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on November 8, 2012
The real appeal here is that I haven't played a game this intellectual since the original Chrono Cross in '99. Like that title, which was almost too intellectual for its own good, this game takes real concepts from the real world, such as Schrodinger's Cat, the nature of choice, the Prisoner's Dilemma, multi-Universes, and why people act the way they do depending on the situation, both consciously and unconsciously.

If you want cheap thrills Resident Evil-style, forget it. This isn't about that. This is about wrapping your head around a plot that can easily confuse you if you're not paying attention, and the way it unfolds only gradually begins to make sense--even given the way the concept of time and the future is treated. Don't be fooled by the somewhat generic intro, which, while entertaining, has nothing to do with the real meat of the game.

Once the game starts getting into what is real and not real and why we believe what we believe about others, and then what that means in the long run, and also why anyone's there to begin with, it's practically impossible to get away from it because you just have to see what happens next. I actually stayed up until 6 AM in the hopes that I'd reach the ending...But I never did, and I have yet to fully complete it, even though I know what I have to do.

That's why every character playing the Nonary Game has their own individual ending. Generally, if you reach their "correct" ending (everyone also seems to have an instant Game Over ending), you gain a piece of information you *will* need to solve the later mysteries. If you fail to make note of these particular things, (e.g., a particular string of numbers or something that happened in a past "history" you were a part of), you'll be at a disadvantage as the game goes on.

Naturally, the story has some seriously major *WHAMS* near the end. What starts as a pretty simple "Whodunit" gradually progresses into something way, way bigger, encompassing the fate of the entire Earth population. Some of the things that are revealed about certain characters will blow you away, and you'll be wondering how you didn't notice in the first place.

Worth noting, in addition to the story, is the excellent voice acting. Phi in particular has a spectacularly versatile emotional range. All the while, you're facing impossible questions about everyone else, but the more you play, the more that's revealed, and all of it is voiced surprisingly convincingly. Whether it's Dio, K, Alice, Clover, Tenmyouji, Quark, or anyone else talking to you, their personalities come out in full as the game goes on as they can't help but start feeling desperate. All of the VAs are fantastic and are convincing, but the real VA hero here is Phi, someone who clearly knows far more than she lets on. She's exceptionally convincing in both the way she words things and why she seems to know you right from the start, as well as her extraordinarily knowledge and ability to reason, and it's almost intimidating. Let's just say you'll be guessing until the end whether or not she's an ally or an opponent--or both, depending on how you look at it.

There are no "filler" characters to speak of, and no one is simply ignored for the "important" characters--they're all necessary to fit into the story so it makes any sense. Clover, in particular, has an ending of her own that I still have difficulty reaching any conclusions on, but I will say that it will *shock the freaking hell out of you* if you follow her all the way to her ending.

Anyway, I won't skirt by trying not to spoil anything anymore, but let's just affirm that this is one complicated-as-hell story, but mercifully not in a way that makes no sense. In fact, everything makes perfect sense, which is why it's so engrossing. You never know who's lying or telling the truth--not even the most trustworthy-seeming people turn out to be trustworthy, but they always have a reason for it that makes sense. Further, questions continue to arise as to why they're there to begin with, and what their individual purposes are. It's all complicated, and it's all addictive beyond belief to know what happens next.

If I have one thing in particular to complain about, it's the sometimes-insensible puzzles that you may read one way correctly, but the game expects you to read it a different way, leaving you stuck. Of particular note are the Infirmary and Archive rooms, each with a notoriously difficult puzzle if you want both the password to the safe and the password to the secret documents also contained. The hints you're given, assuming you're playing on the default difficulty level, don't seem to make any sense no matter how much you look at what you have and the instruments around the room. Most of the rooms are fairly straightforward and their solutions can be figured out easily enough, but it's easy to get caught in a trap of logic in which you know you're right, but the game simply doesn't tell you it wants your solution to the problem done *another* way. Obviously, this is frustrating, and you could spend hours on a single puzzle before giving up and just looking it up. For the past rooms mentioned, you get a pass for this, because the evidence they give you is just inadequate to make that kind of solution they expect. They're such far stretches from an answer you'd think would be relatively simple, but the game fails to give many hints.

