December 21, 2010

Review – 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Mister Raroo @ 9:18 am

999 Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors
I recently came to a conclusion: I don’t think I have what it takes to be a survivor. My wife and I were discussing what would happen if a zombie apocalypse actually fell upon mankind, and we both decided we would rather become zombies than deal with the stress of struggling to live on. Neither of us possesses the types of aggressive personalities that would be necessary to cope with the rigors that such a grueling, exhausting existence would bring.

Perhaps the largest and scariest threat of all in any survival scenario comes in the form of other survivors. With zombies, for instance, at least you have an idea of what to expect. They may be relentless, but they all follow similar patterns of behavior. Not so with humans. You never know when your so-called allies might turn on you in order to get a leg up and boost their own chances of living to see another day.

With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that should I find myself in the situation of protagonist Junpei from 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, I probably wouldn’t even make it through the first challenge he faces.

I’m on a Boat.

Junpei mysteriously awakens in an unfamiliar room on a massive ocean liner. He barely has a moment to get his bearings and figure out how he wound up in such a strange place before water comes bursting through a portal window. To make matters worse, Junpei can’t simply waltz over to the door and open it to escape from what would otherwise be a watery grave. Instead, he is required to solve a series of puzzles in order to trigger a mechanism and unlatch the door’s lock. I’d be a goner for sure.

Junpei soon discovers he’s not alone on the ship, as there are eight other individuals who have found themselves in the same situation. It turns out they were all abducted and brought aboard to participate in something called the Nonary Game. Essentially, the “players” must work together to solve puzzles so as to hopefully find an exit and escape within nine hours. Of course, this is easier said than done, and it doesn’t take long before the first loss of life occurs. 999 demonstrates that in any situation where lives are on the line, the most unstable factor is the human one.

999 is the first true “visual novel” I have ever played. Even though the genre has longstanding popularly in Japan and developer Chunsoft has built up a respectable reputation for developing such titles, I have never had the opportunity to play through a visual novel until 999. For those who are as in the dark to visual novels as I was, think of 999 as something akin to an interactive storybook. Most of the game’s narrative unfolds via text, with visual and audio elements acting more to supplement and enhance the experience than drive it. In other words, you’ll spend a lot of time reading.

Eight is Enough.

Yes, I know that in theory that might sound absolutely boring to some people, but in practice 999 is thoroughly engaging. It held my attention to the point that I stayed up into the wee hours of the night just so I could see what happened next. 

Also, every now and then you’ll have a chance to “Choose Your Own Adventure” by making a decision that affects the storyline. Your choices will have a major impact upon the conclusion you reach, but thankfully you can replay 999 with information gained from your previous playthrough.

But don’t worry, people that hate to read, because 999 also has “Escape” segments peppered in at regular intervals that play out similarly to classic point and click adventure games. In each of these scenarios, players will need to solve puzzles in order to find an exit to a room they are trapped in.  These sections remind me a lot of the investigation scenes from the Phoenix Wright series mixed with the creepy exploration elements from the early Resident Evil games.

You’ll search strange locations for unusual items, discover doors with weird insignias above their keyholes, and even push crates around to create a pathway.

I enjoyed each of the Escape scenes, but I have to admit I think they are actually the weakest part of 999. The puzzles are fun to unravel but never seem all that challenging, though I suppose one could argue that making the Escape scenes more difficult would stall the narrative and derail the “novel” part of the experience.

Investigation Time With Mister Junpei.

In fact, the solutions to the game’s puzzles seem more like they are designed to flow along with the rest of the storyline than anything else. I’m glad Chunsoft incorporated the Escape sections since they do an excellent job of balancing the overall experience, but a few times they caused me to become just a little impatient because I wanted the story to move forward.

One of the things that stood out to me as I played through 999 is how perfectly suited the game is for the Nintendo DS. It seems odd to point out that a game makes excellent use of the system’s unique features this far into the DS’s lifespan, yet 999 excels in this respect in a subtle but intelligent way. The game makes great use of the system’s dual screens, for example, with all character dialogue taking place on the top screen and narrative unfolding on the bottom screen. In addition, 999 lends itself well to the portability of the DS. That is, just like a book, 999 can be brought with players anywhere and can be enjoyed in short doses thanks to the ability to save at any point.

Lastly, the Escape segments make nice use of the touch screen interface in a manner that adds to the overall enjoyment. In other words, 999 works very well as a Nintendo DS game.

Dialogue on Top, Narrative on the Bottom.

Some words of advice for anyone planning to dive into 999.

First, use headphones. A special nod goes to the individuals on the development team responsible for the music and sound effects, as they are outstanding and positively add to the mood of the story without being the least bit distracting. Second, take your time and enjoy 999 at your own pace. Too often players race through videogames just so they can say they’ve finished it and move on to another game. 999 is not like that. Savor and enjoy the ambiance. Finally, don’t stop at one playthrough. 999 has a number of endings, and you will notice new plot elements as you venture back through the narrative additional times.

All things considered, I found 999 to be intriguing and inviting, making me wish more publishers were as brave as Aksys by localizing these types of niche games for Western audiences. Aksys should be commended for giving the game such a high degree of love and attention, and hopefully their efforts are not all for naught.

Unfortunately, I know that games such as 999 don’t necessarily light the sales charts ablaze and too often get lost in the shadow of bloated blockbusters, and it will likely fly under the radar of the majority of videogame players. What a shame! 999 not only provides a gripping and rewarding experience, but demonstrates that there is still a great deal of room for creativity and artistic expression when it comes to storytelling via videogames.


Aksys Games

Nintendo DS


Release Date
November 16, 2010

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review


  1. Interesting. This game was only on my radar because of Chunsoft… and because there is supposed to be a little Shiren fan service with the inclusion of a certain item in the game or something. I’ll keep it on my list… also… I’d totally survive (at least for quite awhile…) the zombie apocalypse… I dream about it most of the time… and I kick zombie ass… and we all know that dreams are there to prepare you for real world dangers so you can practice in a safe environment! Woo! *ahem*

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — December 21, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  2. Thanks for the review. As it is I’m done with game purchases for the year so I’ll definitely be buying 999 in January.

    Comment by EdEN — December 21, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

  3. I picked this game up while finishing my holiday shopping. Haven’t gotten that deep into it because of a lack of time/attention but, I’m looking forward to dedicating some free moments to it.

    Comment by Desmond Simmons — December 22, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  4. I”m currently working on my second playthrough now, I absolutely love it!

    Comment by Christina — December 29, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

  5. I just ordered this directly from Aksys, they’re selling it with the special watch while supplies last, for $36.99 shipped… which is only $2 more than Amazon has it listed for. So if anyone wants this game with the special bonus included… I’d hop on it soon!

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — January 12, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

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