Let's recap on the first game's events as briefly as we can. Nine people were gassed and kidnapped by a mysterious and murderous Zero, and forced to play the “Nonary Game” aboard what was essentially the Titanic. Yes, that Titanic. They had to work together (or in some cases, against each other) to escape through the Number 9 door towards freedom, before they drowned. In nine hours. Depending on choices you made (doors to explore, companions to explore the doors with), six endings were available to you, with only one “True Ending.”
VLR is similar to that in many ways. For starters, another nine people are gassed and kidnapped by Zero. Our protagonist in this game is Sigma, a 22-year-old PhD student with a whole repertoire of dirty jokes and sexual innuendo. Along with his companions, he finds himself with a bracelet attached to his wrist which displays a number of “bracelet points.” In front of them, another door marked “9” will lead them to freedom and the outside world. All they have to do, is obtain a total of 9 BP (bracelet points), and they can open the door.
But the door only opens once. After that, “escape is not possible.”
Here's where it gets interesting. The only way to change your BP is to vote in polling rounds separately, where you choose whether or not to “ally” or “betray” your opponent for that round. If you both “ally,” you both gain 2 BP (yay!). If you pick “ally,” and they pick “betray,” you lose 2 BP and your opponent gains 3 BP. If you both “betray,” you neither win nor lose anything, and are forced to acknowledge that you trust no one, and no one trust you.
Oh, and if you ever go down to 0 BP, you die.
It comes down to that simple choice. Will you blindly risk allying with the others, and focus on escape for the whole group, or will you succumb to human selfishness and just worry about yourself? Most people would find that most video games would be trying to promote the former option, the “feel good” option, but VLR isn't a “feel good” kind of game. It's a terrifying, survival horror adventure that shows the best and worst of people when they're pushed to the absolute brink of sanity. Will they crack? Will you?
After a while, you find the game isn't even completely about surviving; it sets you up so that you will make a bad choice, and the you will die. Thanks to the flowchart, however, you can jump to any point in the story and change your decisions to see an alternate timeline with an alternate history. It's through these alternate histories and endings that you learn more about the Nonary Game, Zero, and the people you're trapped with, in order to reach the “True Ending.”
No game review could do justice to the inherent depth of this game, except maybe to stress, that this was an amazingly wonderful game. This is the direction modern gaming should go, towards plot and character development, mysteries, emotions, and difficult decisions. VLR makes you cringe as well as it tugs the heartstrings. It is about the unreliability behind trusting people, and the lack of hope and progress in trusting no one.
VLR is also complete with voice acting in both English and Japanese, which makes its story-heavy gameplay more palatable. There are pros and cons to the 3DS versus Vita versions, most notably that the graphics and controls are more clear on the Vita version. However, the 3DS stylus makes the memo function, and the ability to jot down notes to solve the many puzzles, much easier than the Vita's clumsy touch screen.
The music alternates between only a few tracks, but players will find the music helps to enhance the various moods in the game. It would have been nice to have a more original and complicated score, but it would most likely detract from the overall isolated feel of the game.
Playstation Trophy Support
Published by: Aksys Games
Developed by: Chunsoft
Rated M for Mature: Strong language, violence, and sexual references
Available for PS Vita (reviewed) and Nintendo 3DS