In short, good luck with the near-impossible fabric number puzzle in the Infirmary and the equally difficult Blue Ink puzzle in the Archives. You'll swear to God that the solution that you end up with *must* be correct, but the machine will always tell you you're wrong. Yeah, it can get frustrating, but that's why walkthroughs exist for puzzles that are stupidly illogical.

Anyway, once the ball really starts rolling in the story and a massive variety of seemingly random deaths and reveals happen, get ready for one of the most mind-blowing stories told in video games in a long, long time. The atmosphere always makes you feel unsafe, so to even walk around the building you're stuck in is nerve-wracking. It kind of reminds me of Resident Evil, except instead of zombies killing you, it's just other people waiting for you to turn your back. Depending on the paths you choose in the 24 different endings (!), you can end up with all kinds of outcomes. However, if you want the "True Ending", you're going to have to work to get it. It's not so much that what you have to do is particularly difficult--you just have to gather every scrap paper of evidence you can find and fill up your archive to the brim to help you later--but it is time-consuming.

Luckily, if you screw up so badly that you cause your own game over, your "consciousness" will immediately shift to any point in time you choose via a flow chart. The chart labels every event on every path you can take, and you can immediately jump back to one if you realize you don't have enough information to continue down a certain path without more information. You'll know you've reached this point if the end says "TO BE CONTINUED..." which is very different from "GAME OVER..." The latter means you can't go any further no matter what. The former means you're lacking enough knowledge and information to prevent the disaster that's happened, but can be prevented if you make different choices.

Because you can jump to and from any point in your respective timelines, you don't have to worry about starting new games every single time you mess up fatally. If you do get a game over, you're sent back to the save screen, upon which you *should* save, and then immediately backtrack on the timeline to a place where you think you screwed up.

A game of extreme intellectualism, complicated but coherent story, unpredictable characters with their own individual motivations, and you making the choices you think are right all along the way, this game wastes no time at all in allowing you to play detective. Granted, you can't act *outside* events, but you would have no reason to, anyway. Any event that is "Locked" requires information you do not have yet. And so, you try to think of where you could get the information you need, and travel down that path (most likely hitting "Skip" for all dialogue until something new happens) before trying a second time. The whole point of the game is to get the truth, and to do that, you need to earn the trust of individuals to get as much information as possible about their pasts, and then piece everything together until it makes a semblance of sense.

I think you get the idea by now. This is basically an interactive mystery novel in which there are obvious clues, not-so-obvious clues, and also misleading clues that you need to consider the importance of.

I'll tell you one thing: If you were a fan of the DS' Ace Attorney series, you should feel right at home here. There is a great deal of similarity between the two series--however, ZE has the strong advantage of making *sense*. Ace Attorney games, while entertaining, always seemed to suffer from significant plot holes or things that didn't really add up at the end. ZE, on the other hand, is actually sensible, and in a way, that makes things even creepier.

Extremely highly recommended for anyone with the slightest interest in this game, unless you're easily offended by mature content, because this game has that with no restraints. It well deserves its "M" rating for the incredible violence that happens and the frequent sexual innuendo, not to mention being so close to themes like suicide and the idea of someone smiling at you with trust just before suddenly being killed by someone for getting too close to you. The language is also pretty bad, with the F-bomb dropped on a frequent basis and a unique level of sexual innuendo used as an insult for some characters who aren't exactly dressed for the occasion. Even you, the main character, sometimes lets his sexual feelings toward some of the participants come through. Nothing is really held back here.

Really, even if you've never played the original, it doesn't matter too much. The connections are there, but they aren't critical to the story, and if they are, they're explained in plenty of detail. This, obviously, becomes important later on. It would be a crime to deny a game this well-written to not be played, especially on that beautiful 5" OLED screen on the face of the Vita.
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on October 28, 2012
For those who have not played 999, I strongly suggest you do. It also a good way to see if this type of game is right for you. With that said, on to my review.

I'm sure most of you are aware that VLR like 999 is a choose your own adventure type of visual novel with puzzles. Chances are if you love 999, you'll love VLR. There are improvements over the first game namely the voice and the jump feature (no more replaying the same puzzle over and over). The voice in English is fantastic.

