9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors - Review

In the sea of Nintendo DS games, it is very rare for you to come across one of them hidden gems. A lot of the lesser known DS games are normally known has shovel ware, and a lot of the time they just aren't worth it. Back when 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors came out not many people really knew what it was. Here was this game called "999" with a box art style that looked like Marvel vs Capcom 2's artwork, and it had anime characters on the front. Just, what is this game? And why is it M rated? Is it just another one of them cheaply made DS games? There's are just some of the questions people might have asked themselves when they first saw this game on the shelf, and chances are they would have just walked away; however in the off chance that they did decide to give it a try, they would then find themselves being sucked into one of the best games the DS has to offer.

The thing about 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999 for short) is that it IS in fact a hidden gem on the DS! While a lot of people may have just pushed it aside, others who actually knew about the game would do whatever they could to get their hands on a copy of it. But, just what is this game? Why did people want it so badly? Well, for anyone who had been following the game's development, that answer is quite clear.
999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is a visual novel developed by Chunsoft, and that alone made it worth it for a lot of people! Although Chunsoft is best known in the west for developing the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, they are also known in Japan for developing some of the greatest visual novels, and for creating some of the best stories (428: In a Blockaded Shibuya being one of them, which later was turned into the anime Canaan). For a Chunsoft visual novel to be released in the US is just about completely unheard of, and it truly is a big deal. Still, what is 999, and is it really all that great? Well...

The Story of 999:

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is in fact a visual novel, and because of that it's story plays a MAJOR role. The game starts up with a 21 year old man named Junpei waking up in a very strange room. There are bunk beds all around him, there's a giant door with a red number 5 painted on it, and really can't remember what has happened to him. At first Junpei simply takes a look around the room to try and see if he can figure out where he is, but soon things take a turn for the worst, and Junpei soon finds himself fighting for his life. As he looks over and notices the round window on the wall, he slowly begins to realize he is on a ship, and one that is about to sink at that. Soon the window cracks, water flows into the room, and Junpei begins to search the room to find a way out. This is when he finally remembers what happened to him.

After returning to his apartment late at night, Junpei noticed that his window was strangely left open. At first he really doesn't think too much of it and simply closes it, but that's when it happened. Junpei turned around only to find a strange person in a black coat, with a gas mask, and a white can spewing smoke at his feet. Soon after Junpei passed out, and woke up a few hours later in the room he now stands in.

Knowing that he didn't have much time to think about what happened to him, Junpei then continues to search the room to find a way out. He really didn't know what he was looking for, but after noticing a card scanner on the wall, he began to slowly work his way through a series of puzzles in hopes of opening that number 5 door. After a few minutes of searching, and puzzle solving, Junpei finally escaped the room, and then made a mad dash down the hall to "safety."

Once Junpei reached the end of the hall, he opened a door, and then found himself in a huge bright room with a large stair case in front of him. This is when he finally came to understand just what was going on. Much to Junpei's surprise, eight other people were coming down the stairs, including Junpei's long lost childhood friend Akane. As Junpei just stands there in shock, and as he wonders why his childhood friend was there, a voice then comes over the loud speakers. The man over the loud speaker goes on to explain that the nine people have been chosen to take part in a little game; the "nonary game."

The rules of the game were simple; everyone has a watch with a number on it, and there are 9 doors. They all have 9 hours to use their watches to open each of these doors, find the number 9 door, and to finally escape; however only 3-5 people can go through a door at a time, and if you break the rules, you die. To open each door, and to make it through each door and live, 3-5 people had to put their hands on a scanner, and if their number's digital roots added up to the door number, they could then enter; however once entering they would also have to find a second scanner to deactivate a bomb which was apparently inside of each person. If the people who went through the door failed to reach the second scanner within 90 seconds, they died.

After hearing the announcement made by the man who called himself "ZERO," the group of 9 people began to discuss their next move. Would they go along with Zero's game, or would they find another way out? None of them really knew quite what to do, but one thing was very clear; if they wanted to make it out alive, they would have to work together.

Since no one really knew how much Zero knew about each of them, each person in the room decided to give themselves a code name to prevent Zero from knowing their true identity; after all Zero could have just kidnapped them all at random. By looking at each of their watches, each person decided to go under a name which would directly relate to their number. The older man with a number 1 watch decided to go by the name Ace, the number 2 blind man chose the name Snake, the young white hair man with a number 3 picked Santa, the young number 4 girl chose Clover, Junpei (who was number 5) kept his name since he already said it out loud, Akane (who was number 6) became June, the number 7 man decided to simply be Seven, the female dancer who was number 8 became Lotus, and the 9th man stayed the 9th man.

Soon after everyone picked their code names, the 9th man pulled a knife on Clover, and forced her to put her hand up against the scanner by the large number 5 door that was in front of them. After forcing another person to put their hand on the scanner, he then scanned his own hand, and stepped through the door while leaving the others behind; however, this was to his own demise. Once the 9th man entered the door, his watch began to beep, and soon after an explosion could be heard. The 9th man had broken the rules of the game, and because of this he was punished.

