Sometimes, games which seem destined to be nothing more than niche releases end up finding a fan base and becoming a cult classic. That is the case with 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a mysterious visual novel from Chunsoft that Aksys Games translated into English and brought to DS owners in North America. Soon, the publisher will present the follow-up—Zero Hour: Virtue’s Last Reward, a game which promises to give fans even more of what they loved while also mixing in new elements and surprises.
Eric L. Patterson (News Editor): 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors ended up being a sort of cult hit here in the West, and now Chunsoft has a follow-up / spritiual successor of sorts in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. Before we even get to the game itself, games like this are why I still love Japan, even though so many people seem to be down on the country’s gaming efforts. It’s a concept that I feel could only come from that region of developers.
Kat Bailey (Contributing Editor): You mean the fact that it’s Saw with anime stylings? Just kidding, I think that Zero Escape is looking pretty sweet as well. The basic concept is literally Game Theory 101. You are separated from your cohorts, and you are given a chioce between betraying them or cooperating with them. If you betray while they cooperate, you’ll get three points. If you both cooperate, then you’ll get one point. And if you both betray one another, you’ll no points at all. From that foundation, Chunsoft has built what seems like another interesting visual novel.
Eric: It sort of reminds me of another Japanese visual novel, one that hasn’t hit over here: Steins;Gate. They’re games based off of these concepts that can hold a huge amount of complexity, and the developers just love gushing out what could be considered “science porn”. Your joke isn’t too far off—the concept is very Saw—but done in a uniquely Japanese way. Inside of each character is a bomb that could go off, so you’re presented that situation of working together or screwing another character over. We saw a pretty large flowchart of how decisions can branch the storyline, but do you think that level of options was enough? Can a visual novel provie a great sense of this idea through that amount of decisions, or would Zero Escape be served better as a more open-ended and dynamically-changing game?
Kat: Well, I will say that I like the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ approach to the storytelling. Reps from Aksys told us that it will have around 20 different endings; and while many of them end with the main character dying, there are plenty of interesting conclusions out there. Really, Zero Escape is what it is, and I’m just glad that a strong-looking Japanese visual novel has a strong backer in Aksys. Anyone who enjoyed Hotel Dusk—or even Phoenix Wright—will probably really enjoy Zero Escape.
Eric: I think that’s one of the reason I’m so into this heavily Japanese genre of games: I was a huge fan of “adventure” books like your example Choose Your Own Adventure as a child. Sure, reading seems like such a foreign concept in videogaming these days, but it can be totally enjoyable when you’ve got a story that’s worth reading. Zero Escape won’t just be those aspects, however—the game will be loaded with puzzles, some of which take advantage of the unique hardware properties of the Vita and 3DS.
Kat: Yeah, that’s the main improvement offered by the 3DS (999 was on the Nintendo DS). The accelerometer can be used to solve certain code puzzles. And, of course, the visuals are a bit of a step up from 999 (albeit, a relatively small step). It’s not a huge improvement, to be honest, but I’m glad to see Chunsoft embracing the Nintendo 3DS. Definitely gives me hope that Japanese visual novel games will continue to have a strong presence on Nintendo’s handhelds going forward.
Eric: I like the fact that Zero Escape is going to be on two platforms—giving it more exposure to players—and I’m curious to see if there are any unique little difference for each version specific to its platform. One of the points that most surprised me for Zero Escape over 999, however, was the total switch from 2D to 3D in terms of generating locations. I wasn’t sure I liked that change as first, because my brain refuses to think about visual novels as being anything but 2D-crafted. And yet, I do think the 3D locations here will provide for deeper and more creative puzzles. We saw a few examples of looking at things from different angles and perspectives—nothing that I’ll spoil here—so I think Zero Escape will be able to do even more than 999 was able to accomplish. Still—it feels a little wrong to me! Or am I just weird for having this stereotype that all visual novels must be in 2D?
Kat: At some point, every genre has to take a step forward, right? I don’t mind that Zero Escape is in 3D. If anything, it kind of gives me a Shin Megami Tensei vibe; it’s a little like an RPG, in other words, but without the combat. For people who enjoy the puzzles and the dialogue of an RPG, that ought to be just swell. It’s good to see that Chunsoft isn’t so narrow-minded as to be refuse to jump over to 3D. it gives me hope that there are more small steps (or great leaps) to come.
Eric: Fine, call me stubbornly old-fashioned then. I’ve come to realize that my desire for progression in gaming, and my fear of too much change, make me a total hypocrit. But at least I’m a self-admitted one!