[A feature where I gush about the game Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors because I can.]
I won’t be doing a review for critically acclaimed game 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The game was, after all, critically acclaimed. Instead I’m going to explore both its narrative and its gameplay to understand what exactly about it made it such a compelling title on the Nintendo DS. If you’re willing to follow me back into the Nonary Game then hit the jump.
Our protagonist Junpei wakes up to find himself on a cruise ship of sorts and a strange watch locked onto his wrist with the number 5 on its screen. After some ‘puzzling’ situations he meets up with 8 other individuals (including his childhood friend Akane), each with the strange watch and each assigned a number from one to nine. After an ‘explosive’ revelation the objective of their situation was made clear. Escape alive before the ship is sunk.
Now that we’re done with formalities I should probably ask those who have not played the game yet to leave for I will no longer remain quiet of its many spoilers and twists. The game is about twenty five dollars on Amazon so you should just go and pick that up right away.
Okay let’s begin then shall we?
999 stands out for both its compelling narrative and creative use of the system to tell its story. The story itself was by far one of the more interesting I have encountered in videogames combining elements of the popular Saw franchise with a parallel/alternate universe, and an anime bent.
The way the game manipulated the player into playing the game several times to serve as both a way to play the game and as a way that serves the story was a great way to, as tvtropes puts it, paint the fourth wall around the player.
What is it that is taken from each playthrough and each subsequent bad end? The player learns from previous playthroughs and avoids similar mistakes while retaining solutions to the puzzles already encountered. Framing the necessity of multiple playthroughs in the context of the story is a clever nod to the existence of multiple endings. The debate over multiple timelines or alternate universes are common but personally I believe the game makes it so that there isn’t really multiple endings. One could even consider the game completely linear and that whole game is comprised of a beginning, a bad end, starting over, until one reaches the true end.
When it is revealed that Akane is the one seeing the events of the Nonary game nine years in the future through the Morphogenetic field hit me hard. What was surprising though is that it felt completely natural with all the information that was given to you each path and in fact is another way the game completely got inside the players head. Just as how Junpei knew the password to the coffin because of his experience in alternate universes, the game plants the same information into the players head through their subsequent playthroughs.
Of course some unexplained details and plot holes arise if one considers the timeline of the entire game and the creator seems content to just brush those inconsistencies under the rug. In his defense the story survives fairly well under the gauntlet of multiple universes and time paradoxes so kudos to them.
The characters also deserve considerable attention. All of them are brimming with life and save some eccentric character designs, all have a grounded human personality that’s easy to relate to. The villain is completely monstrous but does such a good job at convincing you otherwise that it is indeed surprising when Ace becomes a complete monster. At the same time the actions of the other characters are worrisome enough that after the first bad end, paranoia on who the true villain is prevails the decision of which door to choose next.
To be honest this is one big love letter to the game. The final sudoku puzzle with young Akane’s frightened face reflected as you race to save her is a moment that will be with me forever. It is a
well written story that really sticks with you. The characters are all brimming with life and frankly the game works so well as a story that it could remove most of its puzzle elements and still be worth the asking price. Of course the devilishly clever puzzles is added fun for those who enjoy exercising their brains a bit.
On the surface the game was a text adventure for the Nintendo DS. The system paved the way for such a genre with the earlier and highly successful Phoenix Wright series. Text adventure games are always tricky as they are essentially novels that smack you around a bit before letting you proceed to the rest of the story but 999 is a game all visual novels should aspire to.