Now with one man dead, the other 8 people slowly started to realize that Zero truly wasn't joking around. The only way to survive was in fact to play his game, and they had to play it right. So, with that, the remaining people broke up into two teams, placed their hands on the scanners next to the number 5 door, and the number 4 door next to it. Both doors opened, both teams stepped inside their respective doors, and the nonary game officially started.

The Mystery and Endings of 999:

Unlike most games, 999 isn't simply a game you will play from start to finish and never go back to. The game is filled with many different options to pick from, and each of these options will actually take you down a different path in the story. For example at very start of the game, before the game actually starts, you are given the option to pick between entering the number 5 door where the 9th man's corpse could be found, or you could enter the second door with a number 4 on it. Depending on which door you pick, you'll go with different team members, solve different puzzles, and see different parts of the story; however it just doesn't stop there. Not too long after your initial choice, you are presented with another, and another, and another. At each of these choices the paths become split, and because of that you will WANT to keep replaying this game.

999's story is actually filled with mystery, and you will need to see the entire game to unravel it. While at first you may simply be playing to escape the ship and survive, but soon you'll find yourself actually questioning where you are and what you are doing. What IS the nonary game? Why were these characters chosen to be a part of it? What is with this ship? This room, it's just a 1st class cabin right? Or does it actually serve a purpose? This game actually makes you question just about everything, and the more you play it the more you will actually come to understand just what 999 really is. While in one story path you might learn one thing, you might actually learn another fact which is related during another story path, and then you may learn something that ties both of the pieces of story you learned in the other two playthroughs in with the main game's story. Really it's kind of hard to explain, but to sum it up, each story path will offer different pieces to a much larger puzzle, which you will then figure out by the very end of the game.

The entire story of 999, the way it's told, the alternate story paths, and the way it makes you question your actions is just something very unique, and something you don't see with most games today. It's a story that keeps you coming back for more, and it will shock you so many times that you truly will have no idea what to expect. While the game may be going in one direction at first, soon it makes 180 in the opposite direction, and then it does it again! By the end of each story path you will be questioning everything you know, and that's where 999 really shines. If you're confused already, well, welcome to the club!

999 is also a very psychological game as well. Although the mystery of the main game will have you questioning yourself, the game's use of sound and description will start to get to you as well. The music changes to fit the mood of the different scenes, violence, although not actually shown on screen, is graphically detailed, and the creaking of the ship will constantly remind you that you're just hours away from dying. The entire atmosphere of this game will really draw you in, and it helps make it extremely enjoyable.

The Gameplay:

Although 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is in fact a visual novel, which you'll spend most of the time reading, there's also portions of the game called "escapes" where you must solve puzzles to advance. These escapes happen after each numbered door you enter through, and they will test you as a player in MANY different ways.

Escape portions play out like old PC adventure games where you'll have access to a few different rooms, and by clicking on different objects with the stylus you can search them; however it really isn't that simple. During your escape different characters will comment on different objects you search, and sometimes offer you hints on what to do next, but for the most part you have to figure things out on your own.

Even though 999 is rated M due to its violence, and strong language, the puzzles in this game really aren't puzzles most kids will be able to solve. Even if a kid were to get a hold of this one and play it, chances are they would become stuck within the first few minutes. For example early on in the game you have to create a home made bomb to escape a room, but how do you do that? Sure the characters in game will give you hints, but if you really don't think about the tools you have at your disposal, you'll never escape. The nonary game itself is also based around what is known as a "digital root" as well. For anyone who doesn't know, a digital root is what you get when you add numbers together, and then add the second digit to the second to get a final single digit number. For example 4 + 6 + 7 = 18, and 1 + 8 = 9, therefore the digital root of 4, 6, and 7 would be 9. The game also later goes on to use other numbering systems to solve puzzles as well, such as hexadecimal.

999 is one of them rare puzzle games that will test you in many different ways, and also force you to call up a lot of them pointless facts you may have buried in the back of your mind. The puzzles are challenging, yet fun, and the feeling you get from completing them is the best reward possible.

The Good and the Bad:

I am going to just flat out say it; 999 does NOTHING wrong, and it does EVERYTHING right! The game design is flawless, the story is one of the most creative stories you'll find on the DS, the puzzles are great, and it's one of them games that will keep you coming back for more! There's even a special section on the official website to help clear up any unanswered questions! Still, not everyone likes this sort of thing...

The only bad points about this game is that not everyone will like it. If you don't like reading, you don't like visual novels, you hate solving puzzles, and you don't like slow moving games, you should stay far FAR away from this one. It is in fact a visual novel, and there's no voice acting at all. For the most part you will be looking at backgrounds, and you will read about what is going on.

If you like visual novels, or just good stories in general, GET 999 NOW! It's one of them games you don't want to miss out on. The good news is, as of the time of this review (1/4/13) the sequel has already been released, and the original has received a reprint as well (which makes it a lot easier to find)!

Overall, I give 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the Nintendo DS a 10/10.

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