Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Virtue’s Last Reward

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Electronic Theatre ImageRising Star Games have launched Virtue’s Last Reward as their final title of the 2012 calendar, rounding-out a year of great success in both PAL territories and now North America also. It would be hard to suggest that the publisher hasn’t earned this success, wisely positioning themselves to avoid market decline throughout hardware transitions and making shrewd investments in niche titles with an already established audience, and Virtue’s Last Reward is yet more evidence of this remarkable judgement; delivering an experience that you never knew you wanted from your handheld console, but after playing cannot believe you ever went without.

The second part of what was recently confirmed to be a trilogy, gamers need not have any prior knowledge of Virtue’s Last Reward before putting that Game Card in the slot. Telling the tale of Sigma and Phi, and seven other poor souls, theElectronic Theatre Image videogame sees the player trying to escape from a demented bunny by the name of Zero III. Sound odd? Good. Because it is. And just as peculiar as the concept is the delivery, offering a unique and inspiring interactive presentation that quickly establishes its own rules before knocking them back down again.

The action takes part in two separate instances: escape and novel. The escape sequences are essentially elaborate point-n’-click puzzles confined to the area you are in. Everything required to complete the puzzle can be found in the room you stand, and the player must scan the walls, floor and ceiling for interactive scenery and collectable items as well as completing the occasional mini-game puzzle. The typical ‘use item A with feature B to access component C’ rules apply, and sometimes the logic behind the solutions is necessarily abstract. This is mainly due to the interaction with the other characters that appear in Virtue’s Last Reward, which is another significant part of the experience.

From early in the videogame it is established that the true identity of Zero III is one of your fellow captives. The player is left unsure of whom the enemy actually is throughout the experience, destined to second guess every interaction, every dialogue sequence until they make a true assumption, however along the way there’s likely to be plenty of wrong turns. This is a crucial part of the experience, as players must decide who is and who isn’t worthy of their trust, and who will likely betray them should they invest too much confidence.

Despite the fact that a large part of the videogame revolves around mental challenges, Virtue’s Last Reward has been designed to allow all gamers to progress with a little effort, no matter how well they may understand the task in front of them. Along with the two difficulty modes that are available for each room individually (set to ‘hard’ by default but the player can optElectronic Theatre Image for ‘easy’ at any time after entering a new room) the other characters with the player will occasionally throw out advice. Sometimes it’s little more than moaning or filling you in on an idea they’ve had which you already thought of twenty minutes ago, other times it’ll be the last ingredient you needed to skilfully wrap-up the elaborate puzzle laid out in front of you.

The visual quality of Virtue’s Last Reward is striking, making use of the Nintendo 3DS’ graphical capabilities to fill the limited scope of each area with fully polygonal characters and objects. Each of the nine characters is totally unique and believable in their sense of terror, and the clichéd horror atmosphere that runs thick throughout the videogame is complimented well by both the aesthetic design and the soundtrack. Virtue’s Last Reward is as exceptional in style and design as it is in the presentation of its gameplay, and for that it stands out as one of the most unique productions available on the Nintendo 3DS console.

With an exceptionally bizarre premise and arguably stuttered pacing thanks to its two-tier gameplay, Virtue’s Last Reward won’t be for everyone. It’s not a videogame that stands aside New Super Mario Bros. 2 or LEGO The Lord of the Rings as representative of the Nintendo 3DS’ ‘no hassle fun’ image, but it is remarkably high quality entertainment nonetheless. Virtue’s Last Reward is an invention born of a love for videogames as an interactive storytelling medium and its choice of formats is arguably just as baffling as some of its plot twists, but in that it proves its worth as an intentionally obtuse experience.

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