Review: 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (Nintendo DS)
Test your wits and your will to survive in this awesome visual novel.
Visual Novels need more love. Popular in Japan for years, they have a range of topics, though over here in the West, either you’ve never heard of them, or think they’re just another form of crazy tentacle porn (yea, I’ve heard that before). While there are some that are really more for adults (avert thine virgin eyes!), there are plenty more to choose from that will appeal to your inner horror buff, romantic side, or comedian (among other genres!).
Aksys Games decided that more folks needed to be exposed to this genre and brought this lil’ gem over from Japan. Let’s check out 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors!
999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
Genre: Visual Novel, Puzzle
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Nintendo DS
Original Release Date: November 16, 2010
ESRB Rating: M 17+
Reason for Rating: Blood, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
Nine people awaken to find themselves on an ocean liner with no idea of how they got there. To top it off, they each have a metal bracelet on with a number from one to nine on it. Their captive, a mysterious figure called Zero, tells them that they’ve been chosen to play the Nonary Game. The objective is simple: they must make their way through several numbered doors, solve the puzzles on the other side of those doors to advance, until they find the exit: a door marked with the number 9. If they can’t find the exit in 9 hours, the ocean liner will sink with all of them in it. Sounds simple, yea?
Well, there are rules to this. And failure to play by those rules will cost you dearly. Like getting blown up by the small bomb you swallowed while unconscious.
Who the hell is this Zero? Why kidnap these people? And why have them play this sick game? As mild-manner college student Junpei, you have to make your way through this tangled web, find out the truth, and get the hell out of there!
The Presentation Is To Die For
Some of you might be scratching your head, thinking that the character designs look familiar. Well, that’s the work of artist Kinu Nishimura, who has done work for a lot of Capcom fighters, like the Capcom vs SNK series, as well as Agatsuma Entertainment and Atlus’ recent title, Code of Princess. I rather like the character designs; every character has a look that’s just as unique as their personalities. The backgrounds are very detail and are beautiful to look at (since that’s what you’ll be staring at most of the time, it’s a good thing!).
The music tracks in the game are few, but good; ranging from creepy to sappy to highly intense. They do a great job of conveying the mood in the scene and (along with the excellent writing), will leave you feeling freaked out, happy, or any other range of emotion the story writers wanted you to feel.
Solve the Puzzles, or Die Trying
For those not familiar with Visual Novels, they’re the same as those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from back in the day: You read the through the story, and at several points you’re asked to make a choice as to what to do next, which will then affect the course of the story.
999 is divided into two parts. In Story Mode, you read through the story, just as you would a good book. As it progresses, you’ll start to piece together certain points about why you’re there, and about the history of your companions. You’ll also be asked at key points to make a choice as to what to say or do, and these may or may not have an effect on which ending you get.
Perhaps the most important choice you’ll have to make is to determine which of the numbered doors you want to go through. Only groups of three to five people can go through a door, so your choices on who can come with you are limited. Worse yet, you won’t always be able to go through with your favourite characters, but it’s a necessary evil in order to advance.
Once your group goes through a numbered door, the game switches to Escape Mode, where you must explore the area, solve the puzzles, and find the key that will unlock that room’s exit. You have to search the room for items that will help you escape, almost Hidden Object-style. At times, you’ll have to combine two items to get something new that will help you out.
The puzzles range from logic puzzles, to swapping tiles… and a hell of a lot of math. If you get stuck, it’ll help to look for clues, but if you restart a puzzle enough times, your buddies will chime in and give you a big clue as to what to do.
… I love this game. There’s no other way for me to say it. The story is very compelling, and will have you clicking through wondering what the hell’s gonna happen next. I rarely have the energy to stay up late playing games (try as I might), but here I was, at 3 in the morning, staring at my tiny DS screens silently screaming expletives because I reached the big “WTF” twist to the story (and it’s a doozy… and it’s delicious). Not to mention all the other nights where I was silently screaming at the screen in the wee hours of the morning at other twists and reveals! The text is very descriptive, and beautifully illustrates scenes of everything around you. The ambient sounds also add to the atmosphere: the creaking of old wood, the visceral sounds of bodily fluid (yea, I went there). This game isn’t always pretty, despite being pretty.
The characters are all very interesting, and it’s fun trying to figure out what their stories are and why they were chosen to be part of the game. They may fall into the typical archetypes, but, as the saying goes, there’s more than meets the eye. The puzzles are just as varied as the rooms your venture in, and some of them will really rack your brain trying to figure it out.
As fun as this is, there is something that needs to be pointed out.
There’s only one save file. That means you can’t experiment with different choices in the same playthrough; much like the characters in the game, you can only keep marching forward ’til you reach the end. So your choices are even more super-duper important, as you won’t get a do-over unless you start over from the very beginning. Also, if you’re not too big of a fan of puzzle games (or if you hate reading), then maybe this might not be the game for you.
Take A Gamble And Replay!
There’s plenty of reasons for going back. Like six of them.
Like other Visual Novels, 999 has several different endings: three bad ones, a “normal” ending, and the “true ending” (there’s another one, referred to as the “dummy ending”, but that gets unlocked once you get the true ending). So the only way for you to get the full story and know everybody’s background is to play the game several times and get each of the endings.
When you start the game over from the beginning, your choices from previous playthroughs are greyed out, so you won’t have to try to remember what you chose last time. Also, the game is about five-six hours long each time, and you can scroll through the text faster after the first time around.
On the Title Screen you can choose to play through puzzle rooms you’ve cleared, so you don’t waste a lot of time scratching your head in your actual playthrough.
Escape Your Boredom! Buy This Game!
Even though it came out a while ago, I’m giving 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors my stamp of Best Game I’ve Played In 2012. No, I’m not kidding. This game kicks ass.
If you’re not sure, you can check out the demo that you can play on your browser here (need to pass that age gate first!), but you honestly can’t go wrong with this game. Go play it on your Nintendo DS or 3DS. Like right now.
Near perfection. This game has some nitpicks, but very, very solid nontheless
Keep Going Forward!
+ Engrossing story and compelling characters
+ Six different endings to see
+ Puzzles are great
I’m Running Out of Time!
– Only one save file
– Might take a pass if you don’t like puzzle games (or reading a large amount of text)
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