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Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Game Shelf: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

So, it's been a while since I've posted a game review. Not because I've been avoiding gaming. Far from from it actually, as I game nearly every day. No, the reason I haven't done one in a while is because, I'm working on so many games simultaneously, which has resulted in me not finishing games in a faster time frame. However, I did finish two games within the last week or so-L.A. Noire (which I will review the next time) and the one I'm writing about here, that being 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

999 is somewhat of a rarity on the Nintendo DS system in that it is an M-rated game. As you DS fans know, games on the popular handheld that are rated Mature are few and far between. Based on the fact that these games are so rare, I figured that it would probably be worth a look. I picked it up from Game Stop a few months ago, as I'm a fan of point-and-click puzzle/adventure games (other examples include the Ace Attorney series and the highly underrated Hotel Dusk: Room 215), which is exactly what this one is. Generally, this style of game on the DS is pretty good as the system works very well with the game style. Although I would love to see these types of games on consoles more, the DS still has a great library of titles in the genre (with the 3DS also looking at a good lineup over the next year. I picked a 3DS up a couple weeks ago, BTW, and aside from the lousy launch titles available, the system is pretty damn cool), so I'm happy.

Anyway, on with the review. 999 is the story of nine strangers seemingly chosen at random in order to play a Saw-inspired game of life and death. Each of the nine participants have a bizarre watch on their wrist, each with a number between 1 and 9 located on the face. The nine people wake up after being knocked unconscious to find they are trapped on a sinking luxury liner somewhere in the middle of the ocean, and they have exactly nine hours to find a way to escape. The person running the game, known only as Zero, is able to monitor them from some unknown location, and informs the nine people that, if they cannot escape within the allotted time, the watches-which are connected wirelessly to a bomb implanted in each of the contestants' stomachs-will go off, causing them to explode.

The nine people, led by a young man named Junpei (who you control throughout the game) have to find a way out. Zero tells them that there are nine numbered doors throughout the ship, and they can only be activated safely through a process called "digital root". It's a little complicated to explain here, but the simplest way to put it is that the people can go through the doors in groups of no less than 3 but no more than 9, and the sums of their bracelets have to add up to 9, or they cannot pass through. Also, the only way to truly escape the ship is finding the door marked 9, which is hidden somewhere on the boat.

Each numbered door on the boat leads to a different room. Once the characters enter the room, the door automatically locks them in, and they have to solve puzzles located in the rooms in order to find a way to escape each and move onto the next room. Fortunately, although the game takes place within a 9-hour time frame, you as the player have an unlimited amount of time to solve each puzzle.

As the story progresses, Junpei learns more and more about each character as they begin to open up to him, as well as some background on various topics ranging from the luxury liner Titanic to information regarding how dry ice works. While all of these topics seem irrelevant during gameplay, they all provide information related to the overall story in some form or another. You also learn clues as to who is actually behind the games, as well as the possible identity of Zero.

While the game initially seems straight forward, it actually features 6 endings-three bad endings where someone dies, one normal ending that leaves more questions than answers, a dummy ending and the true ending. As a result, it requires multiple playthroughs in order to see everything. The decisions you make at crucial times will determine which ending you get. Also, you will not see all nine rooms on one playthrough. It actually takes around 4 times in order to see each room. Fortunately, you automatically unlock the dummy ending when you beat the game and get the true ending, so you actually only need to play through the game five times rather than six.

The gameplay itself is very easy, as this is a heavily text-based game. When you're not reading, you will be solving puzzles. Some of the puzzles are very easy, and you even get the answers to the puzzles prior to doing them. However, some of the puzzles are much more challenging, especially towards the true ending of the game. Fortunately, all of the puzzles are on the clever side, so even the easiest ones still require a little bit of thought. As I said before, there is no actual time limit in the game, so feel free to take as much time as you need when dealing with the puzzles. Time only passes when you progress in the story, and even then, you can take your time reading through the text.

While the story is good, be prepared to do a lot of reading. A LOT of reading. While the game does have a nice feature in that you can fast-forward through parts you've already read on repeated playthroughs, you will still do a lot of reading each time. Because of this, each of the five playthroughs will probably take you between 4 and 6 hours if you are using a walkthrough; potentially twice that long if you are going into the game blind. I recommend finding a walkthrough if for no other reason than it will tell you how to obtain each ending. has a really well-written one, if you decide you want to go that route.

While the game did not break any new ground, it honestly had one of the most interesting stories I've ever seen in a point-and-click game. The true ending is especially revealing, and you find out pretty much everything you have a question for during play. It does leave one question unanswered, though. As I said earlier, throughout the game, you learn about the rest of the other eight participants in this "game", including the man with number 9 watch, who dies at the beginning after being tricked (don't worry, that's not a spoiler. No matter what ending you are going for, 9 dies at the beginning in the exact same way; you have absolutely no control over his fate). However, one of the other characters, a belly dancer who uses the codename Lotus during the game, remains a mystery. Her role in all of this is never truly revealed. In all honesty, without giving anything away, her role in the true ending leaves you wondering if a sequel will be announced.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is overall pretty fun, especially if you're a point-and-click fan. If that kind of game is not you're thing, you're probably going to want to look elsewhere. While there are definitely better options for game in this genre such as the aforementioned Ace Attorney series and Hotel Dusk, as well as the Professor Layton series, you could do much worse. The story is fun, the characters are interesting, and the fact that there are six different endings allows for much, more replayability than the average point-and-click. If you have a DS and either like this style of game, a game that will make you think, or are just looking for something you can pick up and play for a little bit every now and again, 999 is a pretty solid choice.

I give it 3/5 stars.

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