How often can you say that a video game has made you feel like you’re truly interacting with the people in the game? Not very often I would think, but that’s one of the outstanding achievements that Zero Escape reaches.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a truly unique and wholly fascinating experience. A game that kept me chugging onward to find out the truth, matching wits with the other characters in the game, and absolutely loving every minute of it.

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The concept of Zero Escape is an interesting one. You play as Sigma, someone trapped in a top-secret government facility and roped into a sick game of trust, betrayal, and survival with eight others. Nine people in total have been abducted from their lives and forced to play the ‘Nonary Game’, something set up by a mysterious stranger. In this game, the nine players are locked in this mysterious facility in a midst of puzzle filled rooms, and have to achieve a certain amount of point in order to escape.

Each person has a wristwatch device with a number and a color, to escape you must achieve nine bracelet points, the catch though is that if your bracelet reaches 0 you die, and you also have to play the game otherwise face the consequences and be penalized. The real trick here though is that to achieve points you have to either choose to ally or betray the other people. The entire game focuses on a “prisoner’s dilemma” idea.

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As you progress through the game you learn the others true motives as they reveal their true colors and have to decide whether you can trust them or not.

Zero Escape is separated into two game play sections, the novel section and the escape section. Novel is pretty self explanatory and focuses on nothing but story and dialogue, while escape makes you solve puzzles to unlock as safe and escape the room that you are trapped in.

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While novel is simple enough and just has you experiencing story, the escape sections are surprisingly fun. The puzzles featured are perplexing, but not overly difficult and make you feel incredibly smart once you solve them. Of course if there’s one you can’t solve you can switch the difficulty to easy and the game will help you along, after all Zero Escape is most concerned with making you interact with the other characters and unravel its story. The most interesting thing about the game though, is the hugely diverse branching story paths.

As you progress the game lets you jump into any section of any branch and continue down any path, this is the point of the game. As you come to the end of one path and encounter a game over or something blocking your path, you have to explore the other options in the game to find out the truth behind the whole situation. Through some strange way, Sigma and another character are partly aware of their ability to hop through these different options or ‘realities’, as they see different options they’ve picked or know things that they shouldn’t.

There are 24 different endings in total, and each branch brings different events and puzzles that help piece together the overall plot. Although some dialogue sequences are repeated the game gives you an intuitive skip system that lets you skim over 20 minutes of dialogue in just a few, and also stops the skip if you encounter a new piece of dialogue. It makes truly believable characters, and you have to spend hours trying to figure out their true motivations and feelings. The game also builds the story around your decisions and the order in which you play the branches. It’s packed full of betrayals and conspiracies, and huge plot twists happen at exactly the right moments making the surprise and tension even greater.

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As you go on, you become even more interested in each character and the great writing adds to everything. Even with a story packed full of; suspense, psychology, and quantum physics, Zero Escape still manages to be surprisingly humorous.

Touch controls work well for the game, and never got in the way of my experience, and the soundtrack while not fantastic definitely does its job of adding to the tension. Voice acting is overall fairly good with a few rough spots, but for the most part the voice actors just add to their respective characters. Graphics wise it’s a decent looking game, but nothing that will blow you away. Although each characters design is pretty intricate and unique.

Zero Escape took me utterly by surprise, as a game that entirely pulled me in. The fascinating story and wonderful characters kept me driving forward to find out the whole story, even as I felt regret and indecision for each decision that I made. As a sequel to 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors Zero Escape more than lives up to the legacy. It’s a game that will keep you playing and interested the whole time through, and ends up never being too tedious or frustrating.

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Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is the biggest surprise for me this year, and has ended up being one of my absolute favorite games. It kept me interested and challenged, and I couldn’t wait to see each piece of the puzzle get unraveled. Zero Escape functions wonderfully as an interactive novel experience. Admittedly it won’t be for everyone, but anyone interested in an intense interactive story should make sure not to pass it up, it’s a wonderfully unique game and a truly fascinating experience.

Review Score:[starreview tpl=16] Zero Escape Box Art

Title : Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Reviewed On : PlayStation Vita
Also Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Developer : Chunsoft/Aksys Games
Publisher : Aksys Games
Release Date : 10/23/2012

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

*Aksys Games provided Slimgamer.com with a promo code for a review copy.