Game Review

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Zach Kaplan

Fine, fine, fine

You wake up in a cabin on a ship, clueless as to how you arrived. You soon remember a mysterious figure in a gas mask and an odd odour filling your apartment. Before you have time to put the pieces together, the window cracks and water begins to flood the small space. Either you find a way out of the locked room, or you drown. This is the beginning of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

Things really pick up, however, when you meet with the other eight passengers and learn of Zero, your kidnapper. You're all to play the Nonary Game – clad with numbered wristbands, you must only enter the Numbered Doors spread throughout the vessel in teams of three to five, your digital roots adding up to the gateway's requisite digit. For example, bracelets 5, 4 and 2 translate to 5 + 4 + 2, which comes out to 11; add the numerals in the tens and ones place and you've got 1 + 1 = 2. Therefore, as your character wears a watch marked with a 5, you could go through Numbered Door 2 with the bearers of bracelets 4 and 2. It sounds complicated, but it soon becomes second nature. It also sets you up to face the many math-based problems you'll face throughout, most of which sound frightfully complex but are, in fact, a lot more easy to grasp and entertaining than they seem. We thus commend the development team for accomplishing what so many have tried for decades: it's made maths fun.

But this is much more than a numbers game. 999 fits into that rarely utilised genre of the interactive novel, so come ready to read. It wouldn't work if the story weren't interesting, and here it delivers in spades. In fact, the entire experience is so captivating and addictive that you really ought to check your schedule before picking it up, because until you see every ending and learn every secret, this game will dominate your spare time.

It's a story that encompasses philosophical quandaries, science fiction, bloody murder and mystery, as well as the general paranoia and mind games that come with not knowing who you can trust, the identity of your captor or why you and your companions were chosen. It's funny, exciting, sad, touching and even a bit frightening at times. And we've got to give major props to a title that fits in references to Kurt Vonnegut, The Dark Knight and the 1989 Legend of Zelda cartoon series.

But what makes 999 so enthralling more than anything else is its cast of characters. With impressively and realistically written dialog and emotions and personalities that seem true and honest, you will love getting to know this bunch and watching as they interact with one another. Rarely slipping into cliché, each could pass for a real person – though we expect that Lotus would have some serious back problems, given her gargantuan breasts. But even she isn't just a walking pair of mammary glands; like all characters, she's deeply developed, fleshed out and unique from everyone else. ChunSoft and Aksys clearly understand the importance of a compelling ensemble, and that's exactly what you'll find here.

This makes the dialogue sections a joy, but we wish we could say the same of the prose in between. It comes in a generally dull third-person that fails to find an interesting voice or style, proceeding at a slow rhythm and too often employing out-of-place or clichéd metaphors and similes. "Silence drifted over everything like a blanket of fresh snow," the game says at one point, ignoring the connotations of freshness, snow and blankets. Another section reads, "June followed Junpei as he threw open the door. They turned around, and saw that the door on the other side was open as well. Through the door was another person, his mouth agape. It was Santa." However, despite the wording, there's little surprising about Santa's presence – yes, there's a character named Santa, but it makes sense – and all in all it takes far too long from point A to point B, and with far too many instances of the word "door." Of course, it's not all like this, and at times it manages an interesting image or a touch of wit. All in all it won't ruin your experience, but in a game that's so narrative-heavy, more gripping prose could go a long way.

There's also the problem that sometimes what you're reading is already apparent on the top screen, or explains something you've already surmised for yourself. There's no way to speed through it unless you've completed that portion in a previous play-through, and though it's by no means sluggish, it definitely upsets the rhythm that you can't read faster than the game allows. This is especially true of puzzle instructions – reading these over and over when you have to back out to check a clue is especially frustrating, but that's only true of a few puzzles. One of these is the first you'll face, however, but try not to let that hold you back as it's a setback that, while quite obnoxious, shows up pretty rarely.

Between story sections, you'll find yourself escaping from various rooms largely by way of unconventional maths problems, logic puzzles and inventory-based adventure game-esque situations – find the screwdriver to open the picture frame to get the key, for instance. It's a good balance that feels satisfying overall, though every once in a while the puzzles are overly simple. It also helps that the more you fail, the more hints your companions will provide through their own conjectures.

