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999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (Nintendo DS) Review
Review by 
8.82/10 from 18 user ratings
 
Imagine that you wake up in a strange room, dazed and confused, with no idea how you got there. The door is locked tight, and the only window is a small porthole, which subsequently bursts, and water starts pouring in. With no time to think, you go about searching the room desperately, hoping to find some way to escape. You start to find little clues, and objects that seem to serve some greater purpose, and begin to piece together a way out of the room. Finally, with the water rising higher and higher, you manage to unlock the door and escape...

...for now. But you have no idea where you are. And then you hear voices, and realize that you are not alone. You, and eight others, have been chosen to play a game. You have nine hours to find the door with a nine marked on it. The reward for winning is escape. The penalty for losing is death. Can you succeed?


Thus begins 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and if it sounds like the start to another generic Saw movie, rest assured, it is not. In fact, 999 may have one of the most amazing storylines that I have ever experienced in a video game; the dialog often feels more like a (digital) novel than your typical video game dialog (which is no surprise, as it is penned by a famous Japanese graphic novelist) and it is chock full of detail. It takes some time and effort to get to the true ending (including required multiple playthroughs, more on this later) but when you do, everything comes together in such a brilliant manner that you can't help feeling like you have just experienced something truly unique and wonderful. But I won't spoil the story, other than to tell you that there is much more going on than a simple game of escape. Much, much more.

You play the game as Junpei, a college-aged young adult, waking up into the aforementioned situation. You quickly learn that you are stuck in the "nonary" game, thus named for its connection to the base nine system of numbers. You and the other eight players each have a bracelet that cannot be removed, with a number on it from one through nine, and each door you approach also has a number on it. The game takes this concept and runs with it; most everything in the game, whether the exploration/puzzles or the choice of paths, depends on the character's numbers and the base nine system.

The game itself is divided up into two general types of play. The first is what I will call the escape sequences, where you (and others) are locked into a set of rooms and must find objects and solve puzzles in order to progress. Despite the fact that the storyline involves a nine hour time limit to find the final door to escape, the game itself has no time limit, and you can explore these rooms at your own pace. Exploration takes place using point and click mechanics, very similar to something like Hotel Dusk. The puzzles themselves are generally pretty decent, and sometimes show some spurts of true inspiration, but they aren't really anything to write home about.


The second type of play is what I will call the dialog/choice sequences. These are where the bulk of the dialog happens and the story is progressed (although plenty of dialog/story is mixed into the escape sequences as well) and they generally don't involve much interaction besides clicking on the screen to see more dialog. This may sound somewhat dull, but the storyline in this game is amazing, and it constantly creates just enough mystery to keep you anticipating the next time you get a mere shred of information that can help bring about any more clarity. Again, I don't want to give away the story, but I will say that it builds off of certain real life events and experiments and occurrences and the depth of detail involved shows that the writer (writers?) did some research. I was often finding myself on wikipedia due to things brought up in the game, learning a lot about some really interesting stuff I would otherwise be ignorant on. See, it's not just compelling, it's educational!

These portions of the game also involve choices, generally in the form of a choice of which numbered door you will travel through. One rule of the game is that only three to five players can go through a door at once, and they can only go through a door if their combined digital root equals that number. What is a digital root, you ask? Well, I'll let the game explain that one. The end result of this system is that depending on which door you (as Junpei) choose to go through, you are naturally teamed up with different groups of people, because there are a limited number of options for who can go through which door.

There is another part of the game system that the game itself doesn't do the best job of explaining right away, but you should probably know before jumping in. Because of the choices you can make, there are multiple paths through the game with multiple endings, and the "true" ending is impossible to get your first time through. And to be frank (without giving too much away), pretty much every ending but the true ending is sort of abrupt and leaves you wanting. So you're going to want to experience the true ending, which means a minimum of playing through the game at least twice. That is twice if you know exactly which choices to make each time through (you need to get a very specific ending on one playthrough before you are even allowed to shoot for the true ending on a subsequent playthrough), and without Gamefaqs or something similar, you won't know which choices to make. In fact, it is very unlikely that you will stumble upon the true ending period without reading how to find it elsewhere, as the game itself does very little to point you in the right direction, and there are way too many paths that don't lead there to try to blindly stumble upon it. Anyhow, I honestly believe that the ideal way to play the game is to get all four of the initial endings before going for the true ending, as they all contain various pieces of information that come together to create a more coherent whole. This would mean playing through the entire game five times, and although it is a fairly short game, there are multiple paths through and the game system lets you speed through certain text you have already experienced, this still involves a bit of repetition. It would have been nice if there were a way to experience the full story without having to play through the entire game so many times.


