Joy, celebrations and psychopathic bunnies, fans of the Zero Escape series rejoice because Spike Chunsoft and Aksys Games have brought the first two instalments to PS4 and Vita complete with shiny new HD tweaks and English voice acting. The first game to grace PlayStation was actually the second in the series, Virtue’s Last Reward. This was a Vita only Japanese visual novel and, hopefully without sounding like a crazy fangirl, it was spectacular. Last year we were then treated with a third game, Zero Time Dilemma which, unbelievably, was even better. Sadly, however, we were still missing the first game Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. But now here it is bundled with a remastered Virtue’s Last Reward. As Zero the Third would say, ding ding ding!
The Nonary Game is all about an obsession with the number nine. In 999, nine people are kidnapped and locked up together. The only way to escape is to play the game. Masterminded by an unseen villain named Zero, the game involves teaming up and going through different numbered doors in a desperate search for the elusive door number 9 – the final goal and the way out. The contestants have only nine hours and should they disobey the rules that Zero sets out, death awaits. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story. This is primarily a visual novel, and it’s a long and twisty one full of deceptions, betrayals and mysteries. As with most visual novels, there are different paths to take and endings to find and one true ending to discover. Your fate and how much of the story you uncover depends on which doors you decide to go through and with which characters, and in order to find the full truth you must replay the game and walk down every path you can.
The story in 999 is fantastic. It’s well written, well paced and the plot well hidden among the different paths. There’s a lot to discover about Zero and The Nonary Game itself. If like me you had only played VLR and Dilemma, you can now finally find out the true origin of this spiteful and often bloodthirsty game. It’s a real treat for any fan. The voice acting is excellent. Junpei in particular is voiced brilliantly. Yes, he perhaps sounds a little too old for his character, but he’s still voiced well and comes across as a likeable and sometimes rather funny guy.
My only only real criticism of the novel sections of the game is excess dialogue, and I’m afraid it’s the same old complaint I usually have of this genre. It’s sometimes overly … wordy. It can take four people to say basically the same thing about something relatively minor such as putting a key in a lock. During this time, they’ll be two jokes, a misunderstanding and several declarations of intention to unlock the door. I just want to open the door, man! Every word, every plot point, should be relevant – that’s the key to truly good writing. Unfortunately, despite it’s fantastic story, 999 does sometimes get bogged down with unnecessary yammering. Virtue’s Last Reward also suffers a little from this too, but it’s interesting to know that Zero Time Dilemma has much tighter writing with very little excess wordage. Playing 999 for the first time and now replaying VLR in this bundle, after having played Dilemma last year, I can really see the evolution and improvement of the writing and editing style.
Graphically, 999 is on the basic side. Everything is nicely done, but you can tell this is an older game. Not that it particularly matters because we’re here for the story, not how pretty the number 7 door is. The semi-static characters do look really good and are everything you would expect from this type of game. The developer has done a great job of tidying and cleaning up ready for the PS4.
A large portion of the game involves going through numbered doors and into puzzle rooms. These are Escape Puzzles. The only way to get out of a room and potentially onto a different set of numbered doors is to find a way to unlock the exit. You may have found your way into a library, kitchen, office etc, and you must search it. The entire room is a puzzle which may also contain other puzzles. These Escape Rooms are part of the key to the success of this series. Some, with a little work, can be figured out fairly quickly, but others will pull your brain out of your ears and one or two will fool you into thinking you’re going to be stuck forever until your co-worker comes home with you one lunch time and gets the solution in seconds. Oops. They vary in difficulty, but the sense of achievement once you’ve escaped makes you feel like the cleverest person in the world. The only issues I came across with the puzzles were that I couldn’t save the game on the very last one (probably because it was supposed to be easy but I chose to completely misunderstand it) and that when you replay the same time-line, you have to do the puzzles again. Urgh, whyyyyyy? They’re fun once, but I don’t want to re-do them two days later. In all seriousness, part of the issue here, I believe, is that game-changing events happen within the puzzles themselves, so adding a skip facility would be hugely problematic without changing the core of the game itself. It’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid.
Virtue’s Last Reward is the second game in the bundle and this time you’re playing The Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition. The premise is very similar, but doors are coloured rather than numbered apart from door number 9 which is in tantalisingly full view from the very start. You choose to go through different doors with different characters and solve Escape Room puzzles just like 999. The biggest difference in the way this Nonary Game is played is that your bracelets (irremovable watches with a number instead of a dial) show BP points. Every time you escape a room you can can vote to Betray or Ally with the people you solved the last puzzle with. Depending on what you and your opponents chose, your bracelet points will go up or down. 9 points mean you can open the number 9 door and escape, and 0 points mean…. well, you’ll find out. The number 9 door can only open once, only stays open for 9 seconds and will only let people with 9 on their bracelets pass through. Anyone left behind will be trapped forever.
The addition of the Ally and Betray portion of the game gives VLR a heightened feeling of peril, much more so than in 999. In the previous game the set up always seemed to encourage the players to work together, even though escape for everyone seemed unlikely. Here, the players are doomed to betray each other and form alliances right from the beginning. The stakes feel a lot higher, the situation more desperate and death much more immanent.
The visual novel aspect easily rivals the original game. As I said earlier it does have some of the same waffle that afflicted 999, but the plot is twistier and much more sinister. It’s extremely well written and very engaging. Again, I’m not going to spoil any of it for you, but as with 999 you do need to play through all paths to get the full picture and the true ending. It’s honestly worth it.
Escape Rooms in VLR are just as tricky as 999, if not a little trickier and you’ll need to write things down. There is a memo function to help you along, but nothing beats good old fashioned pen and paper. I always buy a new notepad for these games and I always fill it. Good news, you only have to do these puzzles once.
Graphics look pretty darn good on the PS4. I admit I wasn’t sure how they would translate onto a big screen, but they’re actually rather impressive with some beautiful details. We’re also treated to English voice acting (not previously available on the EU Vita version). I sometimes prefer to play in Japanese (possibly because bad voice acting can kill a game and in Japanese I can’t really tell), but the English in all the Zero Escape games is fantastic and VLR is no exception. I always liked Zero the Third, but now he’s joined Monokuma as one of my favourite all time video game villains. The voice actress has captured his zany, psychopathic craziness perfectly.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games has a shared trophy list between both games. There is a platinum but you’ll need to 100% both games to get it. Most of the trophies are for VLR and you’ll need to make sure to play all the Escape Rooms on Hard. Although time consuming, it’s not a difficult platinum to get.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a real treat for fans of the series looking to play the first game on PlayStation for the first time and to play Virtue’s Last Reward on a big screen with English voice acting. It’s also a great opportunity for any curious newbies to jump in. Both games are classics in the visual novel genre and they’ve been given a lovely overhaul for the PS4. Essential.
S J Hollis Rating 8.5/10
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