999/Virtue’s Last Reward
Release Date: December 10, 2009/February 16, 2012
Platform Played On: DS/3DS
2018 Placement: Unranked
What It Is:
So I’m sort of cheating on this one b/c this is technically two games, but it’s my countdown and my rules. There’s only one other time I’m going to do this on the list so it’s not going to happen often. And the reason I’m specifically doing it for this one is because both of these games are visual novel puzzle games that are linked via story. There is a third game in the series but it really, truly, absolutely blows the ending so I can’t really recommend it.
In both 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, you take the protagonist role of a man trapped in a death game: Junpei in 999 and Sigma in VLR. Both games require you to solve puzzles to move forward and figure out the mystery of what the hell is going on. Part of the solution of each game is getting multiple endings, and each game starts playing with timeline shenanigans and making all of the endings canon (surprisingly). You gather more and more info until all the story pieces start coming together and it’s done in a fantastic, gripping way from start to finish in both games.
Why It’s Important To Me:
Both of these games profoundly affected me story-wise. I was so engaged and blown away as each twist was revealed in both games. Virtue’s Last Reward is an absolute master-class in alternate timeline storytelling and gives you just enough weird stuff to keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering what the hell is happening. Both me and my friend played through it and while we’re pretty good at figuring out where stories are headed and what twists are gonna be written, VLR specifically had us both going “WHAT” “WHAT” “HOLY CRAP” several times from the sheer unexpectedness of several developments. 999 isn’t as complex as VLR, but that makes sense because it’s the first of the trilogy of games.
These types of games also live and die by their characters, and let me tell you all the characters in these games are golden. Despite some…questionable clothing decisions for characters like Alice and Lotus, almost all the cast is entertaining as hell and fun to be around. Even the very obvious villain characters are a joy to hate. I love these casts.
My Strongest Memory:
When I played 999, I remember getting into the final stages of the true ending path and just being utterly gripped by how the story ramped up at the end. I can still envision exactly where I was: late at night, sitting on the couch at my grandmother’s house while on vacation there with my parents. And when the finale crescendoed into the final puzzle I was absolutely blown away, fucking shaking and grinning from the final reveal. It even used the DS system in a unique way that couldn’t be replicated (and as such, the replacement puzzle included in the Nonary Games rerelease is utter dogshit).
It was a finale that got me super emotional because the entire game built up the friendship between Junpei and June and the end totally destroyed me. I was so invested in the characters and saving everyone from the death game that the puzzle (even if it was a simpler, straightforward puzzle than 90% of the rest of the game) carried the perfect amount of weight and made me feel like I was truly saving everybody.
Why It’s #71:
These two games are the first on my list that truly sparked an emotional reaction out of me. Not nostalgic emotions from when I played them with friends, but an actual emotional response from the game itself. Both of these games have such a wonderful story with heartfelt relationships between their characters in the midst of Saw-like death games where people get murdered. It’s really a shame the final game was such a wet fart finish to the trilogy, but these two games should absolutely be played together as one entity – and then maybe just imagine your own ending.