I am about to devote a post to giving my high recommendation to two games – one coming out this week, of a genre that I normally abhor.
Fans of DS adventure games like Ace Attorney, Professor Layton, and Hotel Dusk who haven’t yet heard of the Zero Escape brand should definitely take heed of it. Fans of other adventure games like The Walking Dead might also want to at least check them out. 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the DS and its new 3DS and PlayStation Vita sequel Virtue’s Last Reward are almost the only visual novels that I’ve genuinely enjoyed.
I was curious enough to rent 999 from GameFly after stumbling upon IGN’s glowing review of it. About 10 minutes in as I was reading the 20th paragraph of text I realized “Wait a minute! This is a visual novel!” and thought about immediately sending it back. For some reason I decided to give the game a little more time, and around the point the game described with in-text detail a guy’s insides splattered all over a wall after a bomb detonated in his stomach, I had decided to finish the rental copy.
I generally avoid visual novels because, well, they aren’t really video games. They’re basically literature printed onto a game disc. Each title might have a handful of player choices that split the story, or even some puzzles, but you still spend probably at least 75 percent of your “gameplay” time reading text. If I want that I’ll generally, y’know, read a book, not turn on a video game.
That said, 999 ended up gaining my interest because it turned out to actually be a really good book printed onto a game disc.
In terms of subject matter, the Zero Escape games feel similar to a lot of today’s anime and manga tropes but with an uncommon air of maturity. You can tell they didn’t write the story for 13-year-olds and the localization handles that in stride, not afraid of its M rating despite being very sparse in the area of graphics. Simply put, the storylines in these particular games don’t pull any punches.
Someone very aptly described 999 as “Riven: the Sequel to Myst meets SAW.” Nine people are trapped on a boat and have to solve deranged puzzles in order to escape the grizzly death described above. Through this setup 999 weaves a far better mystery thriller than what you get in most video games. It is rare that I care about the characters in games enough to want to see what happens to them, and 999’s bittersweet ending had me reeling for days after I finished it.
From what I’ve read of Virtue’s Last Reward, it apparently takes all that to the next level. 999 had something like half a dozen endings; Virtue’s Last Reward has around two dozen, and is supposedly even darker. The video above is a short prologue to that game.
999 recently got a reprint and is now around $20. If you want to try out Virtue’s Last Reward and own a Vita, the demo is already on the PlayStation Store.