First things first, don't play VLR without playing 999. I don't care if you hate Visual Novels, it's absolutely necessary if you want to understand a lot of VLR.
With that aside, Virtue's Last Reward might be my Game of the Year. It has some fantastic elements, but also some slight errors. You won't have to travel through time to find out what these are though, as I'll start out by saying them, then going into in-depth of the various game elements.
The first major issue of Virtue's Last Reward is that it has very little replayability. This is expected with a story-based game, so nobody really expects to replay VLR multiple times. If you ever do want to replay VLR, be prepared to wait a while. Similar to a good book or game, eventually you'll forget enough of the plot to warrant a replay.
Another issue is that the game has bugs. These bugs are usually not-encountered, but if you do encounter it get ready for anger. On both the 3ds and Vita versions of the game *3ds appears to have the bug more often*, if you save in an escape segment there is a chance the game will crash and your save file will be corrupt. You could potentially lose 20+ hours of progress, and that's not fun. This should have been patched before localization, but it was not.
Now that those are out of the way, let's look at the archetypal categories in video games: Music, Graphics, Plot, and Gameplay
The music in Virtue's Last Reward is fantastic. While many of the songs are remixes or direct copies of songs from 999, it isn't hurt because of it. The songs that VLR do add easily match the fear of the original, as well as the feels of Morphogenetic Sorrow. It's easier to hear rather than say, so here's one of my favorite songs in the game. (Warning, possible spoilers in comments!)
The music fits in perfectly with the game, and there are a ton of songs. Each escape room has its own song, and with the addition of greats from 999 that are not on the game's official soundtrack, the list is pretty long.
For what they are, Virtue's Last Reward has good graphics. Each escape room, environment, and character is different from the last. From the claustrophobic Q room, to the correctly named recreation room, every room feels like it has a purpose beyond what is seen. The character designs are quite good as well, with each character standing out on their own. Unlike 999, 3d models now replace the fixed emotions of the characters during novel segments, but you will see these animations repeat throughout the game.
You can't talk about the Zero Escape series without talking about plot. Everything in the game is connected in some-way or another, and the plot evolves so strongly from the initial impressions you won't be able to put the game down until every ending has been found. Speaking of endings, there are twenty four of them. Each ending is entirely unique and many reveal more about the plot, back-stories of the characters, or throw in more plot twists than one can handle. The biggest complaint about the plot is that the game doesn't conclude it. Sigma's story may end, but a third game is set up in the last hour of the game. The writing in the game is phenomenal, and you will laugh in many scenes.
Virtue's Last reward is the Metroid of visual novels. This may seem like a strange thing to read, but It's easy to understand in concept.
The paradigm in most metroid games is as follows:
Walk Around and find places you cannot go, and places you can go. By going to the available places, you find items that allow you to go where you previously couldn't.
This is heavily placed in Virtue's Last Reward, except you can remove all the backtracking. Through the use of the flowchart, the player can skip to any decision or any scene in the entire game so that they can change their actions. Many routes have locks on them that say "TO BE CONTINUED" right as something dramatic happens, but you can get past these locks by using information found in other routes. This is heavily incorporated in the plot, but saying more would be a massive spoiler. To prevent people from quitting the game immediately, you can fast forward through any text you have seen.
The game is set up into two sections: Novel and Escape.
Novel sections are your visual novel. Read a lot of text and occasionally make a choice. If you hate reading, you will hate these sections.
Escape sections are akin to those flash "escape the room" games. VLR has *if I'm correct* double the amount of escape rooms than 999, and each room has fantastic puzzles. While some puzzles are a little obtuse, all will leave you satisfied after you finish them. Speaking of finishing puzzles, each room has two main solutions. There's the solution that is obvious and gets you the items needed to leave the room, and then there's a more obtuse solution which will get you a gold file *on hard* or a silver file *on easy*. These files open up archive files which reveal more about the game, many are in fact similar to developer commentary! In escape rooms, you can switch between easy and hard mode. All rooms start out on hard, and if you finish all rooms on hard you unlock a slightly longer final ending. By switching to easy, you will get more hints and your partners will even solve puzzles for you if you continue to fail multiple times. During my play-through, I never switched to easy. In both modes, you can take notes using an in-game note tool and write directly on puzzles, or use the top screen to display a file you have found that might help you with a puzzle.
The controls in the escape sections are good, but sometimes the sliding of the stylus turns the room too fast or isn't registered as accurately as you would want it to *curse you dice puzzles!*.
There is very little pixel-hunting.
Overall, Virtue's Last Reward is one of my favorite games I've ever played. While it is kinda shitty that it ends on a cliffhanger, not much is bad about it.
I give VLR a 99/100.
I rate games on a 100 point basis because it allows for a more in-depth score than the 10 point scale. Totals won't add up, and unless a game is absolutely perfect it cannot earn the 100/100.