Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
There is a parallel universe theory that states that every decision we make or could have made creates another universe. Everytime we choose what food to eat, what color shirt to wear, or mark ‘true’ on a test question, new universes are created in which we may have chosen a different option. Virtue’s Last Reward is a story-driven puzzle game that explores ethics and many other philosophical concepts including the prisoner’s dilemma, multiverse theory, and future events affecting the past. It is the second installment in the Zero Escape Series, but it is unnecessary to play the first installment to enjoy this game. Unlike many other entertainment-based puzzle games, Virtue’s Last Reward is largely story-driven and text-heavy. Although it has arguably no replayability value, players are highly encouraged to explore the numerous different possible endings that result from the player’s decisions.
Gameplay and Story
*Note: Spoilers will remain as minimal as possible but beware as story is a huge selling point for this game.
Virtue’s Last Reward switches between two modes, story and puzzle. Information about the story is gathered during the story mode where the player mostly reads text about how the main character, Sigma, interacts with the other eight prisoners participating in a life-or-death game called the Nonary Games: Ambidex Edition. In this game, players are forced to work together to solve “Escape the Room” puzzles. Different combinations of people are able to enter different rooms allowing the player to interact with certain characters more and solve different puzzles depending on who he or she chooses to group with. During puzzle mode, the player searches for clues that help the player solve puzzles scattered around the room and retrieve the key to escape. After escaping the room, the player is faced with the decision to ally or betray his or her room partner. This decision influences the story and attainable endings.
The complex plot and history behind each character requires the player to find a multitude of endings to understand each character and discover the “true” ending that explains the purpose of the Nonary Games and why each participant was chosen to participate. To help the process, the player has access to a flow chart allowing Sigma (and the player) to jump to previous events allowing the player to choose differently whether it be to ally instead of betray or choose a different partner and room puzzle. In a unique twist to the game, Sigma is able to retain some information with each jump allowing him to recall certain information from other timelines. In the end, this “time-jumping” ability allows Sigma and the omniscient player to discover the truth behind the Nonary Games.
One critique I had about this game was the impact of ethics and the flowchart. The prisoner’s dilemma is a primary theme of the game. The player must vote ally or betray after every round or puzzle. If both players ally, they both earn points required to winning the Nonary Games and escaping. If one player betrays the other who chose ally, the player earns even more points, but the betrayed player loses points. Both players betraying awards no points. Logically, a prisoner in this situation hoping to escape would always choose betray since the reward is greater no matter what your partner picks. For everyone to escape, however, everyone must choose ally. This ethical dilemma is explored along with the mind games of creating allies and enemies during the game, but made mute by the game’s flowchart system. By giving players an easy method of reversing their decision, the ethics and logic of the dilemma are voided. To the game’s credit, intellectual players are rewarded the more they use the game to drive complex thought. The game itself is lacking in playtime (I finished in about 24 hours total) but can be a catalyst to lead the player through many complex ideas that the player is responsible for utilizing on their own.
The puzzles were well executed and provide enough information for me to solve every puzzle without a walkthrough. There were a couple of puzzles where I felt the clue was a little obscure, but for the most part, every puzzle is solvable with a little thought. There is also an “easy” mode that I never tried but is available for players who require more hints.
Skipping text is a huge pain in this game. Although you can fast forward through already viewed text, cutscenes and long bodies of text would benefit from a faster skip option.
An important factor in enjoying Virtue’s Last Reward is to acknowledge it as a story-driven game. There are only sixteen escape puzzles but the game receives high praise for its complex plot and numerous themes. Each character has a unique story to tell and effort to understand those stories is required for maximum enjoyment.