Now some of you are probably wondering which version to get if you have both the 3DS and Vita, like me.
I ultimately picked the Vita version because :
1) Better audio - The sound is in fact better and clearer.
2) 3 Save slot, and does not have that Save bug found in the 3DS version (I don't remember which room but if you try to reload from that certain room, you will be force to delete and start over.)
3) Trophies w/ platinum - no explanation hare
4) Better visual - It doesn't look bad on the 3DS but on the Vita's OLED screen, the colors really hop out and the graphic is really crisp.
5) The menu and memo touch responsiveness is hardly an issue that some makes it out to be. Also if you have a capacitive pen, it certain makes it easier for the memo writing but I find myself not really needing the memo.

Now onto the advantages of the 3DS:
1) Keeping it in the family - 999 is DS only, so for some it's weird to make that jump to Vita. For me, I felt that way too but I honestly love it on my Vita far more for the reason above.
2) 3D - I know some people love it but for me, it's just gimmick.
3) The interface - It's certain easier to use on the 3DS since you have the stylus and the menu/memo on the bottom but again, you don't need to stare at the memo/menu for most of the game. I enjoy seeing the characters on a bigger and clearer screen.
4) 3DS Battery Life - Why is this important? Because you'll be hook and you'll need as long of a battery life as possible.
5) Nintendo Club points

Whichever you choose, you can't go wrong as VLR is a great game.

Edit:
Just finish the game, it's absolutely amazing! Anyway, another bullet point to add for the Vita.
Press the PS Home button and Start together to capture screenshots. Beats using the memo any day. Unfortunately I forgot about that and was doing chicken scratch scribble with the memo.
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on October 24, 2012
An absolutely incredible game with a gripping story, excellent dialogue and voice acting, and brain-teasing puzzles. It's the kind of narrative that keeps you up all night, eyes straining to read just one more line of text before bed.... and maybe one more after that. A perfect introduction to the Visual Novel genre for newbies and a real treat for fans of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Kudos to Aksys for an excellent localization. I hope this series continues to flourish.
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on December 8, 2012
To put it bluntly, the intellectualism displayed by the storytelling in Zero Escape as well as its predecessor (999) make mockery of bland incoherent plotlines in most modern video games.

Virtue's Last Reward is at its hard a visual novel with puzzle elements. The puzzles are mostly engaging, but often quite difficult. However, the developers have included an "easymode" to help less experienced players or just those who are in it for the story to get major hints to help them plod along. The story itself is closely related to 999 in some ways so either playing 999 first or reading/watching a synopsis would be a good idea. The gameplay is mainly reading and tapping on the Vita's touchscreen, which lends itself quite well to this type of adventure game. The graphics are fluid and the background score sets the mood quite well. Uncommon among most localizations, the English voice acting is excellent and rivals/surpasses the Japanese voice acting.

In my opinion, the save-anywhere and put-down/pick-up (although you really won't want to put it down for too long) nature of this game lends itself perfectly to the mobile platform. If you are looking for a gripping story with intense revelations and cerebral gameplay, you won't want to miss this game!
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on November 9, 2012
This game... sh*t.

This is by far the most exciting, intense, and thrilling mystery game I have ever played. I can't stress how perfect the story is. I would pay twice as much for just the novel part alone, but to add on: the puzzles make it that much more engaging and satisfying. At times i literally jumped out of my seat because I was so excited to solve one or more of the puzzles. Then at certain times I sat there, staring at the screen because I couldn't believe that the story could possibly take such a turn!

I was a huge fan of 999, but that did not change my mind while deciding if this game was fun. It totally fills in the gaps from 999, but knowing the storyline of the previous game is not necessary. The game is not too terribly hard, the puzzles are challenging but if you get stuck, you can switch it to easy mode at any time (without losing any of the story) and the characters in the game will drop you hints.

I cannot possibly stress how perfect this game is. It is my 2012 game of the year without a doubt, and on the top 10 games of all time list. Don't hesitate to try it out!

FYI: I preordered both versions of this game (one for me, one for my brother), and have tried them both out. I only beat the Vita version, but both games are relatively the same (besides the 3D/two screen vs the single touchscreen bit).
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on July 7, 2013
So, here I am, 60+ hours later, having finished Zero Escape.

