Developer Chunsoft was, up until about two years ago, best known to US gamers as a developer of Roguelike dungeon crawling RPG’s, such as the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series and the Shiren the Wanderer series. Aksys games introduced us to a new facet of the developer’s catalog in 2010, however, with the critically acclaimed 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors, a tense adventure game that made good use of what the DS could do and attracted a fair amount of attention. Well, two years later, after much anticipation, the Nonary Game is back with Virtue’s Last Reward, the second chapter in the newly retitled Zero Escape franchise (999 being the first entry), featuring a new cast, a new foe, and a new and “improved”Â Nonary Game. Aksys was kind enough to drop a demo to the PSN Store a few days back to showcase how the game will work on the Playstation Vita, so, for those who haven’t yet picked up their Vita or are invested in the 3DS version (which lacks a demo at this time), I thought I’d take a look at the demo and try to give you an idea of where things stand. I’ll also give you an idea of how to complete the puzzle listed in Escape Mode because I’m that kind of guy, so if you’re stuck, I’m here to help.
1.) The demo starts off with a video reminiscent of the introductory video from 999, with lots of jumps between scenes and text all over the screen, and as one might expect, it’s a little confusing, which seems to be the entire point. One thing the introductory video DOES showcase, however, is the 3D character models Chunsoft is using this time around; while the hand-drawn artwork of the prior game is all over the place, the game uses 3D models for character discussions and such. The demo itself shows off the visuals a bit, but mostly in a functional way, that is, with characters directly interacting with you by talking into the screen, along with a couple minor “action”Â scenes thrown in. The video shows off a good bit more of the “action”Â elements to play up how things could be in the final product, which is honestly the best possible way to convince people who loved the hand-drawn artwork that the 3D character models aren’t half bad. The video also introduces the idea that a concept that decided the ending of 999 (events of the future affecting the past) inform a good bit more of this game, and it also introduces our new game: the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition, which is discussed a bit in the demo proper. In other words, it’s not a bad start to get you hyped up before you jump into the demo proper.
2.) The demo offers the choice between playing through a NOVEL section and an ESCAPE section, with the former being “exposition exposition exposition”Â and the latter being “puzzle solving and exposition”Â. Across both, the updated visual engine powering Virtue’s Last Reward looks pretty solid on the Vita. The 3D models generally look pretty solid and, while they don’t have quite the personality of the 2D artwork, still look great in motion and still feel like there’s something to them. The environment you’re given to play around in (crew quarters, by all indications) looks pretty solid as well, and the fact that you can now view the environment in 3D instead of from fixed camera angles is a solid step forward for the series. Aurally, the music is as good as ever so far as the demo shows, and there’s voice acting this time around, which is honestly pretty good. Alice and Phi are the two characters who you’ll hear the most often through the demo and their English voice work is quite good, but all of the performances in the demo are perfectly fine and nothing sticks out as being objectionable. Whether that’ll hold true in the final product remains to be seen, but the indication is also that the Japanese voice work should be available in addition to the English voices, so if you hate one, the other should be right there.
3.) The demo explains a good bit of the interface for easy use, and for the most part, it’s all fairly easy to understand. The X button acts as your primary context sensitive interaction button, allowing you to skip through text and interact with objects as needed, while the Circle button lets you cancel decisions and selections when needed. You can also tap the screen during conversations to advance the discussion if you’d rather. By default, the game is set to STOP mode for dialogue, meaning that every time someone finishes speaking, their text stops, allowing you to manually advance the discussion. You can also choose to set this to AUTO, where the text advances on its own over time, or SKIP, where the game flies through the text instantly, from the touch screen or by pressing Square to cycle the options as needed. You can also use the touch screen to bring up a menu from the bottom of the screen that allows access to your Archives (documents stored), Memos (a place where you can make drawn notes), a flowchart of the story progression (or so it seems, this isn’t active in the demo), the option to save, and conversation logs. You can also use the D-Pad to access some of these options if you don’t want to use the screen, so you have multiple options for how to control things, which is certainly user-friendly if nothing else.
