Why People Are Freaking Out Over Zero Escape 3

Why People Are Freaking Out Over Zero Escape 3

In 2012, I wrote that Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward should be Kotaku‘s Game of the Year. Three years later, it’s safe to say that… Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward should have been Kotaku‘s Game of the Year.

I started replaying Virtue’s Last Reward following recent news that Zero Escape 3 is a real thing that’s actually happening, and even though I already know the story, the game’s got me hooked again. The writing; the pacing; the image framing… it’s all incredible, and gripping in a way that few games have achieved to date.

So in the wake of ZE3’s announcement — publisher Aksys says it will be out in Q3 2016 for 3DS and Vita — this feels like a good chance to explain what makes this series resonate with so many people. Let’s get our friend Disembodied Kotaku Voice to help out.

Hi! So what exactly is this ‘Zero Escape’ thing?

It’s a series of visual novels — read: interactive stories — that are best described as sci-fi horror mysteries with crazy philosophical and supernatural twists. There are two games in the series so far: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward (VLR).

Why are they called ‘Zero Escape’?

It’s sort of a play on words: the concept of these games is that you and a group of other people are trapped somewhere with very little chance of getting out. And in both games the main antagonist is a mysterious figure named Zero. As you unravel their stories, you learn who Zero actually is, and you try to learn how to escape.

OK. So let’s start from the beginning. What’s up with 999?

999, originally released on the DS in 2009 (and then later for iOS), tells the story of nine people who are kidnapped, placed on a sinking cruise ship, and forced to play something called the Nonary Game in order to avoid death. I’ll stay vague on the details, because gradually piecing together the plot is part of the charm here, but as you make progress, you’ll have to pick between various doors, each of which will lead you down a different branch of the story.

So it’s non-linear? I thought this was a novel.

It’s both! 999 is indeed a visual novel, and it tells one of the most captivating stories in gaming, but it’s also got multiple endings based on the choices you make. Sort of. Let me put it another way: there are multiple points where the story can end, but there’s only one real ending. In order to see it, you’ll have to play the game multiple times, which means you’ll have to repeat some things.

You have to repeat the same scenes more than once???

Yeah — you can fast forward through text you’ve already seen before, but you’ll have to complete the same puzzles a few times, which is a real problem that’s thankfully fixed in the sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward. If you do play 999 — which I recommend! — my advice would be to do one playthrough totally blind, then finish it by following this spoiler-free flowchart to get the SAFE and then TRUE endings. Repeating a couple of puzzles is a pretty decent tradeoff for the true ending, which I promise will blow your mind.

(Note: I haven’t played the iOS port, but fans say it’s a watered-down version of the game with no puzzles, so play the DS version if you can.)

Can I just skip to Virtue’s Last Reward? Isn’t that the better game?

VLR is definitely better — and it improves upon 999‘s formula in a lot of smart ways — but the two games are inextricably connected. You can play VLR first. You’ll probably love it. But you won’t appreciate the twists and turns nearly as more unless you’re familiar with 999‘s plot and characters, which lead directly into VLR.

How so?

The Nonary Game returns. One of Virtue’s Last Reward‘s main nine characters, Clover, is also a main character in 999. Also many many many other things I won’t spoil because there are few pleasures in gaming like uncovering them yourself.

OK, well what CAN you tell us about Virtue’s Last Reward?

It came out for Vita and 3DS back in 2012. It’s a visual novel, just like 999. It’s the second Zero Escape game. It revolves around game theory — specifically, the prisoner’s dilemma — and it also tells a non-linear story with a single true ending. As you progress, you’ll make various choices. You can then access a giant flowchart that lets you go jump around in time and make those same choices again to see what would happen if you did things differently.

So it’s a time travel game?

Sorta. Again, I’m being purposefully vague so as not to spoil any of the story, but basically, you uncover different bits of information as you progress through different branches of reality, and then you can combine that information to figure out what’s going on. Like any great mystery, it’s harrowing, satisfying, and unbelievably addictive.