It took months for me to get to the ending, but that's because I play only a few times a week. Also, if I'd had to play this game straight through, with no side diversions into other games, I think I might have lost my mind. Because, as much fun as this game is, there are times when you simply have to walk away from it, either because it's feeling too repetitive or because you've encountered a puzzle that you just can't get through no matter how many times you try.

That's a negative way of starting the review, but I did enjoy this game greatly. It really does make you think, and it's like a good mystery novel. It keeps throwing plot twists at you and forcing you to replay different scenarios. Throughout most of the game I thought, "There's no way they can pull this all together and have all of it make sense," but I am pleased to admit that I was wrong about that. Of course, you have to be willing to accept sci-fi explanations, but if you're willing to spend months of your life playing a game that encourages time travel and alternate endings, you're probably willing to suspend disbelief, as I was.

When this game hits its stride, it's incredibly absorbing. Yes, you do find yourself clicking through literally hundreds of pages of text (not a surprise because this is essentially an interactive novel). But the story and the characters keep you absorbed. I found some of the characters much more interesting than others. Phi piqued my interest from the start, and of course K (an unknown man encased in a suit of armor) is built to keep you wondering about his identity. Dio's enough of a jerk to serve as a credible villain (maybe the villainy is laid on a little thick), and Tenmyouji has an interesting backstory, even if the voice doesn't sound quite as old as Tenmyouji is supposed to be. I liked Alice's voice a lot; she's one of the two sexpots of the group and the actress plays that up nicely. I found Quark annoying, and Luna's little-girl voice can grate. Any scene with Clover is torture, though: She looks like Pebbles Flintstone suffering from ptosis with a soccer ball stuck in her head. Sigma, our hero, is an oversexed frat boy with a tendency to bust moves at the least appropriate times.

The worst of the lot is the voice of Zero, Jr. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the single most annoying voice I've ever heard, anywhere on earth, in my lifetime. It's SUPPOSED to be annoying, I know, but any time that stupid rabbit started speaking I felt a headache starting to form behind my eyeballs. At one point, I decided to turn the sound all the way down so that I didn't have to listen to it, and that solved the problem.

The puzzles are incredibly fun, WHEN they are not supremely annoying and frustrating. Looking through the reviews here, I see that different people have problems with different rooms. Maybe it comes down to the way our brains our wired. Sometimes the puzzles won't let you do what you want to do, and sometimes they are downright unfair. For example, in one puzzle, you must bang on a piece of glass to get another character's attention. If you don't do that, you will be dead in the water, stuck with nowhere to go. The problem is that no other puzzle in the entire game requires that mechanic. By the last quarter of the game, I found myself going to walkthroughs just to get through the puzzles. The most maddening was the Pressure Exchange Chamber, and I didn't even try Q because that one is the supreme ultimate example of what makes these puzzles so frustrating. That said, I agree with the reviewer who said that every time you go to a walkthrough for a solution, you feel dirty. I know why: It's because intelligent people should be able to figure out these puzzles, and they do, but the game won't let them do what they need to do. Maybe that's why you feel like such a supreme god when you do succeed in unlocking the safe and its gold folder.

Some other criticisms:
-This is the only game I've ever had to play with a pencil and a pad of paper next to me. Call me crazy, but I don't think a video game should interfere with the experience like that.
-The game won't let you adjust your playing strategy based on revelations about character. In other words, you can't psych the game out by thinking, "OK, character X isn't trustworthy, so I'm not going to trust him." Because in the next round of voting, that character will do something completely out of sync with previous behavior. That said, there is a reasonable explanation for all of this, but you have to wait a very long time to get it.
-After months of playing, I found the ending to be a bit anticlimactic. Still, it does resolve almost all questions and issues, and it sets up a sequel nicely. I will definitely buy and play the sequel when I have a year or so to spend playing the game.