4.) The Novel segment of the demo is essentially meant to showcase the character interplay and plot progression element of the experience, and introduce the player to who’s who before the final game comes out. In the demo for 999, the demo started exactly as the game did, with your character waking up and trying to figure out how he’d ended up in a random cabin on a boat; here, the introductory sequence is apparently skipped, as the novel sequence alludes to an elevator sequence that is never seen. Instead, we start off with all of the team of characters for this Nonary Game assembled in a main hallway of sorts for the big introduction to the cast of characters before our current Zero introduces the Nonary Game proper. This works a lot better than the 999 demo did, honestly; while that demo gave the player a good bit of intrigue and suspense, it didn’t tell the player very much about what was going on, which is fine for suspense building but problematic for selling someone a product. Virtue’s Last Reward instead introduces the cast and explains how things are going to work, which is good for getting the player invested in advance, as well as showing fans of 999 how this is going to be a different experience from the first game.
5.) Our protagonist for this game is Sigma, and he’s… a good bit different from Junpei as protagonists go, in a few ways. Junpei was largely likable as a main character (if perhaps a little soft) and was sympathetic as a protagonist; Sigma comes across as more headstrong and “macho”Â and while he’s likable in a comedic sense, it doesn’t seem likely he’s going to evoke the same sort of sympathy from the player. He does have an amusing tic associated to cats that’s amusing, however, which may help him become endearing in his own way. The rest of the cast, however, fills in the quota for “eccentric supporting characters”Â well, so far. Phi is apparently the de facto lead female of the group, as she’s paired with Sigma early on (according to the plot) and seems to be mysterious and potentially duplicitous. Alice, an exotic looking woman who seems to be taking the Lotus position here, gets a good amount of time in the demo and seems to be straight-forward enough as a person… so far. The rest of the cast gets some small screen time: Quark is a small child with an exuberant personality and a weird hat, Dio is a cowboy/ringmaster looking man with a fairly direct personality about him, Tenmyouji is… an old guy and that seems to be it so far, and Luna is a shy and fairly pleasant seeming young woman. Oh, and there’s also the unidentified armored man, K, who has amnesia (yeah, that again), and our old friend Clover from 999, who is apparently some kind of exotic model now based on her style of dress, so… there’s that. We also get an… interesting introduction to “Zero the Third”Â, our games master for this Nonary Game, who is represented by, seriously, a robotic talking rabbit.
(Side note: I’m calling “Clover is Zero”Â and “K is Snake”Â as predictions right now, just because.)
6.) Aside from the mild shock of dealing with a smart-mouth rabbit as our games master, Zero also introduces the mechanics of the new Nonary Game, dubbed “Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition”Â. While the characters are wearing watches and being locked in rooms to solve puzzles, as in 999, the actual mechanics of the game are completely different. The Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition works like this: people go, alone or in pairs, against each other in some kind of voting system (two on one), and choose to either ALLY or BETRAY each other, in order to earn BP (bracelet points). If everyone selects ALLY, they get two points and move on. If everyone selects BETRAY, however, no one gets points at all. Where things get sticky is if both sides pick different choices; in this case, the team who chooses BETRAY gets three points, while the team who picked ALLY loses two points. If you fail ( your bracelet number hits zero), the bracelets contain an anesthetic and a muscle relaxant, as well as needles; at the point where your score bottoms out, you’re put to sleep, and nine minutes later you asphyxiate from the muscle relaxant. If you get to NINE points, or more, however, you get to leave, alive. It’s an interesting concept that could easily breed contempt, though if anyone in the facility has a basic concept of mathematics they could easily work out a way where everyone could just ALLY when needed until they all get out alive, so the system seems a good bit more easy to “game”Â than the one in 999, comparatively. One presumes that the plot will take this into account and come up with methods to foil obvious solutions, but the Novel section doesn’t address this so, aside from base paranoia it’s uncertain how Zero will deal with the players simply Allying every time to move forward.
