The Zero Escape series is pretty fascinating. It’s more or less what would occur if you took Saw and merged it with Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. Psychological horror coupled with existentialist philosophy is always a good strategy for a compelling game. The first game in the series; 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was released near the end of the original Nintendo DS’s initial life cycle, which filled a gap during the period where the premier visual novel series: Phoenix Wright was lying dormant. Visual novels don’t tend to gel in the United States (especially an M-rated one near the end of a portable system’s life cycle), but 999 sold well enough to get a sequel. Virtue’s Last Reward upped the ante both in gameplay scope and story. Since the third game, Zero Time Dilemma, concluded the series, it’s understandable why this collection exists. After all, the original game was released nearly ten years ago on a system that doesn’t exist anymore, so an updated release makes sense.
In this regard the collection succeeds: the 999 re-release is remastered as much as a late 2000’s DS game can be with new graphics and voice acting. The story starts out largely the same with the protagonist: Junpei waking up in a flooding room and needing to escape from what he later finds is a sinking ship with eight other people on board. However, the point and click control scheme is a bit of an awkward fit, especially since all of the gameplay was designed with the DS’ second screen in mind, leading to puzzles taking longer than usual without the second screen’s aid. Where this gets even more problematic is with the storytelling. In the original game, characters’ text was on the top screen while omniscient narration was on the bottom. Without going into why that’s important, the remake almost entirely ejects the narration which changes the very nature of the game. While this is only a first impression and I’ve have yet to see how it entirely unfolds, this could end up making or breaking the remake. So far it’s a bit awkward and seems to be there to justify the voice acting, which is added on top of the sprites that weren’t designed for it. Either way though, as far as an update goes, 999 holds up. More tweaking would have defeated the purpose of a collection and cost more money than Chunsoft would have been willing to spend, so it’s not too much of a surprise that the game has largely remained the same otherwise.
Virtue’s Last Reward fares even worse in this regard. While 999 was given the benefit of an overhaul, Virtue’s Last Reward is basically a graft from the Vita version, not even an attempt at upscaling. The game is actually more compelling than its predecessor 999, with multiple endings that require you to fail over and over again in order to find out the truth. While there are some script rewrites (“dunno” instead of “donno”), the game is largely the same. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s a fantastic game, and for my money it’s the best in the series. However, it’s hobbled by not receiving the same sort of updates that helped 999 look a little more current. It certainly doesn’t hinder the enjoyability of the game, but you’d expect for a remastered version to be, well, remastered.
This collection is fairly good for what it is. You are getting the first two games of a fantastic series for what’s a pretty decent price, all things considered. If you can get past the awkward graft of the second game onto a PS4, you’re in for a good time. While I can’t say the work was perfect in updating these games, the core of these games is still very strong and worth experiencing at least once.
3 Explosive Bracelets out of 5