999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (Nintendo DS) Review

By Joshua Callum Jeffery 10.10.2012

Review for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS

With Rising Star Games' recent announcement that they would be bringing the highly anticipated Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward to Europe's shores this November, many European 3DS owners may be left wondering why exactly they should be hyped. Look no further, though, as Cubed3 delves into the original title in the series with the US import of Chunsoft's 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

What probably sounds like a gimmicky title strangely obsessed with the number '9' leads many to enter the game with no real expectations; the visual novel is after all still an emerging genre amongst western audiences with no real comparisons to draw from besides perhaps Capcom's Ace Attorney series. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is an almost entirely text-driven game, as one would expect from the genre. As with many visual novels, the crutch of the game is based around the decisions made from the perspective of the unfortunate protagonist, Junpei, who awakens at the beginning of the game to find himself on a ship slowly filling up with water.

A few panicked puzzles later and he discovers he's been flung against his will into an extremely sadistic game called the 'Nonary Game' in which himself and eight other unfortunate 'victims' try to escape this sinking ship with no instruction other than those of their captor, someone who calls themselves Zero. Throwing in a couple of non-removable bomb detonator wristbands, the bombs of which will cause a character to implode if failure is met, really puts on the pressure and excitement right from the beginning. Not all the characters seem at all up for this either with the introduction of some who are little older than kids, understandably white as ghosts at the realisation that there are bombs inside them after having been mysteriously abducted. However, they have no choice but to proceed in the increasingly morbid and sickening puzzles and riddles dotted around the ship as they search for a door with the number '9' on it.

Screenshot for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS

This is merely the introduction; it's from here on out that the structure of the game starts to become apparent. It seems like almost everywhere on the ship is locked, and in order to proceed the characters must team up, making use of their assigned number to add up to the digits on the door they wish to enter. From the get go the characters are split up and Junpei has the 'honour' of deciding for himself what door he wants to take, and, in fact, the lucky guy mysteriously has this power of choice for the majority of the adventure. There are, supposedly and non-surprisingly, 9 numbered doors dotted around the ship, each with a series of puzzles and clues inside, and further exploration of the ship sometimes means the groups of characters must decide whether it's in their best interests to trust or not to trust, to help or hinder the others. After all, they are in danger of drowning or exploding, their moral clocks quickly becoming unstable and the player will be witness to a fair share of breakdowns and unexpected character actions as progress is made in whichever order has been chosen to navigate through these doors.

Whereas many visual novels are linear, the choices made throughout 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors very much influence the game's outcome, and depending on which order of doors are gone through, there will be the treat of one out of six different endings, though it's highly recommended to get each and every one to fully enjoy and soak up every piece of the plot's puzzle in order to make it a truly satisfying experience. Of course, spoiling what door nets which ending, or even how shocking any particular ending may be, would be tantamount to ruining the whole journey, but it must be stressed that they are all definitely important. Don't worry, though, while the first play-through might feel like it is quite lengthy indeed, the second play-through and onwards will allow for the skipping of text already read, slowing down just as players happen across a line of writing not viewed before; no matter how minor, not one tiny piece of information will be missed, nor will boredom creep in from going over previously read text repeatedly.

Screenshot for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS

The puzzles are mostly (though not all) basically mathematical and they vary from relatively simple to occasionally frustrating, and it is here that the game's first, and probably only, real flaw can be found. While the puzzles are never horrible, they are rarely particularly amazing or thoroughly fun, merely proving to be an aside to the game's story, and while most video games have a story as an assist to the core gameplay it's more the other way around here; the puzzles certainly do their job at moving the plot forward at a steady but not effortless pace. These puzzles will also be easier during succeeding play cycles as a rough idea of the solution will already be in mind. Each numbered door nets very different results in the story and even in the third or fourth play-through players may find themselves shocked by what new plot element or revelation is discovered.

That will be all that is covered in terms of the plot, as it would be wrong to spoil matters as, of course, the plot is the true centre of the game, and oh what a tale it is! More often than not you will be hard-pressed to find a story in a game that is impressive, let alone as remarkable or widely acclaimed as 999's; there are twists and turns at almost every twisted corridor of the ship's interior. The game's plot employs brilliantly clever usage of real and fantasy theories and events alike, some previously totally unrelated, to create an even greater sense of mystery about what really is, (or isn't), going on with this Nonary Game. This splendidly woven mix of reality and fiction will likely make some players want to get out there and research what is real and what isn't out of pure curiosity just as this reviewer did, and, better yet, the writing is never too difficult to understand, while being intriguing at every step.

Screenshot for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS

The game's writing and dialogue is top-notch, expressing perfectly each character's quirks and insecurities. The notable aspects of each area or event feel like they jump out, shouting for immediate attention when in reality it's all very subtle and expertly crafted, rarely doing anything that seems too over-focused and rarely is there a feeling that the little nagging feeling or curiosity inside is going to be totally ignored; no plot holes here folks! Some of the writing is also horrifyingly detailed and vivid and never fails to strike fear, anxiousness or dread into the player regardless of how much, or how little, is displayed visually. One specific scene that sticks in the mind describes in detail one unfortunate soul's entrails, right down to their colour, stench, and even the pattern they made across the wall they were so gracefully splattered upon. There is no accompanying graphical image for this, but the text alone is enough to make a lasting impression on even those who think they are used to gory games. Additionally, if not a fan of gore in general, don't let that turn you off; the characters certainly aren't either and they will quickly help to get minds off of the subject.

Obviously, while the game has its moments of suspenseful silence, it certainly didn't forget to have a soundtrack. The consistently atmospheric music only helps the heart to beat at an appropriate pace for each puzzle or scene. It's not all grim, either, with some (surprisingly) truly funny scenes along the way, as well as some on the more heart-warming, or heartbreaking, side, and, of course, a healthy abundance of scenes that make something suddenly click in the brain as the mind says 'Oh!'

Screenshot for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

Rated 10 out of 10

With Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward out across Europe on 16th November, there has never been a better time to invest in what is frankly an unsung gem of video game storytelling. While a final score of '9' may have been more appropriate considering the game's theme, such a score for 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors would have been an injustice! If readers have ever been fans of reading or even playing games like Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick or Professor Layton, then 999 is certainly not to be missed -- an absolute must play. Even those who don't enjoy reading in general will likely be utterly hooked on the rich and exciting plot. Though the game was never officially released in Europe it can currently be nabbed for an absolute bargain on Amazon UK. What are you waiting for?

Also known as

Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date None   


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