Last Tuesday, I went to bed at around 10:30pm, hoping to get a decent amount of sleep. Maybe I'd wake up early, go for a run before breakfast. You know, try to be a human being.
Then I started Virtue's Last Reward.
By 3am, I was shivering under the covers, jabbing my thumb at my Vita's touchscreen and debating whether to call in sick so I could just spend the next 24 hours reading and piecing together the game's morbid mysteries. It's that kind of game.
Virtue's Last Reward, which you may recognize as the sequel to 2010's wonderful Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, is a Japanese adventure game that's sort of a cross between a horror movie, an Escape the Room game, and a choose-your-own-adventure novel. It's well-written, delightfully addictive, and totally unsettling.
You get to play a dude named Sigma, who wakes up in a locked room and finds himself trapped in a big facility with eight other people. You're all greeted by a demonic AI that looks like a bunny rabbit and told you have to play something called the Nonary Game in order to escape. If you don't play, you die. You know how it is.
To play this Nonary Game, the nine of you are split up, forced to solve puzzles, and then dropped against one another in a version of the Prisoner's Dilemma that asks you to choose whether to betray or ally your partner. The results of your decisions determine the outcome of the game.
If you both ally, you both get two points.
If you ally and your partner betrays, you lose two points and they get three.
If you betray and your partner allies, you get three points and they lose two.
If you both betray, you both get nothing.
You each start with three points. Whoever gets nine first wins, and gets to leave the facility. Whoever goes below 0 loses. And dies.
So as you progress, you'll have to make quite a few decisions, most of which involve choosing whether or not to trust your partner. As you make these decisions, you'll travel down one potential timeline out of quite a few. It's a little... think of it like a big chart—mostly because it's shown to you, in the game, as a big chart. Not unlike Radiant Historia, there are nodes and branches, and every time you're faced with a decision, you'll go down a certain branch. And you can hop between nodes at any time.
In other words, when you're done seeing the outcome of one decision, you can jump right back up and see what would happen if you chose something else. As the game goes on, you notice some strange connections between the different timeline branches that could hint at... well, now we're getting into spoileriffic territory. But to experience the whole story, you'll have to play through just about every possibility.
If you have played 999, you likely had a few complaints. I certainly did. I hated having to solve the same puzzles multiple times, and I absolutely couldn't stand some of the long, over-the-top prose fed to you between scenes. I am happy to report that you don't have to solve the same puzzles multiple times and that the prose is mostly gone, replaced by sharp, witty dialogue (with some solid voice acting!) and a whole lot of rabbit puns. You'll get used to the rabbit puns.
My clock right now says I've been playing for 14 hours, and I'm still not even close to unraveling all of the many intricate mysteries wound around Virtue's Last Reward. I am intentionally not talking about any of these mysteries. You should discover them for yourself. Just don't start playing if you want to get some sleep.
If you've got a Vita, you can check out the demo for Virtue's Last Reward right now. It'll be out on both Vita and 3DS this Tuesday.