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Virtue's Last Reward review

The best game you'll read all year

A ringmaster, belly dancer and geriatric wake up in a locked room. Sounds like a bad joke, but this is no laughing matter. Turns out they're contestants in a game of survival, a curious blend of Saw's murderous machinations and Golden Balls' trust exercises.

You remember Golden Balls, right? It was the ITV game show in which players tried to guess if their rival would shaft them for a jackpot. Well, Virtue's Last Reward is like that, only with less Jasper Carrott and more lethal injections. A happy middle ground, then.

Virtue's Last Reward fits into the visual novel genre, a kind of digitised Choose Your Own Adventure rarely seen outside of niche Japanese boutiques.

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For 95 per cent of the runtime, involvement is limited to tapping A to scroll through dialogue exchanges. Is that a little too interactive for you? Talk can be switched to automatic scroll and viewed like a movie. Just don't blame us when future generations evolve into a race of thumbless freaks.

Input in 'novel' sections is limited to crossroads where you chose between a left or right door, or whether or not to betray or support a fellow contestant. Each decision takes you down a new branch of the story, towards one of more than 20 possible endings.

Hands get more to do in the locked room puzzles that comprise the remaining five per cent. These are self-contained point-and-click adventures that ask you to retrieve a password to a nearby key-containing safe. Mixing light object combination with Layton-esque logic exercises, these are perfectly pitched palate cleansers - never too obscure that you resort to tedious pixel prodding, but tricky enough to guarantee mental satisfaction. As good as they are, though, they can't top the storytelling in between.

Better Read Than Dead

For a story with such prescribed outcomes, it's amazing how quickly the trust game gets under your skin. Being betrayed cuts to the core, while doling out the betrayal makes you feel like an absolute rotter.

The real revelation comes in replaying the adventure; repeatedly trying to beat the game develops your knowledge of the world and its characters. Facts ascertained in one version of events might inform your perception of others. Sympathies shift, pennies drop and, in some extreme cases, fates can be rewritten.

And VLR has a genuine intelligence to go with its structural smarts. Chunsoft's yarn veers from Asimov's Laws of Robotics to Schrödinger's moggy, via Alan Turing and Einstein. There's a fair bit of college-grade philosophising going on, but considering most of the games industry is still stuck in playschool, the developer's ambition is to be applauded.

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That the writer manages to pack chewy brain food into a wholly accessible, and often very funny, series of mini lectures is all part of the appeal. How many other games can accurately claim to make their players a tiny bit smarter?

Admittedly, intelligence and narrative structure are hardly the sexiest compliments. On the average gamer's list of priorities these things sit just below 'title menu design' and 'instruction manual paper stock', so it's great to see someone bucking the trend. Virtue's Last Reward is smart, compelling stuff. For gamers looking for something deeper - in the philosophical sense - this 3DS gem is nothing short of essential.

Comments

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  1. imbusydoctorwho Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 13:07

    I tried the demo last week,and I was pretty impressed,so I might just go for it.

  2. toffeeman30 Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 13:19

    sequel to 999. looks agood game, shame mainstream gamers will give it a miss

  3. Aboyandhissequel Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 13:22

    Reviewed by someone who clearly never played the first game in the series, there was no reference to it at all.

    Would be really nice if ONM didn't only review games that were sent to them from publishers, as the first (equally excellent) title clearly wasn't.

  4. MatthewONM Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 13:28

    Reviewed by someone who clearly never played the first game in the series, there was no reference to it at all.

    Would be really nice if ONM didn't only review games that were sent to them from publishers, as the first (equally excellent) title clearly wasn't.


    For your information, I did play the first game. In fact, I reviewed it for NGamer. I didn't talk about the game in the review because it was never released in the UK and ONM does not cover the import scene. In the magazine review, there's a small boxout talking about how it relates to the first game. In short: you don't need to have played 999, but there are a few cute extra details if you have.

  5. alexjones94 Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 14:29

    I really like the look of this. As a huge Phoenix Wright fan, is it a similar sort of game (albeit a bit more mature, I gather)?

  6. MatthewONM Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 14:33

    I really like the look of this. As a huge Phoenix Wright fan, is it that sort of thing (albeit a bit more mature, I gather)?