Overall, this is a great game. It's intellectual, mostly well written, unexpected, with some good voice acting. It's a tremendous value for the money, given the number of hours you'll spend playing it, and it holds your interest about 95% of the time (except during some of the repetitive sections, even though the Flowchart utility does a nice job of minimizing these.)
I have to knock it down a star for the reasons above. If you like intense action, shooting, adventure, and that sort of thing, this game is definitely not for you. If you like sci-fi and mystery novels, as well as getting your head around some intricate puzzles, you can't do any better than ZERO ESCAPE.
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on June 6, 2013
- The characters are rich and colorful.
- The game is HEAVILY replayable.
- The secret endings are worth searching for.
- The other paths are NOT tedious to go back and do.
- The story is SUPER compelling.
- The gameplay is challenging and easy to make the game fun, fun, FUN.
- The game is long enough to give you a good run per path.
- The controls are VERY easy to handle.
- There are necessary functions such as re-reading old text, skipping chat, auto-selecting choices, menu tracking, etc... everything is there.

I truly love this game. It has a game before it you should try. It isn't necessary, but the stories inter-connect slightly and it's fun to know the whole thing.

The first isn't as user friendly as this one. This one is super user-friendly.

There is a notebook in-game to help you keep notes... the vita version is hard to use for this reason: You must use your finger if you wish to keep notes. It's hard to draw words... *frown*

Vita version on bigger screen is a huge plus. This is best version.

I heard about crash/savegame bugs on the 3DS version, so keep this in mind.
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on November 3, 2012
A few years ago, a little known game from Japan called 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors made its way to the United States. The game was a visual novel interspersed with escape room puzzles. If you're unfamiliar with the visual novel genre, it is a reasonably popular type of game in Japan which typically contains a branching story, lots of text (occasionally with voice acting), static visuals, and music. Visual novels are not popular in the United States, which explained why 999 came in under the radar. Nevertheless, it quickly received strong praise from Western reviewers. What distinguished 999 from its other visual novel brethren? Besides the fact that it got translated to English, 999 had fantastic writing, an incredible story, and interesting characters. At the time of its release, the creators of 999 were unsure whether they would make a sequel, and the main writer (Kotaro Uchikoshi) publicly made it known that whether a sequel would be made would depend in large part on the reception 999 received both in Japan and in the US.

Well, 999 did sell well enough to justify making a sequel, and this game is it. Like its predecessor, it is still a visual novel interspersed with escape room puzzles, so if you've played 999 you have a good idea what to expect here. If you haven't played 999, I *very strongly* recommend playing 999 before playing this game. While the story of Virtue's Last Reward stands by itself reasonably well, you will gain a better appreciation of the themes and characters in VLR if you have first played 999. (There's also the fact that this game spoils a large part of 999.)

What's different between VLR and 999? The major changes include a shift from 2d to 3d models, voice acting for everyone except the main character, and an explicit flowchart which keeps track of your progression in the story. Initially, I was skeptical of some of the changes, especially the addition of voice acting, but after playing the game I think all of these changes are for the better. The visuals look sharp, the voice acting is really good, and the flowchart makes it so that you never have to solve the same puzzles twice even if you want to explore all the branches of the story. (In other words, the flowchart not only provides a visual representation of the branching nature of the story, it also allows you to jump to any part of the story you have seen and change your decisions or replay the puzzle or novel sections of the game.)

If you've played 999, you know that it has one of the most mind-bending, insane stories in all of games (or for that matter, all of popular media). I don't want to give anything away about the story in VLR, but I think it's safe to say that the story does a good job of keeping you hooked and provides its fair share of "omgwtf" moments. Like its predecessor, the story could only be told in an interactive medium like video games (in other words, you couldn't make a book or TV adaptation without heavily distorting the structure of the plot). The characters are probably even better developed in VLR than 999, which partially is a function of the fact that VLR is substantially longer than 999. Zero III is one of my favorite game characters of all time (up there with GLaDOS from Portal), and his/her voice actor is simply brilliant in this game.

The puzzles are more or less of the same flavor as in 999. You find yourself stuck in a room (or complex of rooms) with a few other characters, and need to figure out a way to open a safe which contains the key to exit the room. This typically involves exploring the environment - unlike many escape room puzzles, all objects you need to obtain are in plain view and easy to interact with - and then solving some sort of logic puzzle. These puzzles range from easy to fairly hard, but if you're not an expert at puzzles, don't worry: the game provides an easy mode where the other characters will give you hints on how to proceed. In contrast, on "hard mode" (which is the default mode), they will give you very few hints, and the ones they give you are often either cryptic or obvious.

