999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Morphogenetic visual novel
Score 7  Clock score of 7
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For the last few years, I’ve been attempting to answer the question “would I keep playing?” after finishing the first hour of a video game. It is kind of a loaded question, as I’m trying to answer for just myself, but also consider the millions of readers out there who might be wondering the same thing. I enjoy genres many people don’t, and I also have wildly varying opinions on a lot of games, so if I’m on the fence, I’ll generally give the game in question the thumbs up. In the end, the wording is important: I would keep playing if I had the time and energy to do so, but chances are I’m still chugging through Dragon Age: Origins.

After a half-hour with the Nintendo DS game 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, I was emphatically done (we sometimes give portable games just the 30 minute treatment with the assumption that being a portable game, they might get things rolling quicker). It was a bizarre experience, to say the least. But then its fans started to comment. Commenters arrive in many forms, sometimes they’re offended that I seemingly insulted their game as if it was their mother, but sometimes they come as defenders of justice. 999 fans appeared as the latter.

So I gave the game another shot, replayed the beginning and on from there. I beat 999 three times in total to achieve the true ending, and in the end, I enjoyed my experience. My final score for the game was hard to pin down, so pay more attention to the text than the number.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel... game. This means you will be reading a lot of text, and periodically poking at the screen to do something else. I’ve actually played a lot of these types of games on the Nintendo DS, including five Ace Attorney games and Hotel Dusk, so I have nothing against the genre itself, it’s more how well it is executed. Something about the Ace Attorney games struck a chord with me, but Hotel Dusk was just downright painful. 999 started off badly so I dismissed it (that is my job here), but I was told it got better, and it did, weirdly.

The opening of the game is actually one of the more action-heavy sequences in 999, but we don’t play these types of games for the action. To qualify as a good visual novel, it has to have a well written story with interesting characters, and Nine Hours has that in spades. In retrospect, I think my problem with the opening was that it was so monologue heavy, all the text was just the main character talking to himself. A few minutes past the 30 minute mark and I will have been introduced to the rest of the cast, who are far more entertaining than our hero Junpei.

999 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors CharactersThe basic premise is that nine people have been placed on a ship that will sink in nine hours unless they manage to navigate and solve nine puzzle rooms in teams. But if it were as simple as that, this wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a game. The nine people are also equipped with special watches labeled one through nine that force them to split up, double-cross, and possibly even kill each other to escape. Couple that with the fact that some of the nine characters have shady histories and you have yourself an entertaining read.

999’s story is so well written, paced, and translated, that I can imagine it on any other medium including television and film. The characters become properly fleshed out throughout the game and provide hours of intriguing conversations about everything from the Titanic to mysterious chemical compounds that could be used for cyrogenic freezing. The plot manages to tie all these seemingly loose ends together at the end into one of the most bizarre finishes I’ve ever seen in... anything. I couldn’t describe it if I tried.

The catch is, you can’t actually see the true ending until you’ve beaten the game at least one time previously, and you have to beat it along certain paths. The first time I played it, I just picked a path at mostly random, and when my character was stabbed and I was wondering why and how the credits were rolling already, I jumped online to see what was up. I then beat the game a second time to unlock the path to the true ending, and finally conquered it one more time to see that ending.

Amazingly, the game manages to tie in these multiple playthroughs into the actual plot without being meta. Still shaking my head a bit at how 999 managed to pull all this off. One of the bonuses of replaying is that you can fast-forward through text you’ve already seen, but there will be plenty of painful times where you know you should be able to fast-forward but can’t do to you being in a slightly different scenario. A bonus to flat-out skip scenes would have been nice, as one to two hours of in-game conversation still turns out to be at least 10 minutes of fast-forwarding at times.

999 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors Ship CabinWhat you can’t skip, however, are the puzzles. While they’re generally pretty simple, the adventure game-type puzzles can be decently fun. Many of them are heavily math based, but an in-game calculator simplifies some of the more challenging questions. In most of the puzzles, you’ll be collecting a few items, sometimes combining them together, but mostly just wracking your brain about hexadecimals and digital roots. The puzzle locations are all pretty generic, but the constant feedback from your companions keeps things interesting. There is thankfully no pixel hunting in 999.

The ratio between conversation and puzzles is about 5:1, so contrary to what some other reviewers have said, I don’t think gamers who just like solving puzzles are going to be very satisfied with 999. There is a TON of talking between brain teasers and I was never even close to being stumped by any of the challenges. I suppose the story turns out to be pretty dang convoluted in the end though, so that might be of interest to those who like psychological, metaphysical, scientific tales of near death experiences.

Who would I recommend this game to? People who like to read and are patient enough to play through the game at least twice. The other endings are pretty dissatisfying and basically a giant kick in the pants to go and find the true outcome. The puzzles are simpler than I would have liked, but the characters, setting, and plot are all superb. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a game unlike any other.

Overall: 7