Zero Escape: The Nonary Games brings together 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, the first two games in the Zero Escape series, for the first time on PS4 — this is also 999’s first appearance on a Sony platform. 999 remains to be one of the greatest, tense visual novels I’ve ever played and whilst Virtue’s Last Reward isn’t quite as good, it’s still a solid title that’s worth playing.
The Nonary Games refer to the games that the cast participate in which, as you might’ve guessed, isn’t a bundle of fun. Two casts of nine are forced to solve puzzles in exchange for their lives, and both stories intertwine in both plot and characters to form a larger picture. In 999 you have nine hours to get off of a quickly sinking ship, whilst in Virtue’s Last Reward you’re trapped in a warehouse-like facility which is as bleak as it sounds. Unsettling yet engaging, both stories will keep you guessing as you fret over who might be the next casualty and who will make it out alive. You won’t like everyone in the cast but you’re not expected to either, and you’ll be thinking about what their true intentions are — some characters you can’t help but love, though.
Being a pair of visual novels, you’ll be reading a lot of the time with a few puzzles interspersed to shake things up a little. A new feature to the Nonary Games is that you can play in Novel Mode or Adventure Mode. Novel Mode plays more like the original DS version of the game where you get to read every little bit of dialogue including Junpei’s personal thoughts, whilst Adventure Mode only displays spoken dialogue between all characters. Novel Mode is what you’ll want if you want the traditional 999 experience but Adventure Mode is great for replays, and it genuinely looks nicer. Virtue’s Last Reward is almost a direct port of the Vita version, without any notable new bells and whistles.
Puzzles make up for the other half of gameplay where you’ll search rooms for various clues and solve several challenging equations and riddles — having played the games before, I still found them to be a little tricky at times! Despite having a time limit as part of the story, you’re generally allowed to take as much time as you want solving puzzles and searching rooms. Both games are rather lengthy on your first run, although 999 still clocks in around 9 hours or so (hahaha) and Virtue’s Last Reward clocked in around 25 hours or so, making the latter a far longer game. Both are well paced and have a good mix of reading and puzzle solving, although I stand by 999 being superior in both aspects, and it’s amongst the best visual novels that I’ve played.
Virtue’s Last Reward has seen little in the way of visual improvement, whereas 999 has had a major touch-up to adapt it for high-definition systems. Most notably are the 2D portraits which are more dynamic and fluid in movement, and they’re clear and crisp — they sometimes look a little odd when static when it comes to the eyes, but this is easily overlooked. Environments have been touched up too, and 999 is looking it’s very best now. Virtue’s Last Reward uses 3D instead of 2D and it’s environments are much more bland and uninteresting, but the 3D models are nice to look at and character design is brilliant across both games.
999 has the better soundtrack in my opinion, with “Tinderbox” being a memorable tune which I remember from when I played the DS game. Worth mentioning is that both games have English voice-over whereas 999 never did and Virtue’s Last Reward did, but only in North America. Some characters fit better than others, with Junpei’s voice-actor sounding extremely American and sometimes a little forced when compared to the rest of the cast — it’s a solid performance, but maybe he could have been directed better as it veers from great to unnatural quite often. It’s wonderful to be able to play through both the games with English voice-acting though, and it’s one of the greatest selling points in The Nonary Games collection.
If you’ve never played them before then you’re in for a memorable ride with the Zero Escape series, although it’s a shame that the latest and final game, Zero Time Dilemma, didn’t make the jump to PS4 with this collection — you can play the entire series on Vita and PC, but not on PS4 which is a tad irritating, and I hope it arrives at a later date. 999 is the stand out title in the collection with a clever, engaging story which loses it’s way a little towards the end, but overall is an engrossing ride which I was eager to play through again. Virtue’s Last Reward is a solid title but having to play through the same events several times to achieve the true ending became tedious rather quickly, especially as there isn’t anything in the form of an excellent pay off. I’ve enjoyed Zero Escape but I feel that 999 could have wrapped up differently and not needed a sequel, especially as they’ve not been nearly as clever but regardless, all three titles come together to create a suspenseful and gripping trilogy of visual novels. You should definitely consider giving them a go.