I suppose I would say that this repetition (not required, but required to get the full story) is my only real complaint with the game. Some of the puzzles could have been a bit more thought-provoking as well, but they do the job. These minor complaints are over-ridden by what is, frankly, one of the greatest stories and presentations I have experienced in a video game. The characters are all developed fully, the writing is top-notch (including some very graphic descriptions of gore that made me more sick to my stomach than any game visuals ever have, rightly earning this game its M rating), and the game leads you on with just enough teases to keep you coming back wanting more.

I feel like the term "experience" is thrown around way too often in the video game world, but I'm going to use it now. This isn't just a game, it is an experience. And it is unlike anything else that you have ever experienced in interactive media. You can think of it as a game with a surprisingly great story, or a digital novel with interactive parts. Whatever the case, it is something that you don't want to miss. I'd say 999 resembles the family of games including Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, and Hotel Dusk, but at the same time, it stands alone.

Check it out. Thank me later.

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Posted: 12/31/10, 19:22:39  - Edited by 
 on: 10/23/12, 07:27:08    
 
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@Kal-El814
What ending did you get?


Posted by 
 on: 01/24/11, 20:55:08
@ploot

Junpei dies when he finds Lotus' body; stabbed in the back. It "unlocked" the bloody knife icon in the save menu.

EDIT - In any ending, do you find out how old Lotus is? People bag on her for being old, but she doesn't look that much older than Junpei to me.


Posted by 
 on: 01/24/11, 20:57:36  - Edited by 
 on: 01/24/11, 21:00:40
Ah yes. There are a few other "bad" ends as well. I recommend you try to get those before shooting for the real ending. Odds are though, that's just the way it'll happen!

As for Lotus, there is some more insight into her character/age depending on your path. Most of the characters get fleshed out pretty well actually.


Posted by 
 on: 01/24/11, 21:04:58
Nice. That's actually one of my beefs with anime/manga... I have a hard time telling how old people are supposed to be unless they're very young or very old. It probably doesn't help that anyone older than 28 always gets ribbed for their age.


Posted by 
 on: 01/24/11, 21:43:53
Got my second ending last night.

Junpei was with Seven and Lotus, went through the torture room, then found Ace, Clover and Santa dead near the stairs. Then he discovered June dying near a submarine, went back to check on Lotus and Seven, who'd been stabbed, then got stabbed himself when he went back to the sub. The common thread is Lotus' corpse missing her bracelet, so I'm mulling around who would benefit the most from having an 8. Still have a couple doors I haven't gone through in either run.

Really enjoying the game, minus not being able to advance new text.


Posted by 
 on: 01/25/11, 17:33:02
@Kal-El814
Glad you're enjoying it, but...why would you want to advance new text?


Posted by 
 on: 01/25/11, 19:56:23
@anon_mastermind

I don't want to skip it like you can with the right d-pad button on multiple playthroughs, but I would like to have all the text that's going to appear in a text box or during a given scene do so when I press the A button. I read pretty quickly and the speed at which the game writes the text seems very, very slow to me. A lot of games that "write" the text will populate everything that's going to show when you press a button or give you options to change the write speed.


Posted by 
 on: 01/25/11, 20:02:57
Oh!! I thought you wanted to advance past new text on the multiple playthroughs...silly me. Yeah, usually games will let you advance the text all at once.


Posted by 
 on: 01/25/11, 20:08:44
@anon_mastermind

I probably could have been more clear!

This is the first game that's got me scratching my head in a while. I guessed that June was somehow involved with what I came across in my first ending, since I started to assume that her relationship with Junpei was a red herring. The second ending I encountered kind of blew up that theory, though.

Now I'm trying to figure out what person or combo would benefit most from Lotus' bracelet. I'm also assuming that either the 9th man or Snake are not dead, or that their bracelets were picked up by someone else. I need to pay more attention to what happens to their bracelets when I play tonight.


Posted by 
 on: 01/25/11, 20:24:46
So Zero, if this is derailing your thread too much just let me know.

