Congratulations, Junpei! (Not that Junpei.) You’ve won a free trip on a cruise ship. Why does it look so much like the Titanic though? And… why is it sinking? UH OH!!! You better find a way out fast. Are you a bad enough puzzle-solver to get through all those doors in nine hours???
No way, this game takes way more than nine hours to play through!
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors–which I’ll from now on just call 999 for obvious reason (because I am a number MUNCHER)–is a point-and-click adventure game in which you solve puzzles in order to get out of a bunch of locked rooms. Most of the game however plays out like a visual novel, meaning you will be reading lots and lots of text in the form of dialogue from character interactions, as well as Junpei’s many, many, MANY banal observations.
All in all 999 is an all right game to play through. I liked the puzzles well enough, at least. Basically you examine the various parts of a room and all the contraptions and various items lying about, and you figure out what goes where, what doodads you need to combine together, and what numbers to input for the game’s clever little logic puzzles. Some find the puzzles easy; some find them challenging. Your mileage may vary, depending on whether you’re a math major or an English major.
Now, what about the story? This is the whole point of the game to be honest, and it’s what everyone brings up when suggesting 999 to others. This is the first entry for the cult classic franchise Zero Escape after all, and you should’ve seen the look on all the fans’ faces when the third game was finally announced a couple months ago. Basically what I’m getting at is 999 is generally held in very high regard when it comes to video game storytelling.
“Quit beating around the bush, Reset Tears. Give us your damn opinion already.”
Overall I liked it all right. 999 is primarily a mystery story in which you’re trying to figure out why Junpei and eight other people got thrown on a boat and have to solve number-themed puzzles in order to avoid a watery grave. It’s pretty engaging stuff, and the premise works quite nicely for a video game. The nine characters in question, however, aren’t terribly memorable. They have their roles that they fulfill well enough… and perhaps that’s good enough? I feel 999 is more of an idea-driven story anyways, rather than a character-driven one. That said, the character interactions are overall quite straightforward.
And more significantly, most of their interactions are very long-winded. These characters go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about any little thing, and the combined text of Junpei’s observations for each room he visits is even longer than one of Paul or Nathan’s video game reviews! ;P You’re in for a long haul, and for the first playthrough you can’t even speed up the text. You will go to, say, a trash can, Junpei will talk about the trash can, other characters will bring up various points of discussion regarding the trash can, and then you will try interacting with the trash can in some way, which will then lead to–you guessed it–somehow MORE text regarding the trash can.
Also important to note that there are multiple endings for this game, and most of them are bad–in both senses of the word. The doors you choose don’t indicate what sort of ending you will be leading yourself up to, so it’s basically random how the story will conclude, unfortunately (until you go to GameFAQs for a flow chart). But suffice to say you will suddenly find yourself killed quite out of the blue, and in my case I felt ripped off since I never felt like I made a “wrong” choice at any point in order to get the bad endings. The point though is that you need to get the various bad endings in order to unlock the true ending–and while some of the developments that are unique to each playthrough are a bit interesting, it’s still a huge slog to go through so much text, and even have to solve some of the exact same puzzles again each time.
All of this sounds very negative, but there are a few points that do make me want to still suggest this game to everyone:
- This story is intelligent, and clearly intended for an older audience. Almost all of the characters are adults, and they end up having to wrap their minds around some very unique and interesting concepts. There is some smart sci-fi to be had here, and it’s perhaps rare to find an atmosphere this mature in a video game. Altogether 999 is quite refreshing, and I really wish this sort of thing was a bit more common.
- The translation is top-notch. It’s clear Askys put a lot of thought into how they would translate all the puzzles and maintain a strong, serious tone from start to finish.
- The plot twists at the end are amazing. (And by the end, I mean the true end, obviously.) The creative mind behind this game, Kotaro Uchikoshi, is a damn genius. There is one plot twist in particular that completely blew my mind, and it is perhaps the best plot twist I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction. The planning that had to go into all this is wild to just think about.
The journey may be long and slow-paced, but the destination is definitely worth the time it takes to reach there. And, of course, it’s important to play this before jumping into Virtue’s Last Reward (on the 3DS and Vita), which is generally claimed to be an even better installment. This is basically why I got a DS (for 15 bucks), and between this and Ghost Trick I’d say that was a worthwhile little investment. Be sure to pick 999 up if you are interested in unique video game storytelling, and are willing to digest it one toothpick-bite at a time.
(Note: A strictly visual novel version of this game is also available for iPad/iPhone, meaning there are NO PUZZLES in that port. Which is dumb. You might as well just watch a Youtube playthrough instead at that point, am I right?)