Virtue’s Last Reward is like few video games I’ve ever played; I spent night after night progressing through the game, getting various endings and witnessing some mind boggling twists which left me even more confused than I ever had been. Until I finally arrived at the true ending; only to be left in complete awe at what I witnessed.
My brain is still hurting. The story of the game is like no other, and even fans of the cult hit prequel Extreme Escape: 999 will be left in shock with the revelations that unfold. Players play the game through the perspective of a student called Sigma, who has been captured and is forced to play a game of life and death, known as the ‘Ambidex game’. What is the game based around? The prisoners’ dilemma, of course.
Imagine if two men got arrested for committing a serious crime. They are both accomplices, and as such they are separated for questioning. A detective then visits each and tells them the following:
‘If neither of you decides to spill the beans, you both get two years. If he clams up and you confess, you’ll get one year and he’ll do fifteen, but if you keep quiet and he gives it up, you’ll do 15 and he’ll do one. Now, you’re thinking ‘what if we both rat the other guy out, right?’ Simple: You’ll both get ten years’. That is the basis of the Virtue’s Last Reward story and you’ll constantly find yourself asked the question of ‘Ally or Betray’, knowing that depending on your actions, death may be just around the corner.
Think of Virtue’s Last Reward as an interactive novel; the majority of the ‘game’ is witnessing the characters interact and talk their way through the ‘Ambidex game’ in which escaping means to kill off the other characters. The gameplay is a mix of dialogue (and there is a lot of it) and ‘Escape’ sequences. The latter is where the player is forced to solve puzzles, of mixed quality, in order for the characters in the game to escape a room that they have been trapped in. Those familiar with point and click adventure games will be at home here, and despite the varied quality of the puzzles, there are some real gems here. Players will undoubtedly find themselves scratching their heads with some of them.
It’s the plot where the game shines though, and it’s executed brilliantly due to the range of characters involved, each having their own agenda and a mysterious past. The back stories and actions of each of these characters are revealed through the various paths that the player can take through the game. Many games of this nature traditionally rely on the player to play through the game multiple times to get each ending, Virtue’s Last Reward thwarts this, offering a unique gameplay element known as ‘flow’, allowing the player to return to any moment in the game where he/she has been required to make a choice, meaning that you can instantly see the impact your decision had on other characters as well as looking at the various different timelines possible. Without ruining the plot, these alternative timelines are used brilliantly and as you venture through the various timelines, you and the characters will slowly begin to realise that there is something much bigger going on, your story being just a small part of it.
In terms of presentation, Vita owners are in for a treat as the game uses smooth character animation as well as variety of colourful backgrounds. For 3DS owners, the 3D adds nothing of value. This, on top of the lower resolution screen, makes it the worse off version. Characters are also voiced in certain areas, and frustratingly the European version of the game for 3DS only includes the Japanese voice over. The import friendly Vita version includes an English setting. It’s disappointing and fingers will likely point to a lack of budget, but it actually works rather well and does bring an element of quirkiness and excitement to the characters. What does work very well is the soundtrack, containing some very atmospheric, tense and dark pieces, which complement the plot brilliantly.
Overall, Virtue’s Last Reward is fantastic game and worthy of your time if you’re looking for a text heavy point and click adventure. It took me well over 30 hours to get to the end and along the way I was left both saddened and amazed by the overall plot. Should you buy it if you own a Vita? Absolutely. Should you buy it on the 3DS? Well, yes but only if you’ve played the prequel Extreme Escape:999 on the original Nintendo DS, as the two games are somewhat linked. While this game does stand on its own, it’s best enjoyed after playing the original. Regardless of this though, this game was certainly one of the best games released in 2012 and one of the best handheld titles available…Grab it whilst you can!