It certainly is amazing how much our true nature reveals of itself in the tightest of situations. Under every day, pedestrian conditions, we all bear social masks that hide our true nature and intent behind every action. However, in the most secluded location, where our actions will not and cannot be judged, how would we act? Though we put so much effort into maintaining a public front, under stressful situations, we no longer have the mental stamina to maintain that front and our most embarrassing, malicious, and secret natures are bared for all to see. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward explores that notion and does a wonderful job of making players question others and themselves, even at the notion of a virtual death or killing a virtual companion.
Virtue’s Last Reward places players in the shoes of Sigma, who has just been anesthetized and captured, waking up in a strange elevator and a puzzle that awaits him. After leaving the elevator, he finds more participants like him in a bizarre game. It seems that the game is split up into rounds where players must enter the elevators from which they came and vote to betray or ally with their partners from the previous round of puzzles. With this system in place, the game gives player ample opportunity to bond with different characters and unlock multiple endings. Sadly, however, generic characters, though voiced by notable Japanese talents like Rie Kugimiya and Daisuke Ono, hold themselves back from being memorable.
Like in the prisoner’s dilemma, the game rewarded or penalized players based on their and their partners’ decisions, where two ally votes will give two points to both sides, a betray and ally would give three points and subtract two points for the respective parties, and two betray votes would award no points to either side. With every successive round, players’ choices lead to a multitude of possible events. The game has a built in system for players to visually understand the path they’re walking down in a flow chart, which also allows for players to jump into any point in the story and try out different decisions. Though the choices always lead to different paths, players will always find themselves second guessing every decision, whether it’s safer to betray the other or it would be more beneficial to risk choosing ally on the off chance that the opponent will also ally.
This, along with a skip option for previously read text, makes it easy for players to explore different outcomes in the game. In fact, the game practically requires players to do so in order to reach certain endings, locking up points of the story until players get the necessary information from a parallel timeline within the game. Virtue’s Last Reward will easily eat up hours of players’ time as they constantly jump from timeline to timeline, finding answers to many mysteries that lie in different timelines. At times, this may be a troublesome process, with implied and stated answers not being enough to unlock certain segments, but the general rule of thumb to complete every single timeline possible works well enough. Likewise, playing through multiple segments may prove a nuisance, with certain repeated segments in parallel timelines being unskippable and constant cutscenes of opening doors and map movements slowing the pace down.
Of course, there are aspects to the title other than simple betray/ally choices at chokepoints; puzzles are scattered throughout the game in between these prisoner’s dilemma games. In the puzzles, players must escape from a locked room by examining the environment until they find the password for a safe with a key in it. For the most part, the puzzles are relatively easy, containing a myriad of objects around rooms that can provide a wealth of clues. To help those players who may still not pass the puzzles, the game’s easy mode has partnering characters provide hints for puzzles as players fail them,which is great for its ability to help without overly holding players’ hands.
Virtue’s Last Reward provides an immensely addictive experience, filled with multiple endings that sheds more light on the overarching story. At times, playing the game and running through lines of dialogue can be laborious, but the reward is well worth it. With relatively few flaws, Virtue’s Last Reward succeeds in virtually every aspect it touches upon, giving players an immersive story and a myriad of challenging puzzles.
Available on: 3DS, Vita; Publisher: Aksys Games; Developer: Rising Star Games; Players: 1; Released: October 24, 2012; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $39.99; Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.