So I played Virtue’s Last Reward

I dropped Persona 4: The Golden for a while because my brother told me I had to play this game to completion.

Here’s the thing. The visual novel genre has been going strong in Japan for a long while without making its way over here.

So the fact that the two games in the Zero Escape series have made their way over here means two things.

1) Visual novels on the whole have very little appeal, but

2) Zero Escape does something to separate itself from all the rest.

When you look at the roster of characters for Virtue’s Last Reward (designed by Capcom artist Kinu Nishimura) you might think, “Whoa, this is Japanese as fuck.”

But anyone who played played 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors will tell you that writer Kotaro Uchikoshi is a man with a wide range of interests, especially when compared to other Japanese video game scenario writers.

The idea of a group of people stuck someplace with no memory of how they got there and needing to adhere to a set of rules to escape is directly influenced by the Cube series of movies. Indeed, the second Zero Escape game expands on the possibilities of its predecessor much in the same way the second Cube movie does.

I learned in school that a good story should not only be gripping, but teach you something new as well. Like all good science fiction, the plot devices in these games are based on existing, actually fascinating scientific theories.

There are also some not so real, but very convincing ideas as well. Both games make direct and oblique references to the works of Kurt Vonnegut. It’s so fucking comforting to know these guys have read a book before setting out to write an interactive one themselves, and don’t just get all of their ideas from anime.

I won’t suggest these are as good as Vonnegut’s works, but like them, there are giant ideas being used to explain some very intimate things.

This is the best science fiction video game of the year. Maybe of the past few years.

And the characters of Zero Escape seem at first glance to be molded from all the old stereotypes. In many ways, they are. But they change. What’s nice about the format of the visual novel – they’re basically a choose-your-adventure book – is that you get to decide what happens. And because of the nature of the story, your decisions not only affect you, but the rest of the cast. Some of them become desperate. You get to see all the characters at their best and at their worst.

This is a game you play more than once. You have to. It’s kind of the point. To say more would be to say too much. Let’s just say that while it introduces you to the concept of the visual novel, it also deconstructs the genre as you play it. While so many AAA titles are trying to make games more like movies, Virtue’s Last Reward argues that there are as many or more similarities to the novel – the long-form narrative, the player’s control of the flow of time…

Virtue’s Last Reward is the Spec Ops: The Line of puzzle-based visual novels.

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