The Virtual Novel: 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward

20130422_splashofinspiration_999After steamrolling through Japanese Anime, Manga, Movies, Dramas, and Music, it was only time before I discovered the joys of the “Visual Novel.” This sub-sect of the “text-based game” has attracted legions of fans, though Visual Novels remain on the “cult” and niche end of the gaming spectrum, at least in the United States.  My first exposure to Visual Novels was through my friend, (who actually was the one who led me to K-pop) who showed me her recent (at the time) DS Gaming obsession:  “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors,” otherwise known as 999, created by Spike Chunsoft (in the U.S. it’s distributed by Aksys Games.)

Needless to say, I got hooked pretty rapidly. The game play is unique, but not too technical, consisting of puzzles that the player must solve to escape “rooms.” (This style of gameplay is great for both novices and experienced players.) The visuals are classic 2D, but are nice enough to fit the style of the game and are appealing to look at. Most importantly, the storyline is killer. It’s really, really, good. I mean, Really good, to the point I would recommend it to people just for the story. The story is really the advantage to Visual Novels in general, because they have the ability to take “choose your own path” stories to next level, where consequences of your actions are important and intricate, and non-linear storytelling is normal and easy to navigate through. 999 is especially apt at the branched and intertwined storyline, where different pathways that are seemingly independent are actually dependent on each other.  I don’t want to give too much away in terms of plot structure because it’s kind of a huge spoiler, so I’ll stop there.

Summary for 999:

The basic premise of 999 is that the main character, Junpei, is trapped on a large (and rather fancy) ship with 8 other people. They all were abducted by a mysterious person named Zero, and were locked into numbered cabins on the ship. These cabin numbers correspond to the numbers that are on the watches that all of the victims wear. After all the victims have congregated, Zero comes on the overhead speakers and reveals to the nine abductees the “purpose” of their presence. They are to play the “Nonary Game,” which basically means that they have to find the “9” door to in order to escape the ship.  The watches serve as keys to enter various numbered doors (1-8), which lead to rooms that you escape from, which in turn will lead other numbered doors, and eventually to the illusive “9” door.  The catch however, is that there are one, many rules to how the watches can open doors, and two, there is a time limit of 9 hours before the entire ship sinks.  Little do the players know, there is a lot more going on than just surviving a sinking ship, if that’s not danger enough.

ZeroEscape_VLR

The sequel to 999 (part 2 of the “Zero Escape Series”) is called Virtue’s Last Reward, or VLR. VLR has very similar gameplay to the original, but has 3D graphics (due to release on 3DS and PS Vita.)  There are two characters from the original that are in the sequel,with one of the two actually being one of the original nine players from 999.

The similarities mostly end there, since the protagonist is completely different, the Nonary Game has changed drastically, and the plot and mystery of the story go in a new direction all together.  This change isn’t bad though, as the new story is just as engaging as the old one.  It’s important to note though, the sequel and its predecessor are only connected to each other faintly in terms of direct storyline, despite it actually being a true continuation, or sequel, of the previous installment. Confused yet? Well, you’ll just have to play the game to find out what I mean.

Summary for VLR:

The protagonist, Sigma, finds himself trapped in an elevator with another girl named Phi at the start of the game.  Neither have any idea as to how they got there in the first place and how to get out. You, as Sigma, have to escape this elevator through a series of puzzles. Once Sigma (you) has escaped, he meets the other characters that are trapped in a warehouse full of elevators. Zero the III (who is analagous to the first “Zero”) greets them on a screen (he’s virtual, and a rabbit) and informs them about how they’re going to be playing the “Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition.”  This version of the “Nonary Game” is very different from the previous version, because you are not trying to find the Number 9 Door, which is actually very blatantly present 10 feet from everyone, but trying to gain access to the number nine door.  Access to this door comes in the form of BP (or “Bracelet Points,”) which are displayed on the watches that all players wear. Each player starts out with 3 BP. To gain enough BP (9 points are required to escape) the players go through a series of “Chromatic Doors” to find puzzles, which they solve (very much like 999,) and receive a card to play the “Ambidex Game.” The Ambidex game is the source for earning BP.  Players are pitted against each other in a “Prisoner’s Dilemma” type game, by which they earn or lose a particular number of BP depending on the results. Though getting 9 BP is important to escape, you also need to maintain positive BP in order to stay alive.

This would actually be pretty boring if there wasn’t any other plot besides going through chromatic doors and earning points.  The real reason to play the game is to try to figure out why everyone is in this warehouse and what’s actually going on in the world outside, because it’s not as obvious as you’d suspect.

You don’t necessarily need to play the first game in order to enjoy and understand the second game, but having  knowledge of the first game will definitely enhance your understanding of underlying plot, such as relationships between characters, and other various allusions. There’s definitely some sci-fi elements, a ton of mystery, and intense plot lines, so if that’s your kind of thing, totally check this game out. I highly recommend it.

To help convince you further, here’s the trailer for 999 and the OVA for Virtue’s Last Reward.

[Just FYI, the game is rated Mature (17+) for language, some violence, and fanservice type stuff, but it’s not too distracting that I would stop playing.]

(Aksys Games, Spike Chunsoft)

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