999 is a game that you will complete multiple times, not simply to see every possible conclusion but because for each — save the final one — more questions and clues rise to the surface and remain unanswered. In fact, you'll have to play through at least twice to see the "true" ending. And while it's possible to play through just two times and see the lion's share only once, it's far more likely that you'll go through the same areas again and again, especially as the choices you make often have no seemingly right or wrong answer, instead having you take a chance on a certain door. You'll thus encounter the same areas you've been through before, and while you can just hold Right to skip the text, puzzles are a different story. It's a shame, then, that none of them change in subsequent ventures, and repeating these can become quite the tedious experience. Another unfortunate drawback is that in a game in which you'll want to mark certain "pages" to return to or share your cart with a friend, there's only one measly save file.

The presentation is awesome. It looks great and features a fantastic soundtrack, and while animations are relatively simple, the artwork stands on its own nonetheless.

Conclusion

999 is stunning. It sports a captivating plot driven by a fantastic cast of characters, a satisfying mix of puzzles and interesting mathematical, scientific and philosophical quandaries to ponder. Unfortunately the third person descriptive prose is generally quite lacking, there's only one save file and while it's practically too compelling not to play through multiple times to see the "true" ending and other variations, as well as learn all the facts of this fascinating mystery, solving the same unchanging escape sections repeatedly can become a bit of a bore. The game more than makes up for its imperfections, however, and in the end, it creates a truly gripping, great experience that you owe it to yourself to try.

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User Comments (38)

JayArr

#1

JayArr said:

I loved this game and its one of my all time favorite DS games. It's a must play, in my opinion, for fans of visual novels. Hopefully you have a strong stomach though because its definitely M for mature.

theblackdragonAdmin

#2

theblackdragon said:

Great review, Zach, but you kinda glossed over the crazy gore that this game features — I might've been able to press through it to completion had it not been for the blood, guts, and abject horror that is on graphic display in 999 (while i don't recall much image-wise, the text descriptions were quite lurid). This game is absolutely, positively not for the faint of heart.

Knux

#3

Knux said:

What? This did not get a 9? :P

Great review though. I personally think that this is one of the best DS games ever made, and it certainly has one of the best stories ever made. Once I picked this up, it was impossible to put down (except for sleeping and eating) until I watched every ending. I rarely find a game so addictive that I cannot put it down these days.

I can't wait for the sequel! :D

zezhyrule

#4

zezhyrule said:

Yeah, I'd've bought this already if it wasn't for tbd describing how gory it was D:

/me 's heart faints

Moorpheel

#6

Moorpheel said:

5+4+1=11?
Is it like that in the game?
Maths aside...
Great review, this game seems very interesting (and I really need a new game with an interesting story), I will totally buy it when I find it along ghost trick and ace attorney in the discount bin at k-mart.

@tbd: haha xD

Ryno

#7

Ryno said:

Dang, I thought you were going to review Herman Cain's 999 tax plan.

shonenjump86

#10

shonenjump86 said:

This is 1 of my favorite DS games. I hear theres a sequel or something related to this is comin to the 3DS and Vita. I hope its true.

Bacon_Gal_Blaze

#11

Bacon_Gal_Blaze said:

I swear if you watch the safe ending either by completing the game or on Youtube, it will make you crcy. Same with the True Ending.

Definitely one of my favourite DS games, sham my first two ending were the Submarine Ending and the bad ending! And then my 3rd was the Safe Ending, and I didn't think it could get worse than the submarine ending. Did scare the crap out of me at certain points though, especially seeing as I'm only 12. Still can't quite make sense of the whole thing though.... Can't wait for the sequel!

Buster13

#12

Buster13 said:

One of the things I really loved about this game was how I kept thinking about it even when I wasn't playing it. For example, after I'd find a bad ending or two, I'd question myself "Well, that was grisly. I wonder how I can prevent THAT from happening again." and then I'd think about what was allowing each character to do and what path could I take that would prevent them from doing it, or allow them to do something else that was beneficial. Thinking like that, I was (eventually) able to reason my way to the good endings.

Zach

#13

Zach said:

Yeah it's certainly easy to get obsessed with this one! It's really hard to put down once you get into it. As for the gore, I figure that anyone who would be turned off would see the M rating and know to exercise caution. It's few and far between, but it's described in quite graphic detail in a kind of Stephen King-esque way. That part I didn't find especially disturbing however - they do a lot more disturbing things here without the help of gore - and I wouldn't let that deter anyone from checking this out. It certainly isn't for the faint of heart, though, that's for sure.

