branches. Not only that: you no longer have to hold the right button to skip the text, and the speed is greater. That's awesome, I'm not gonna lie. But what's the price we gotta pay in return? The puzzle rooms are longer and maddeningly hard. Some of them may qualify for Moon Logic Puzzle, like the Security word arrange; and some others just fail, like the tangram detection at the director's office, and sliding the ice cubes by tilting the console at the pantry, which is one of the most hated puzzle rooms by fans. The dark setting of the game also likes shenanigans. Some items may be so dark-colored that sometimes they blend in with the background, and you will spend minutes and minutes looking for that one item that lets you advance, when it was right in front of you in disguise the entire time. They just couldn't keep the extremely useful yellow outline from 999. And talking about darkness: the entire setting for this Nonary Game takes a step backwards in likability and fancyness. It's pretty bland, which is ironic considering the author himself was at first denied by the higher ups because the setting for 999 was originally like this: the audience can't establish a connection with this place, unlike with the Gigantic. Now for our cast of characters. In 999 we had a couple of jerkasses. This time it's the entire roster, and I really mean it. Except for Luna, which is an angel to compensate. This led me to say the Eight Deadly Words at some point because, nearly every time you make a decision in the AB game, you either get ridiculized or are the victim of a sworn revenge for being a "traitor". Not to mention the Kick the Dog moments where you finally get to 9 BP to escape but everyone conspires against you, granting you a nice Game Over every time. The snarky remarks of your companions on the escape portions every 5 seconds don't help improve the mood either. Especially your initial sidekick, who's more of a jerkass heroine who happens to have the same powers as you and is unbelievably clever than anything else. But don't get me wrong: not everything is bad or a letdown about this game. Not at all. After 50 hours of tedious branch jumping, you get an amazing reveal and a proper Mind Screwdriver that ties every insane thing you have seen together. You are revealed to be a hero who the entire world is depending on, and must engage on a new epic journey that will decide everything on the next game: Zero Time Dilemma. Some people will argue that I'm accentuating the negative or that I didn't talk about the good things long enough, but this is my letdown reaction after playing the breathtaking 999. Maybe I was expecting too much.
Great Visual Novel, Decent Adventure Game
The story of Virtue's Last Reward is both unique and well-written. While the science isn't exactly textbook-accurate, it has a much better understanding of things like quantum physics than most media, and it's integrated into the narrative pretty intelligently. The game part of the game is a bit more dodgey. There's a few minigames that use the touchscreen but require a level precision that the 3DS and Vita touchscreens simply can't offer consistently. A few others allow you to slide blocks using the D-Pad... or the tilt sensor. If you're not sitting perfectly still in a stationary chair with your hands locked in place, it's easy for the tilt sensor to trigger and fuck up the puzzle for you. When you get past some control difficulties, the puzzles are pretty good, possessing the rare quality of being both challenging and logical. And if you don't care and just want to get to the next Novel section, there's an Easy Mode option where your partners pretty much just tell you the solutions. The gameplay and story meet at the multiple worlds mechanic. At any point, you can open up a flow chart of the different paths that your choices have resulted in, and return to an earlier point. Later on this will factor into the plot, and even later on you'll find yourself returning to previous story sections to retrieve information you need to get past certain plot locks, like some sort of four-dimensional detective. It's very exciting and engaging, despite the low level of interactivity, and it doesn't get annoying because you have the ability to fast-forward dialog at a very fast rate.
This game is a reward in and of itself
My enjoyment of 999 made me determined to play VLR. I was not disappointed. The game has clearly been well-researched and a lot of love has gone into it. There were times when I quite frankly had no idea what the hell the characters were talking about. Science and math have never been my strong point. And yet, this did nothing to hinder my enjoyment of the game. The voices were great. I'll admit that I used a (spoiler-free) walkthrough for the puzzles. I'll also admit that I ended up spoiling a number of things in the story for myself. This didn't ruin anything for me, but it might for others. So if you have any plans to play this game, steer clear of this page until you do. Am I eagerly waiting for ZE 3? You bet I am!