While the Nintendo DS has a handful of visual novel games in Japanese, not many make their way to western shores. 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours is one of the few translated titles that use the DS’ features to deliver a game that isn’t about touching 3D rendered girls with a stylus. It also has an intricate story.
Okay, I’ll confess: this is more of an adventure game with story sections, but in light of the recent Japanese release of a pure visual novel version, I’m taking a look at this game this fortnight. 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours (or simply 999) is the first in what is now called the Zero Escape series where a handful of characters are forced to solve mostly math-based puzzles as part of the ‘Nonary Game’. As death looms over everyone’s heads in 999, protagonist Junpei must keep his calm and focus on escaping a sinking ship in less than nine hours.
There isn’t much to explain in regards to the set-up; the Nonary Game has a set of rules and you play along with these rules or else you risk death. The story develops as you solve puzzles and find small clues that link together the seemingly unconnected group of people. By the end, a number of scientific theories and historical events combine to reveal a story of greed, human experimentation, hope and a very subtle but extreme adoration of the number 9.
There are six ends in all with one ‘true end’ that answers questions raised by the other routes. At times, particular story points can seem like they’re really pushing belief, but I can almost assure you at the end of the game you’ll flip your DS upside down and scream “well played” as you simultaneously think back to find all the small hints over the course of the story.
This game is very much character-based and although every character has a seemingly obvious ‘type’, there’s more than that. And of course there should be – you must band together with various characters to save Junpei’s life – but finding out small details as you interact with various objects is quite fun. Despite the ever-present threats of death, there’s humour to be found in pretty much every puzzle room and is a welcome break from the more serious events that occur outside of these rooms.
On the puzzle side of things, 999 can be either average or something of a block between reading more story. Everyone has a suspicious level of general knowledge, allowing you to realise cards and keys are marked with the alchemical symbols of the planetary metals, and also that certain math puzzles are in hexadecimal code. For players who need a little push to understand the mysteries of a room, this can be a great help. For others, it can seem a little tiresome, especially when calculator or safe puzzles are explained every single time you attempt them. The puzzles as a whole can range from trivial to only slightly difficult, so most of the appeal is in character interaction and anecdotes.
If you played through 999 and enjoyed it a lot, Virtue’s Last Reward (for the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita) is an indirect sequel and brings a number of improvements to the series. You can skip to the end of a room puzzle as well as use a plot-relevant mechanic where you can jump to different branching paths of the story. Somewhat unfortunately, you must play through fourteen different endings in order to piece together enough to reach the true ending while 999 only requires you to clear one prior to playing the true end. I recommend it quite a bit if you enjoyed 999’s particular way of storytelling. Conversely, if you played Virtue’s Last Reward and want to know where certain characters come from, 999 is still a great play.
If you like puzzle-based adventure games with a healthy dose of plot and intrigue, 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours is pretty much all you could ask for. While the puzzles are somewhat trivial, the game more than makes up for it with an intricate plot woven with interesting characters, both of which are revealed gradually as you play.
9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours is available on Amazon for $19.92, PlayAsia for $34.90 and Aksys Games’ store for $19.99. While the game was a US-only release, there is no region protection on the cart and PAL region Nintendo DS systems are free to play it. The pure visual novel version of 999 for iOS is slated for an English release as early as September this year.
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