I only have a few negative comments about the game. I purchased the Vita version, and I found the touchscreen controls to be slightly less accurate than the stylus controls for 999 on the Nintendo DS. This is especially noticeable when you try to write (you can keep notes in the game) using your finger, but you can probably get around this by using a capacitive stylus. Also, the heavily branching nature of the game lends itself to a fair amount of repetition, since at any given branch point there's still a considerable amount of overlap in the events that follow regardless of the choice you make. Fortunately, you can fast-forward through text you've already seen. The branching can also make it hard to remember the preceding events in whatever path you are currently on, because of the extensive amount of jumping between paths necessary to complete the game. (On the other hand, this feeling of disorientation was probably intentional...) Still, these are minor quibbles, and others might not find these issues to be a problem.

In summary, VLR is a great sequel to 999. It's one of the best games available for the current generation of handhelds. If you're a fan of 999, get this game. If you haven't played 999 before, but enjoy great stories and puzzles, get 999 first, finish it (make sure to get all the endings), and then get this game. It's a shame that games like this aren't more common in the United States, because 999 and VLR are some of the best games made in the past few years.
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on January 2, 2013
First, let me say that I love the presentation of this game. The way the story is written, developed, and acted by the characters is extremely dynamic and fun to watch. This is Japan's version of the American Saw movies, with a whole lot of science fiction, medical mumbojumbo, and corniness. The game tries to be all things at once - serious, thrilling, intense, mystifying, confusing, funny - and for the most part, it works great. There are a few scenes that come across rather strange, but nothing's out of place in this weird, imaginative narrative.

The gameplay side - the Escape the Room type of levels - are both short and very long. It can take you quite some time to figure out their puzzles. Most clues are directly in your face from the start, others you have to search a bit for. But learning how to combine elements, and use them in the correct places is very intuitive and smart. I say the levels are short also, because once you solve a puzzle, you're very likely to never forget it, meaning you can blow through most levels again a second time very quickly. This seems to be a game that you probably wouldn't come back to once you finish - at least let it sit for a while and forget about it before you come back; let the experience become fresh again.

The only thing that keeps me from giving a full 5-star review is how the narrative is completed. You can complete the game in about 5 hours, but that's only one of the many endings. The jarring thing was, in my playthrough, was that the ending was a curveball out of nowhere, and left absolutely nothing resolved. In order to fully solve this incredible mystery is to use the FLOW system, and "go back in time" to choose different paths and wind up with a different ending. This is fine, with the one exception that you come across a lot of repeat dialogue because of this. You can skip it easily, but that kills a lot of the immersion and the experience is lessened because of this.

Since there are so many paths, I'd say it'd take a good 40-50 hours to fully complete, without skipping any repeated scenes. You get plenty for your money here. I haven't finished the game completely myself, but the mystery is written well enough that I know that I will. I just don't know if it's something that I'd be willing to play again once I've finished.

UPDATE:
I just finished the game, and I was pretty much right on with the length. It took me right at 42 hours to complete - getting all 9 of the "good" endings and final ending. I stick by my original 4 star score. This game is not for everyone, but very enjoyable if you like a smart thriller with difficult puzzle solving. The story did address my criticisms of the non-linearity in pretty clever ways, though that didn't make the story any easier to follow. But it did wrap up pretty nice and tight. You won't believe where the story goes in the final 30 minutes or so. Very shocking events, and hints to a larger epic story to be told (hopefully) in a third game down the road.
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on April 30, 2016
We won't know until late "June" (Akane!) whether VLR is the best entry in the Zero Escape trilogy. 999 was one of the best visual novels ever made, but VLR managed to top it with its user-friendly timeline-jumping system and a more consistent text-skip function for previously-seen cut scenes. There are more puzzles, more confusion, and more huge surprises in this one, though it doesn't have quite the emotional punch at its ending that 999 had.

Anyway, pretty much all gamers should play the Zero Escape trilogy. It deserves to be far more popular than it is.
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