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Customer Review

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Successor, November 1, 2012
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This review is from: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward - Nintendo 3DS (Video Game)
As with the prequel to this game, Zero Escape is not for children. There is strong language, sexual innuendo, and a dark plot that could frighten/confuse younger players. While it is up to each parent to decide if their child is mature enough for a game, I seriously recommend that parents read the rest of this review before handing the game over to little Timmy or Susie.

About a year ago, Aksys released a game called 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors (999 for short). I reviewed that game and gave it high marks, and even now it remains my favorite game for the Nintendo DS system. You can imagine my excitement when I learned that a sequel was being released this October. As soon as I found the product I placed my order; I managed to finagle a 3DS, and to my immense happiness this new title would be compatible (indeed, the 3D rendering is very lovely, but I will cover that further down). With baited breath I loaded the cartridge into my 3DS; a software patch was required, but fortunately it did not take long to install. Within five minutes I loaded up the game and started my adventure in the realm of Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward.

Gameplay

Zero Escape, like its predecessor, is a puzzle game crossed with a survival story. The plot is simple: a group of people are kidnapped and forced to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape their captor, the mysterious Zero. Each character wears a wristband that guides the course of the game. Any attempt to remove the bracelet will result in the death of the wearer; it will only deactivate if the person dies or if they escape through the door with the large number 9 on it.

In 999, players were introduced to the Nonary Game. Zero Escape also features the Nonary Game, but the gameplay is markedly different. To compare to the previous title, here are some key aspects of the gameplay. This list is informative for both fans of the series who played 999 and newcomers who are intrigued by the game description:

1. After you "beat" the game/arc the first time, you can skip both the dialogue AND the puzzles. This is a vast improvement over 999; while you could skip the narrative, you had to solve the same puzzles over and over again for the playthroughs, a tedious and boring task by the third or fourth attempt. As an additional bonus, you can select an autopilot feature so that you will not have to hit the A button after each sentence. If there is any action on the screen you will need to reactivate the autopilot, but this is a minor inconvenience, at best.

2. The possible flow of each arc is represented in a flowchart that you can access at any point from the lower screen menu button. This is WONDERFUL! One of my biggest frustrations with 999 was the relatively random aspect of finding the ultimate endings in the game. Zero Escape has a whopping 24 possible endings, and having to flounder through the different paths and trying to find each ending would be a nightmare. Combined with the game highlighting previous choices that you made, you can easily see which path that you are following and how far down which arc you are traveling. You will still need to repeat certain sequences, but with the improvements made in my point 1 above, it is far less time-consuming (and frustrating).

3. The story is just as dark as the first game! 999 was known for the intricate storyline that drew the player into a world of intrigue and mystery. Zero Escape is no different, with each decision drawing out more and more details about both the story behind their capture AND the backgrounds of the people who are your fellow prisoners. In tandem with my first point, there is a robust menu option that saves each piece of information that you find (and has empty places so you know what you are missing, although you do not know where that information will come from). This information is still accessible even when you complete an arc and start over again from the elevator (the puzzle that starts the game). For example: each room has a safe. These safes are the key to beating each puzzle. While you have the option of re-solving puzzles that you have previously beaten, you can also just reference your notes for previous passwords to the room safe, open it, get the key, and move on to the next scenario.

4. There is more than the Nonary Game factored into your gameplay. Unlike in 999, there is also a secondary set of challenges that are completely "random" (insofar as the personality matrices of NPCs can be). While you still have to divide into groups and visit different rooms and solve puzzles to escape, after each room there is a Vote. You will enter a room with either a partner (if you have one that round) or solo, and cast a vote: will you Ally with your other team (each person has a Yin to their Yang), or will you Betray them? There is no action to each option; the vote is basically a Yes/No type question. But... the input is CRITICAL to your survival. While failing to solve a puzzle will not immediately kill your character (as in 999 there is an infinite amount of time to solve each room, but you cannot progress unless it is solved), the choices that you make AND the NPCs severely affects YOU. If they Betray you, and you have lost enough BP (Bracelet Points), you will die. Conversely, you can also EARN points. If you reach 9 points, you can walk out of the warehouse and on your way to freedom (... I have not beaten the game, so I say that with a ominous tone... oooooh).

5. Bracelet Points are separate from the room puzzles. Every character starts out with 3 BP. You can only earn/lose BP through the voting, which only occurs after the puzzle element is completed. So basically the progression is: Story/Narrative Mode --> Puzzle/Escape Mode --> More Story/Narrative -->
Voting --> ??? The voting aspect of the game is random, and you really have no way of knowing how your opposing team/person will vote. Could you buy the vote? Maybe... Can your vote be bought? Maybe... The only way to find out is to play the game!

Puzzles in Zero Escape are similar to the puzzles in 999. You use your stylus to select objects. Items that you pick up can be examined in the menu, and some objects may be combined with other items to create new ones. The only complaint that I have about the room search is the minor difficulty in navigating each room. You are able to use your stylus to move around and view the room. This is tricky, at best. There are times that I became so frustrated trying to use the stylus to look UP that I wanted to chuck my 3DS. I ultimately used a combination of navigation options: I used the toggle to look around and selected specific things to investigate with the stylus. Gameplay was much smoother using this method.

Overall, Zero Escape improves upon the successful formula from 999: you can now skip both narrative AND puzzles when playing through the game again. In addition, you can reference previous finds from rooms and also use a flowchart to see how you are progressing toward the endings in the game. These new features work to make Zero Escape even more addicting than 999!

Sound & Visual

I am playing this game on my 3DS, so I will comment upon both the 2D and 3D views. The flat 2D view is roughly the equivalent of 999: the game is colorful and the atmosphere is suited to the storyline. The warehouse setting is full of steel walls/doors, and minor details such as rivets and rust help to bring the world of Zero Escape to life. The 3D view is nice: the character models are rendered in such a way that they look better when viewed in 3D. Their faces are smooth and designed to move around in a 3D environment. In terms of the atmosphere in 3D, the game is nice and it adds a certain element of realism, but is not really necessary to enjoy the game. While not quite gimmicky, the 3D aspect is a nice feature to help add depth to the story.

Sound-wise, the game is excellent. One of the bigger complaints about 999 was the lack of voice acting. Zero Escape features extensive voice casts that are professional and suited to the character. If desired, the voice acting is skipped along with the narrative side of the story. Also the voice acting is muted during a lot of the Escape scenarios. That being said, there is a LOT of text to this game. You will realize that the first time that you set the game on autopilot for another playthrough.

The music for the game is suited to the atmosphere, and is well-done. It is ominous and a little creepy, which suits the environment of Zero Escape perfectly. That being said, it is nice to listen to but at times I turn off my volume and play in relative silence. The text of the game helps fill the rest of the "creepy" atmosphere, so while the music is an enhancement it is not a prerequisite.

Overall

Zero Escape has lived up to my expectations and I would imagine those of the fans of 999. Be forewarned! You will get sucked into this game for hours, dutifully trying to find each ending and further filling out the backstory. Why are they there? Why are some of the characters from the first game being forced to play the Nonary Game again? Who is Zero? What is Radical 6? All of this, and more, can be answered by playing Zero Escape. If you want a great puzzle game with an engaging story and a more mature storyline than most DS fare, this is for you. Sit back and prepare to solve the new Nonary Game and escape from the warehouse!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 1, 2012 2:43:27 PM PDT
Ken H. says:
Another awesome review, Stacey. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2012 3:28:23 PM PDT
Stacy L says:
Thanks much! Happy to be of service :)
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