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dagiarrat avatar 10:42 PM on 10.27.2013  (server time)
Virtue's Last Reward: Playing an Idiot Savant

Spoiler free!

I don't think too highly of my intelligence. It's probably above average, but I would likely be spending more time developing new technologies or something equally productive and impressive if my intelligence were something truly remarkable. It means something, then, when I say that Sigma—the protagonist of Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward—is a moron.

That Sigma is, in fact, a moron causes a severe disconnect between the two aspects of the game. The puzzles in VLR are, in my opinion, on the easy side, with some challenging moments. They are satisfying to complete, however, and one would expect that, Sigma being the agent of these puzzles' solutions, the boy has at least respectable pattern recognition and problem solving skills. Once the visual novel sections butt in, though, Sigma becomes a blithering idiot who is treated as such by the rest of the cast.

It's difficult to put into words the frustration of playing as a character more stupid than you, especially in a story suffused with mysteries to solve. It is not uncommon for other characters, having come to some salient conclusion about this or that, to turn to Sigma looking for his analysis of the situation. At any other time, Sigma's decisions are your decisions, his epiphanies your epiphanies, but at these moments Sigma shows just how dependent he is on the player's cunning.

Sigma, have you considered that person X might have done thing Y?
Yes, I've suspected person X for a while now.
Ugh, I guess I'll have to explain everything because you're so slow!

Hey, Sigma, did you notice anything weird about that graffiti?
Yes, there was a word that was mispelled.
Pffft, poor dumb stupid idiot Sigma can't see something so obvious.

Hey Sigs! Did you see that power cable?
Yes, shut up.
maybe you can plug it into something that needs power to power it did you think of that maybe?
Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up.

And so on. This isn't just an issue of the characters in the game not giving you a chance to answer (which they don't ever), Sigma really is too thick to see what the player may see quite clearly, as well as completely ignorant of any reference to science or literature that may come up to the point that he's never heard of Schrödinger's cat.

The real head scratcher in all of this is that the first game in the series, 999: Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, didn't suffer from this problem at all. Not only was the protagonist of the first game, Junpei, pretty sharp, many of the tricky or knowledge-based questions posed to Junpei are answered by the player. Characters ask Junpei to piece together evidence, ascertain the meaning of a cryptic image, confirm or deny knowledge of various concepts and much more, and in most cases it's the player who gets to answer. While I didn't appreciate this at the time for what it was, the many non-critical choices made available to the player had the invaluable effect of maintaining a strong connection between Junpei, the character, and Junpei, the player avatar. This made the events of the first game feel more intimate merely by virtue of the fact that Junpei wasn't ignorant of what you knew.

That aside, the game deserves a purchase. Not only is the story still compelling, excellent voice work adds some emotive depth, and the logically designed puzzles are satisfying to figure out on your own. Sigma may gradually wear away at your nerves, but in the short time I've been enjoying the game (only completing one path and a little of another), I've never once missed my $30.

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