Q&A – Aksys Talks 999

999
While far from perfect, the infinitely looping adventure of a prinny through the Disgaea universe this year planted the idea in my head that I might enjoy what the visual novel genre has to offer. Mind you, it’s still a mostly foreign concept to me, and prior to NISA’s stab at the genre I would have to fall back on PSP Metal Gear Solid comics as a poor substitution toward an idea of what a graphical text adventure is all about – which doesn’t really help at all.

A far better taste of the genre is coming later this year courtesy of Aksys Games though, with the localization of Chunsoft’s DS title 999 (9 Hours, 9 People, 9 Doors) – in which nine characters work to escape a cruise ship they are trapped aboard, not unlike a horror film, but of course with a tad more reading involved.

Lucky for me and my curiosity that Aksys had time to talk a bit about the title, which you can catch for yourself after the break.

Gamesugar: So I know that Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel as far as genre labels go, but in my limited experience with visual novels I’ve already found a lot of deviations in what that might mean for players and was hoping you might add a few more descriptors to the game.

999

Aksys Games: It’s also, in some ways, an adventure game in the vein of Monkey Island, or The Dig, or any of those old Lucasarts puzzle/adventure games. It’s somewhat more linear, but you’re still given a fair amount of choice. The game is sort of split into two “parts”, the puzzle or “Escape” part, and the “Novel” part. During the Escape part, you’re trapped in a room (or a couple of rooms), and need to solve a number of puzzles in order to unlock the door and move to the next area. During an Escape, you can talk to the other characters, who will offer you hints on what you should probably do next or where you might want to look for clues.

Once you’ve solved a puzzle and gotten out of the room, the game switches to the “Novel” part, which is the real meat of the “Visual Novel” game-type. You can also trigger short conversations during an Escape by doing certain things, or talking to certain people, and your choices during the Escapes and the Novel sections influence which ending you’ll get.

GS: What can players expect from the puzzle side of the game?

AG: Puzzles.

Every puzzle in every room is different. They require a wide range of knowledge, from math skills, to logic, to spatial thinking. Players will actually need to think about each and every puzzle, instead of simply memorizing a pattern.

999

GS: What’s the balance like between talking with characters, puzzle-solving, and I even hear that items can be combined?

AG: Puzzle-solving and the novel sections are about equal, and more Escapes require combining items than don’t.

GS: Is there a different approach or set of challenges to localizing a title where narrative is the driving concern of the game?

AG: 999 has a number of story-lines and plot elements that aren’t revealed all at once. It’s important to understand the entirety of each storyline while localizing, and to know when certain information is supposed to be exposed, and what each character knows and doesn’t know at any given time. There are a lot of mysteries in 999, and it was important to make sure that the right things were kept secret until the right moment, which can be difficult seeing as the text is not always translated and edited in chronological order.

999 also had a larger number of Japanese puns and Japanese-language-specific puzzles and references than many of the other games we’ve done. Since these make absolutely no sense when translated directly, we had to come up with new (English) puns and jokes, and figure out how to deal with certain uniquely Japanese ideas and constructions. Localizing these to something that makes sense in English was important to preserving the tone and content of the game, but presented a unique challenge.

GS: When I asked Aksys about Deathsmiles earlier this year, it was suggested that this could be the year of the shmup, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t looking like that’s come true already. However Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors represents the relatively untapped field of visual novels coming to North America, and I wanted to ask if you see a lot of room for that genre to grow and gain a following here?

999

AG: There is a market for visual novels–there’s a market for anything–but this particular genre presents an unique challenge for the US market. We don’t really have a precedent for this sort of game (Americans usually expect a little game-play form their games) and so it can be a difficult sell outside of the niche market that really wants them. As our record shows, we’re not afraid to dive into the niche market a little (Exhibit A: Cho Aniki), but at a certain point it becomes an issue of cost versus reward.

Visual novels represent a great deal of work for a localization company, simply because of the sheer amount of text that must be translated, edited, and proofread. The cost to do so is easily justified if the game sells well, but the market for visual novels is–currently at least–very small, and the localization of one becomes something of a dubious proposition.

We’ve made inroads in this genre before–i.e., Jake Hunter–so we do have some interest in it, but as with any untested market, the performance of this title and similar ones will largely dictate whether this is a genre we will pursue. We believe there is room for visual novels to gain a foothold in the United States, if consumers can become accustomed to the idea, but if that will happen remains to be seen.

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  • EdEN

    Thanks for the interview Jamie. They’re doing a great job and you can tell them I’ll get the game as close to release as possible AND new.

    Any news on pre-order items or extras for the game? An artbook would do wonders. A soundtrack works too. Heck, both for $34.99?

  • Sheilajoynson

    I have played 999 on the DS, and loved it, till I found door number 9, after many hours of hard work and good game play. After finding door 9, something horrible happened, before anyone even got off the ship, and the words BAD END came up. I realize now that there are 6 different possible endings according to how you play, but surely I don’t have to begin again at the very beginning and star all over again??? if I try Memories of escape, there are only a few rooms available to play and once out of the room it ends, and does not continue, its back to the menu. Please tell me that I do not have to start from the beginning and play the game all over again to get a different ending. Please, someone out there,

    Sheila

    • http://www.gamesugar.net Jamie Love

      alright, I won’t tell you that – but you’ll notice even more with a second full playthrough!