    Sort of. The novel sections of a game are hardly a game compared to Wright. You literally read the story and make decisions at key points. The locked rooms are more like point-and-click adventures than Wright. That said, it has a similar blend of humour and melodrama, so you'll probably get on really well with it.

  7. alexjones94 Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 14:39

    That said, it has a similar blend of humour and melodrama, so you'll probably get on really well with it.

    Those two things are what make PW so great for me, so I'll definitely give this a go, thanks!

  8. Yirba Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 15:40

    Anyway, really looking forward to Virtue's Last Reward. I really enjoyed 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, so I'm expecting it to become one of my favourite Nintendo 3DS games.

  9. MartinIsAwesome Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 15:42

    I too played the demo and I loved it. It reminded me a lot of CiNG's brilliant DS game, Another Code. With CiNG no longer operating, I think that Virtue's Last Reward will be a perfect way for filling my interactive-mystery-novel-game shaped hole.
    I'll see if I can buy it from Rising Star directly at the next MCM Expo.

  10. Xenobladeperson Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 17:29

    Demo wasn't as good as I expected, but I'll pick this up eventually.

  11. Herbert_Rarr Thursday 22nd Nov 2012 at 17:37

    I thought the demo was mind-numbingly boring with everything taking ages to do - even opening a door. I gave up after I got the four numbers out of boredom.

  12. Da_Epic_Fail Friday 23rd Nov 2012 at 07:43

    It might be worth mentioning that, from what i've read in other reviews, this game spoils the plot to 999. If you haven't played it (which isn't too unlikely since it never came out in this country, but the american version will work on a 3DS) i'd recommend playing that one first.

    999 is pretty much my favourite game on the DS, so VLR can't arrive quick enough :D

  13. jaco_p Friday 23rd Nov 2012 at 17:18

    Reviewed by someone who clearly never played the first game in the series, there was no reference to it at all.

    Would be really nice if ONM didn't only review games that were sent to them from publishers, as the first (equally excellent) title clearly wasn't.


    For your information, I did play the first game. In fact, I reviewed it for NGamer. I didn't talk about the game in the review because it was never released in the UK and ONM does not cover the import scene. In the magazine review, there's a small boxout talking about how it relates to the first game. In short: you don't need to have played 999, but there are a few cute extra details if you have.

    that told you chops! Think before you speak

  14. offensive diary Sunday 25th Nov 2012 at 14:13

    I've already managed to corrupt my save file! Yay! :roll:

  15. 9Westy9 Monday 26th Nov 2012 at 23:07

    I played 999 and I've been hyped for this since I heard about it. Hopefully it should arrive tomorrow.

  16. Rufan Wednesday 12th Dec 2012 at 20:53

    I got this game and I love it, nearly finished I think, it's better than Professor Layton, I don't know what all do after I finish it, I've only put it down to charge my 3DS.

  17. master sword Monday 24th Dec 2012 at 13:27

    I've always wondered why VN style games very rarely make it over here, those that do, usually always receive critical acclaim or a cult classic status (Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk, VLR and 999) so it doesn't really make much sense to me, they also appeal to Older Gamers who prefer good stories (Look how well Professor Layton did as an example)

  18. 9Westy9 Tuesday 25th Dec 2012 at 22:08

    I've always wondered why VN style games very rarely make it over here, those that do, usually always receive critical acclaim or a cult classic status (Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk, VLR and 999) so it doesn't really make much sense to me, they also appeal to Older Gamers who prefer good stories (Look how well Professor Layton did as an example)

    Because they usually don't sell very well over here. It's a shame because VN's are usually quite good imo

  19. BlueLimpet Wednesday 6th Mar 2013 at 22:03

    This game is fantastic. Think Professor Layton meets Battle Royale. Throw in loads of plot twists and turns and a crazy white rabbit. Definitely worth buying, especially if you are a bit of a bookworm. And like a good book this game is nearly impossible to put down. So, the only question is: Will you Ally? /or Betray....

  20. lillolone Monday 16th Dec 2013 at 21:20

    Thanks for the 999 heads up... I've just ordered it!

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