That’s vague.

I know. Sorry.

It’s OK. So both games are mysteries and all you do is read and make choices about which doors to enter?

Not quite. You make other choices, too, especially in VLR. Both games also have escape-the-room puzzles that help break up all the dialogue (and add some tension to the plot). They’re sort of microcosms for the main game; you’re trying to escape the Nonary Game by escaping a series of small puzzle rooms. Lots of escaping.

Do you get to escape?

Come on. I’m not telling you what happens. But I will tell you that VLR has some loose ends, and although the conclusion is really satisfying, it doesn’t wrap up everything.

That’s why people are so stoked about Zero Escape 3?

Yeah. Well, what you have to understand there is that Zero Escape 3 almost didn’t happen. In early 2014, series director Kotaro Uchikoshi published a depressing series of tweets in which he said that the game might not happen, which led to a big fan campaign and a whole lot of outcry. All that attention eventually got Uchikoshi a deal, and earlier this year the publisher Aksys started teasing something new, which turned out to be ZE3, as officially revealed in early July.

What’s particularly cool is that neither Virtue’s Last Reward nor ZE3 would have happened without word of mouth here in North America, where the series has become a lot more popular than it ever did in Japan.

OK, I want to check out these games. Where should I start?

Start with 999 on DS, if you can. Play through the first time blindly, then follow the flowchart to get the SAFE and TRUE endings, fast-forwarding text you’ve already seen before.

Even if you can’t get 999, though, definitely play Virtue’s Last Reward on 3DS or Vita. You won’t regret it.


    • “publisher Aksys says it will be out in Q3 2016 for 3DS and Vita ”

      Or do you mean for 999?

        • Can’t see it happening, but it should be possible to pick up a second hand DS for cheap.

          Probably worth it for 999 and Chrono Trigger alone. Or get a New 3DS and you’ll be able to play Xenoblade Chronicles, one of the best JRPGs of the last five console generation…

          (Checks Ebay). You can get a second-hand DS for $30-40, or a new one for about $70, and 999 for $30-40.

          • I already have a New 3DS XL, I’ll just look for 999 on the bay. Thanks for your advice

  • Yah they’re pretty darn rad games… despite 100%ing both though, not sure I’d put either of them at game of the year. Also you have to have a hell of a lot of patience going back over old sections for replays, especially in 999.

  • I don’t know if it was an expectation thing, but I thought Virtues Last Reward was okay, but not excellent. It didn’t help that the English dubbed version wasn’t available here, I had to play it with the sound off, the Japanese grated on me after a while…

      • I just don’t have the inclination to do the region swapping PSN thing to get different versions of things. I didn’t like it enough to get it twice.

          • Dude, I’m not really following your point. I bought the game from the AU PSN when it was newish. This wasn’t the NA version so there was no English at the time i played it (3 odd years ago) without region switching shenanigans. I don’t want to play it again anyhow, but if the new one is available in English here i might give it a bash.

          • In the North American version there is dual audio, so you can choose either English or Japanese.

            In the European/Australian version you only get Japanese audio.

  • OMG, OMG, OMG!
    I love this series and I was devastated when I found out there was no third entry in development.
    The recent announcement that they ARE now working on the third chapter has me really excited.

  • I should probably try and get back into VLR. After getting a little past the first round I lost interest, finding the puzzling fun and interesting but the story and characters somewhat dry and unappealing. It might be one of those things I’ll have to play in small doses but it sounds like maybe it picks up after a bit?

    • Yeah I felt the same. I stuck with it though. Did you get your hands on the English version or original Japanese? I don’t know if English voice acting might have helped the characters’ appeal.

  • Oh man the twists and true ending for Virtue’s Last Reward was so bananas.

    So many nights of lost sleep of “one more puzzle” as I wanted to see where the story is going

  • I’ve seen the special editions (watch and all!) for NA go on sale and sell out already so there’d better be a similar European version soon!

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