Categorizing games like Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward into a traditional genre is always a challenge; it’s more of a novel and less of a game. This dialogue-heavy title relegates the player’s primary focus to puzzle solving and decision-making. This may sound boring on paper, but the folks over at Chunsoft have created a game that is worth your while.
This text-based adventure series first found success with Zero Escape’s prequel, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. This game received outstanding critical praise, making a sequel was a no-brainer.
Zero Escape is nothing short of a good narrative. As you begin to talk with characters and investigate areas, you learn more about the world the game takes place in. Most of your time will be spent reading/listening to characters as they bicker and learn about each other.
Unfolding the mysterious situation a group of strangers have encountered and meeting a diverse cast of characters keeps the gamer engaged and wanting more. In a way, Zero Escape is much like horror-movie series, Saw – and more specifically, Saw II. Strangers wake up trapped in a room by a mysterious kidnapper, they are forced to interact with each other and play a game of life and death. For some extra entertainment, some profanity and perversion are thrown in.
The game’s use of voice overs makes the large amount of reading a bit more bearable. During the “cut-scenes”, characters will talk with full animation with top-notch quality. Once the cast of nine characters (including you) is told what their roles will be by a cartoony rabbit through videos (another slight nod to Saw), the ‘gaming’ portions or escape sequences begins – and unfortunately voice-over ceases once this begins.
Escape sequences are riddled with pointing and clicking as well as mini-game-like puzzles. While it’s enjoyable to piece together all the clues and objects to escape various rooms, you do encounter some tedious gameplay. The touchscreen isn’t as accurate as you would like and it’s frustrating when you accidentally touch something you didn’t mean to. For example, this occurs most when you’re attempting to back away from an object and end up touching a table instead. What follows is an inevitable text block letting you know “this looks like an empty table.” This annoying outcome doesn’t happen infrequently, it will happen quite often no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
Another bothersome issue with Zero Escape is it will sometimes feel like complete guesswork. Examining every possible object in a room feels more like work than clever gameplay. In one of the earlier rooms, discovering a clue required a coin to scratch off a poster. You’d think that any solid object would work in this scenario. However, with Zero Escape, you never really are sure what may work, what items may combine, etc. until you actually try them.
Players progress by completing an escape sequence and moving ahead. You’ll be required to make story-changing decisions in order to advance, such as who to enter a room with or who to ally or betray. These decisions are difficult because your choices will have repercussions affecting the characters you have met.
Zero Escape features a nifty feature called the FLOW system, which allows you to hop around the story to see different outcomes without the pain of drudging through the entire story again. For example, you chose to ally someone instead of betraying them. If you want to see what would happen if you chose the opposite decision at any given moment, you can immediately go back and make a different choice. This system makes each decision feel a bit less irreversible and encourages further exploration beyond the first run through.
Zero Escape nails everything the development team at Chunsoft set out to do. Its interesting story, deep character interaction and mind-jogging puzzles sum up to one satisfying package. Throw in a 20 hour playthrough time and multiple story paths and you have one of the best bangs for your buck on the PS Vita.