Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward Review
- Posted November 7th, 2012 at 05:06 EDT by Kyle Prahl
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This mind-bending visual novel captivates with challenging puzzles and an intelligent story unrivaled in its ambition.
- Masterful narrative
- Unyielding puzzles
- Memorable characters
- A few visibility concerns
- So-so environmental design
(continued from previous page) ...decision, impacts main character Sigma, who slowly but surely becomes self-aware of his sudden predisposition toward certain choices. He knows things that he shouldn't, senses danger where others don't, and as pieces of the game's grand puzzle come together, questions are unraveled and the player moves ever closer to the answers. What is the sinister purpose of the Nonary Game, and who is Zero? What is the connection between the nine participants, and why were they chosen for the game? Why are members of the group mysteriously falling ill, and what secrets lie waiting in this facility?
The successful presentation and execution of so many plot threads can only come with the utmost care and attention to detail, and Zero Escape delivers without equal. Layer upon layer of nebulous obfuscation is peeled back to reveal pieces of something much, much bigger, and the game keeps you engaged with a steady drip of clues and extraneous detail throughout. The precision by which so many disparate elements connect with one another, and the jaw-dropping impact of revelations that result, is nothing short of a narrative masterstroke – an incredibly dense, thrilling, and rewarding tale that not only embraces the influence of players, but integrates it. The emotional and intellectual investment that Zero Escape asks of you is unrivaled, but so is the ultimate payoff, along with every moment of understanding that builds to it.
Intellectual investment extends to the game's puzzle rooms, which engage your mind on multiple levels. Deductive reasoning, pattern recognition, algebraic operations, and geometric manipulation work in tandem to make each room an honest challenge – a true obstacle that stands between you and watching the story unfold. Escape sequences tip-toe the line of fairness, but never cross it, and while some solutions come easier or harder than others, this is in no way due to unbalanced design or uneven difficulty – you'll simply figure some things out faster than others. In fact, it's not unusual to spend hours on a single puzzle room, making these gameplay sections the perfect complement to PS Vita's portability. Novel sections, on the other hand, are best viewed from a comfortable seat with your Vita propped up at a good viewing angle.
Unfortunately, the puzzle rooms are also the source of one issue I hold against Zero Escape. While I understand the need to avoid making a puzzle solution too obvious, this should never be done by making the solution physically hard to see. A specific instance comes to mind where I was tasked with discerning the exact volume of substances in separate containers. The key to finding those values was simple, but actually viewing the amount of substance in each container proved less so. The contact lenses I wear theoretically correct my eyesight to near-20/20 vision, but I still found myself squinting closely at the Vita's OLED screen to decide – somewhat warily – how much substance was in each container. Because my eyesight is better than most, I worry that individuals with poor eyesight and no means of correction may have some trouble advancing past this particular trial. Along similar lines, the low level of light in one puzzle room made one important item impossible for me to see while playing in a glare-heavy environment. Ultimately, I made do without this item, and it was only when I continued playing later that day (in a different environment) that I realized the answer had been right in front of me all along.
These moments, and perhaps one or two more, are extremely rare exceptions in a sea of challenges that are otherwise well-constructed and mentally stimulating. It's all part of a package that begins and ends with some of the best ever localization and English voice acting. From dark humor to silly fun, from hard-hitting profanity to nervous confusion, characters are written with vivacious personalities and deliver their lines with wit and perfect timing. It's refreshing to hear such a careful translation, and while the original Japanese audio track is a dialogue option, you'll quickly forget it exists. The musings of your companions are back-dropped by a synthetic ambient score that sets the stage for everything from quiet introspection to sudden danger. The game's soundtrack could stand on its own, but the ominous silence of moments when the music stops might ... (continued on next page)