Why do I know? …Why do I know these things? ….Where am I?
A young man wakes up in a strange room with no memory of having gotten there… Suddenly the room begins to fill with WATER?! It’s a race against time for Junpei and the eight other passengers aboard the Gigantic, sister vessel of the RMS Titanic, as they compete in a game of life and death!
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors or 999 released in Japan as Kyokugen Dasshutsu 9-Jikan 9-Nin 9 no Tobira is a 2009 Nintendo DS single-player adventure, puzzle visual novel developed by Chunsoft. The game was published by Spike in Japan and Aksys in North America. After the release of sequel game Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, 999 was re-released as Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.
At the start of the game, Junpei, a college student is drugged and abducted from his home, he awakes some unspecified time later in the cabin of a ship. Confused and a little disoriented Junpei begins tries to make sense of his surroundings, his only clue is a strange digital watch on his wrist displaying the number “5”. But before he can the cabin begins filling with water and Junpei must race against the clock to escape the room and get to the bottom of his strange situation. Once free of the room, Junpei encounters the eight strangers who all recount similar experiences of being drugged and kidnapped.
Soon a person who introduces themselves as Zero makes an announcement over the loudspeakers. The person claims that Junpei and the other eight individuals are participants in a life or death game known only as the Nonary Game. Each person has been fitted with a special watch/bracelet with a number 1-9, the players are expected to use their bracelets to enter through doors marked 1-9 and solve the puzzles within them before the end of their nine hour time limit is up. If they fail to reach their goal in the allotted time, the ship they are on will sink with everyone trapped on board. Zero then explains the rules, which 1) forbid any person to enter any door alone and 2) forbid tampering with the watches or door locks. Breaking these rules will cause tiny explosives inserted into each player’s stomach to detonate. Follow along with Junpei, form alliances, and solve puzzles and help him uncover the truth behind the Nonary game. But, be careful one misstep can mean game over for Junpei as the player’s choices can unlock several different endings and outcomes.
The gameplay is typical of a visual novel, the player controls Junpei as he moves around various rooms and settings looking for clues, solving puzzles, and interacts with other characters. The game features two main segments: Novel segments and Escape segments.
Novel segments are played like traditional visual novels. During these segments Junpei can interact with the other Nonary Game participants and probe them for information about their pasts or the game itself. Most interactions follow a linear path, serving only to move the storyline along. From time to time the player will be asked to make a decision which ultimately effects the outcome of the game, such as which Numbered door to enter or which group Junpei should join. Then there are the 16 separate Escape segments, which are triggered when the player enters one of the numbered doorways. During these segments Junpei will have to interact with items in a specific room or rooms in order to solve various puzzles in order to escape rooms marked by numbered doorways. The player typically uses the touch screen to manipulate found objects and solve puzzles. Most puzzles range from object manipulation to math puzzles to word games.
Each choice determines which of six endings the player will achieve, most of which are bad/death endings. Each ending presents a small portion of the overall plot, in order to uncover all of the secrets of the game, the player must achieve the True End. You cannot get the True ending on the first try, players must achieve a specific ‘normal’ ending before the True ending is unlocked.
Finally, after completing the first run through of the game, the player can unlock two new features for use during subsequent playthroughs: Begin with Memories and Memories of the Escape. The Begin with Memories feature allows the player to go into a new playthrough with all the knowledge gained through all previous playthroughs of the game. While the Memory of the Escape feature shows players how to solve all previously completed puzzles.
On the surface, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors seems like an Escape-the-Room game masquerading as a visual novel adventure game, but it’s so much more than that. This game has a little of everything, from mystery and suspense to science-fiction and drama, and it all blends together to tell a very interesting story. No detail is too small, everything matters from the off-hand remarks that the players make about their personal lives to the puzzles themselves. Nothing in the game should be taken at face value, every item and every piece of information has multiple layers that are integral to solving the mystery of the Nonary Game. Everything has a purpose and it is up to the player to uncover a little more of the mystery through multiple playthroughs of the game. Once you achieve the True Ending the replay value goes down significantly, so I suggest saving that ending for last.
The characters were well developed and each person played a unique role in the overall narrative of the game. Junpei is your typical protagonist; average intelligence, optimistic (but not too optimistic), and an all around good guy. Despite having his own established personality and motivations, Junpei serves as a proxy for the player, so most of his reactions are grounded in reality. I found myself relating to him more than I would have expected, his reactions were my reactions, his questions my own. However, no matter how much I liked Junpei, my favorite character in the game is Santa hands down! Junpei is the proxy of the player during the initial playthrough, but Santa…Santa is the proxy for all subsequent playthroughs. At that point you already know how the game works and you are just over all of the trivial crap, Santa is the embodiment of that. He says and does what he wants because he can, and I love that about his characterization.
Overall I really enjoyed this game, since the stakes are so high at the beginning of the game, at first it can seems like everything is being thrown at you at once. But, the longer you play the further you are drawn into the mystery and suspense that is the Nonary Game. Telepathy, espers, mummies, and puzzles, Kotaro Uchikoshi did an excellent job stringing so many different theories and concepts together to create a truly wonderful game. The graphics are great and the character sprites are very detailed and pleasing to the eye. The music did a great job of conveying the suspense and mystery of the Nonary Game without being too overbearing or intrusive. The puzzles ranged from simple number games to complex scavenger hunts, offering an enjoyable and challenging time for players of all ages and skill levels. While I enjoyed the puzzles, they aren’t timed which kind of takes away from the sense of urgency, of the Escape segments. Finally, the translation while different from the original Japanese version was well done, the changes they made to the dialogue helped make the overall plot of the game enjoyable for a western audience, but I will admit that some of the dialogue can come off a little cheesy. I highly recommend this game for fans of traditional adventure games and fans of puzzle solving, mystery games. The twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat, while the big reveal of the True Ending will leave you satisfied! So my final rating is…
4.5 Nonary Bracelets out of 5
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