Here's info on the sequel, it's certainly making me more seriously consider getting a Vita...

theblackdragonAdmin

#15

theblackdragon said:

@Zach: No More Heroes was rated M, and I love that series — it does get graphic at times, but it handles it in a much more humorous way. I'm also a huge fan of the Doom series — Doom 3 was amazing and I loved it to bits. I love campy horror, zombie movies and stuff, and i figured 999 would be more crazy out-there stuff, and plus it was getting rave reviews — that's why i shelled out for it.

however, 999 takes the horror and puts it on a much more serious, personal level, I felt. it's more akin to the Saw movies, which I absolutely detest... the fact that grisly deaths in this game are illustrated in such detail even without showing everything visually straight-up turned my stomach. I know it didn't bother you (or most of our userbase, haha), but I also know that there are others lurking out there who may be curious about this title and yet as sensitive about such things as I am, and so I felt it bore mentioning. :3

Zach

#16

Zach said:

@tbd Oh yes, it definitely does bear mentioning! I encourage the feeble-stomached to seriously consider your warning. I'm just giving another take on it as well :)

Kimiko

#17

Kimiko said:

There's going to be a sequel? Ooh, I'll have to check that out. Yet another reason to buy a Vita soon :)

And yes, this game definitely deserves a 9/10 rating. It's kept me playing (trying to figure who is who and what the options are at each point of the story, etc.) for days, in between replays. Not many games keep you playing even after putting down the console.

Supervada

#18

Supervada said:

Be glad they didn't call it 666: Six Hours, Six Persons, Six Doors. That be wrong. evil laugh :P

Samholy

#19

Samholy said:

realistically have boobs that magically stay hard and in shape into so less clothing.

geez another character created by a lonesome geek who never even touched a woman

ueI

#21

ueI said:

The sequel is coming out for 3DS too. Day one purchase for me!

Henmii

#23

Henmii said:

Never gave this game much attention, but after reading this review maybe I have to keep an eye on it!

"though we expect that Lotus would have some serious back problems, given her gargantuan breasts"

Lol!

TTGlider

#24

TTGlider said:

Usually I roll my eyes at commentators on 8-rated reviews that complain the score isn't a 9 or 10. This is not one of those times. For me, based on novelty, art direction, mystery, replay value, and "compelling-ness", this is a 9 for sure! An absolute MUST GET for any DS owner.

Zach

#25

Zach said:

Keep in mind that an 8 is a very high mark on our scale. We still strongly encourage you to pick this one up!

RevolverLink

#26

RevolverLink said:

Easily one of my most favorite games on the DS, or any system for that matter. I can't wait for the 3DS sequel.

MetroidMasher17

#28

MetroidMasher17 said:

Sadly, this is a game that I will likely never get to enjoy. There's something about M games that will always bug me when I'm playing them. It's kind of like watching an R rated movie, you know you can handle everything (beyond handle, but actually enjoy) but you still feel like if you wouldn't let five year old kids play it, you shouldn't either.

It was just the way that I was brought up; it's been hardwired into my way of thinking. What's funny about this way of thinking is that there are some T games who have more blood and gore than M games, but the T rating doesn't bother me. I myself am perplexed by this, but I don't think I will ever be able to overcome that big M in bold type. :(

Buob

#29

Buob said:

Thanks for reviewing! This is my all-time favorite DS game. Also, as uel pointed out, the sequel is coming to 3DS too! Y U NO BELIVE IN 3DS?

Also; MetroidMasher17 - you should try the game out, then decide to play it or not.

I'm glad to see there are many others who like this game as well!

ueI

#30

ueI said:

The official website for this game has a flash demo available. Although it takes some liberties with the story, it's a good indicator of how great the game is.

MetroidMasher17

#31

MetroidMasher17 said:

@Buob True, but I don't want to buy it because I'll be able to re sell it for $5 at the most, and I don't know anyone who does have the game.

Blink

#34

Blink said:

Fantastic game, great writing, it really reminded me of a Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel in places.

Skitrules

#37

Skitrules said:

@tbd is this game a lot like the saw movies because i think those movies are pretty good once you figure out the story is this like that or not?

Kryce

#38

Kryce said:

@Skitrules
well at first you think it is like a saw movie but as you advance in the story you will find it much more complex and addicting , so in short it is better that a saw movie .

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