Virtue's Last Reward never quite reaches the intensity of its predecessor but is still a necessary play for fans of 999.
Initially, you are dropped--seemingly literally--into a rather precarious situation. Trapped in an elevator w/ a young woman you don't know, you must escape by solving an obtuse puzzle and opening a safe to retrieve a password which you can then use to escape--a situation you will yourself in dozens of times before game end. After solving this puzzle, you are greeted by an AI controlled virtual rabbit who explains your plight further. You are a game, the Nonary Game, and are trapped in a facility w/ eight other contestants. The game consists of several rounds of puzzles and after each round you have to play a sub-game called the in which you have to chose to trust or betray some other contestants to earn points, which ultimately proves to be something of a life or death decision for everyone involved. This is repeated until a player earns enough points to escape the facility.
Unlike in 999, Virtue's Last Reward makes it very obvious what choices matter. You are even given a flow chart which illustrates from the get-go the various paths you have to take and are actually allowed to jump to any point in the story you wish at any time. While this is more player-friendly than 999 where you had to restart the whole game to get another piece of the story and seemingly inconsequential choices had a huge effect on the outcome, it does cut the tension of the decision making quite a bit. For starters, you can see at times there's no branching story line at that point so what you say in certain conversations doesn't much matters. More so than that though, making it apparent from the start that you are going to have to play through many different branches gives your decisions less weight. You are no longer deciding which branch in the story you are taking, you are deciding which branch you are taking first--and that is a huge difference.
Overall though, Virtue's Last Reward is heady science fiction tale that will appeal to both fans of puzzle games and movies like Primer. The voice acting is for the most part well done, esp. the Japanese version. (The English has a weird, wacky overtone that I find in a lot of English translations of anime--like they don't want to let you forget the fact you are watching something animated even though it's laden w/ violence and sexual humor.) I personally preferred the more straight-out anime styled graphics of 999 but the ones featured here do the job--though on the 3DS version the 3D effect is minimal and never used in any meaningful way. The music consists of many of the same tracks as 999 and really helps provide a similar feeling despite the graphical and sonic differences. This is story that uses it's unique format to build tension upon tension by making gamers relive the same decisions over and over again. It is not completely w/o flaws in its presentation but that is true for any games. Bottom line is if you think you'll like Virtue's Last Reward, you almost certainly will.