7.) The Escape section of the demo should also be instantly familiar to fans of 999: you’re locked into a room and you have to figure out the puzzle in order to escape. This time around, as noted, Escape sections are in full 3D, allowing you to rotate the view around as needed instead of locking you into fixed camera angles, which makes for the option of more complex puzzles that rely on viewpoint and hidden objects, though the demonstration room doesn’t play into this too much. The demo also helpfully explains that the demonstration Escape room is set to “Easy”Â but the actual game defaults to “Hard”Â difficulty. In “Easy”Â difficulty, the characters will consistently provide hints on how to complete the puzzles until they outright solve the puzzles for you, while in “Hard”Â you’re on your own to solve them. This isn’t a bad idea, as it means that players who become stuck on a puzzle can eventually find help from the CPU on Easy if they’re lost, so it doesn’t leave the player in a situation where they HAVE to turn to other places for assistance.
8.) Mechanically, the Escape sections are also fairly easy to work with. You can either use the sticks to highlight things with the cursor or tap the screen to interact with things, as is your preference. Turning your character’s view can be accomplished with the triggers or by swiping the screen in the appropriate direction, as well. Triangle brings up your inventory, X selects options and items the cursor is on, and Circle cancels out of menus and puzzles. You can go into ZOOM mode when you’re inspecting an area if something important is in that area, and you can highlight or tap things to interact with them. Should you want to zoom back out, you can do so by tapping the blue triangle at the bottom or swiping downward on the display as needed. Your objective in each room is to find a code that you can input into a nearby Safe to release the needed key, but the demo also points out that you can find Gold and Silver files containing extra information from each Safe by entering in a special extra code that can be found with some good detective work. Files found in Easy mode are Silver, while files found Hard mode are Gold, which is also a nice way to create replay value for the player who wants to find all of the plot information available. The file in the demo discusses some of Sigma’s feline issues, so, as promised, it’s by no means a requirement to find this if you want to complete the game, but for the player who wants to know everything, it’s a neat gimmick.
9.) For those who might be stuck on the Escape Room, here’s what you can do to bypass that (those who want to leave this as a surprise can skip to #10):
From the start, use the Phone in Room 1 to dial Rooms 2 and 4 to speak to your friends, which reveals two parts of a phone extension. This extension dials into Room 3, though pressing the Room 3 button on its own does nothing. Inspect the cot in this room, as well as in each other room you visit, and note the holes. Head to Room 2 and fold down the tray to find a stick with three rings in it. Head to Room 4 to find the key post, which you can merge with the ringed stick to make a key. Head to the door to Room 3, unlock the handcuffs, open the door. Open the locker in Room 3 and take the foil and box cutter (the demo helpfully informs you which rooms the foil can be used in and side-steps your having to use the box cutter entirely though). Place the foil in Rooms 1, 2 and 4. Use the numbers displayed from the foil in Rooms 2 and 4 to earn a coin and a tape. Use the coin on the poster in Room 2 to scratch off the four areas on the poster that correspond to the damage done on the cots in each room, and note the shapes and numbers. Take the tape to Room 3, put it into the phone, then head to Room 1 and call Room 3 to hear a message from Zero, which gives you another number. Use this number on the phone to earn a pin, which you can stick into the hole in the locker in Room 1 to activate the keypad. There are two numbers you can type into the locker. Note the shapes on the wall; the ESCAPE code is the numbers the shapes represent upside down, while the FILE code is the numbers the shapes represent in reverse order.
For those who skipped the explanation, welcome back! Let’s finish up.
10.) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward looks (so far) like it’s going to be a strong sequel to 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, and while it’s unlikely to be a better game, it certainly seems like it’ll be a good game regardless. The new visual style is quite nice, and the game is mechanically familiar for fans while still being accessible to newcomers. 999 owes a lot of its reputation to how endearing its characters were, as well as the interesting mystery surrounding the experience and the puzzles that were well executed throughout the game. VLR seems like it has the puzzles down pat, but whether the plot and characters will be memorable to the same level remains to be seen. The demo does a fine job of introducing some mystery to things, certainly, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer yet before we can judge the final product and how the plot shakes out. Keep an eye out here for more once Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward drops to find out how the game turns out.