If you're reading this then you've probably played 999 Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the prequel in this series of visual novel games by Aksys Games. If you haven't, then I highly recommend you do so before playing Zero Escape Virtue's Last Reward for the Playstation Vita. Even though all major plot points of 999 are reviewed at the beginning, the full experience can't really be achieved without playing both games. You wouldn't read the third Twilight book without reading the first 2 would you? With that in mind, I would expect most readers of this review to have played 999 and therefore I won't go into great detail on premise since it's largely unchanged from its predecessor. The basic idea is somewhat like the Saw series of movies. Nine strangers are abducted, and forced to solve puzzles to escape their environment and earn their freedom.
The good folks at Aksys Games really made it a point to address many of the complaints gamers had with 999, and none more so than the use of 2D graphics. In 999, the only thing differentiating the characters from one scene to the next were slight changes in their appearance. In Virtue's Last Reward, the characters are rendered in full 3D. Although there isn't really a lot of movement from the characters within their environments, they do change position when speaking and have distinct changes in body language from one mood to the next. Speaking of the environment, it's really the only thing that is moving in this great game and when it does, it's smooth as silk. Overall, I would rate the graphics at 9 out of 10. They are just so perfectly suited to the nature and tone of the game and you truly feel as someone would feel in the presented situation.
Another complaint from 999, was the large amount of reading required. Although in a visual novel type game that's to be expected, I also couldn't help but wonder what the characters would sound like if they actually spoke. Well, wonder no more as Virtue's Last Reward features voice acting for all but the main character, Sigma. I actually prefer it this way, as it always annoyed me in other games when the main character's voice actor just didn't match the character or the dialog as performed didn't fit the situation. This isn't just some last second, tacked on feature either, as the voice acting is very good. One really neat feature with the voice acting is the ability to hear it in Japanese with English subtitles. It's definitely something different for a game released in the western world.
The soundtrack, much like the voice acting, really is spot on. Although a lot of the songs are similar, there are enough differences to appropriately fit each one to it's given situation and they all achieve the desired emotion. I would rate the sound at 8 out of 10, as I would have preferred to hear a little more variety in the soundtrack.
Virtues Last Reward is a visual novel game. As such, gameplay is not very interactive and definitely not for everyone. You will spend almost all of your time reading through/listening to dialogue. Escape sections on the other hand, require the player to solve a puzzle in order to escape from a room they're trapped in. I much preferred the "gameplay" in these sections to the novel portions, but you can't have one without the other.
In 999 there were six different endings. To see each one, the player had to start the game over from the beginning and do everything again, but in different ways. This lead to a lot of tedious sessions of holding down a button to scroll through dialogue you had already read 2 or 3 or 5 times. This problem is remedied very well in Virtue's Last Reward with the ability to instantly jump from one part of the story to another. If you plan on going after all 24 endings in Virtue's Last Reward, then you will quickly see how important this feature is and the vast amount of time it will save you. I would rate the gameplay at 9 out of 10, mainly because I just don't think any game is perfect in this department.
Overall, I would rate this game a 9 out of 10. It's not perfect in any sense, but it's as close as you can get in almost every sense. I'm glad I didn't miss this one and you will be too. Happy gaming!