Anyway...

Before I started again last night, I started to think more about what would be the simplest thing that tied my first two endings together, trying to do it a little more laterally. Despite the fact that there's a lot of emphasis on 1 - 9, I started playing around with the notion that because Zero is, presumably, a separate character on the ship and that a lot of the puzzles incorporate zero into them, that there was a zero bracelet on the ship somewhere.

That got confirmed in my third playthrough last night, where I found the captain. My first and third endings strongly implicate Ace, as the digital root of 0, 1 and 8 is 9. I wasn't with him when I died in my first run, and he left with Lotus right before Clover axed me in my third.

At this point I don't know how close I am to finding the "good" ending, assuming there is one. It's still a little hard to piece together the overall picture, since people occasionally bring up things that are pretty far out there, and I have no sense as to whether or not they're red herrings.

Still really enjoying the game.


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 16:53:43
@Kal-El814

Reading your post(s) has brought a smile to my face. All the guessing, investigating, pondering, etc. that you are doing, was pretty much the *exact* same process that I was going through while I was playing. The game's mystery and intrigue was really relentless for me.

The best part about this is... once you find out what's really going on.... oh man. Can't wait to hear (er... read) your impressions/thoughts when you get to that stuff. I thought it was pretty awesome. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Cheers!


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 17:55:24
@Kal-El814
Thanks for posting your impressions and theories. This is keeping the game alive for me!


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 20:47:11
Yeah, it's been a lot of fun to play so far. The only thing I'm not sure about at this point is whether or not the characters are generally the same across playthroughs. Assuming that a given character is a prick in one ending, are they similarly inclined across all of them? I'm guessing that they are, but I'm not 100% sure. Obviously not every character will have exactly the same opportunities in every path, but... just thinking more generally.


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 21:26:20
Well... I won't spoil anything, but certain characters react in certain ways in some playthroughs due to circumstances that aren't present in other playthroughs.

And Grant is right, once you find out what is truly going on... oh man.

We have a big discussion thread for people who have finished the game which you will probably want to check out once you finish the game. True ending, I mean.


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 22:05:21
@Zero

Yeah, that's more or less what I meant.


Posted by 
 on: 01/26/11, 22:37:40
Another ending! The icon I unlocked was a coffin.

I had a pretty good feeling about this one, as there was more character specific interactions than had happened in my last play. Then when I got to the room with the two 9 doors and remembered the keypad on the coffin, I figured I was screwed; there didn't seem to be any clues in that room and it seems like either I was right or the game just didn't give me the opportunity to do anything based on previous choices. Also I really have no idea what to think of Ace now, though I'm assuming it's Snake in the coffin as the root of him, Junpei, Seven and Clover would be nine.

Either way I'm assuming I did MOST things "right" this time around, again, just based on the character development. I'm trying to think of a way that combos leaving the gun in the room with the ID cards and getting the Clover plotline, but I don't know if I'm thinking about it too much.

Also, and maybe this is me reading into things too much, but it's weird that the multi playthrough stuff is called "play with memories", since that doesn't seem to actually happen, beyond letting you scroll through stuff you've already seen.


Posted by 
 on: 01/27/11, 04:43:49
Hmm.

Like I said in my review, if you want to get the true ending, you almost have to go on Gamefaqs. You can keep trying to find it yourself, and you might even get it but eh... you may just end up wasting a lot of time.

As for the memories, I don't want to give anything away. But rest assured, the word memories makes sense... eventually.


Posted by 
 on: 01/27/11, 04:53:06
Oh you're definitely on the right track, Kal-El. I never got that ending though


Posted by 
 on: 01/27/11, 06:13:20
Alright, I don't want to spoil anything, but you will probably want to read this Kal-el. The "coffin" ending is a dummy ending. Basically, you took the path of the "true" ending, without having done what first needs to be done to get to the true ending. Which is to say, before you can get to the true ending, you need to get the "safe" ending, without which you absolutely cannot get to the true ending. Even once you get the safe ending though, to get to the true ending you need to answer certain questions correctly in that playthrough (although I think you answered them correctly if you got to the coffin ending. They're mostly common sense answers, but still...)

If you're confused, check out the story flowchart on Gamefaqs. It's spoiler-free (storywise), it just tells you what door choices lead to what endings.


Posted by 
 on: 01/27/11, 16:42:55
Huh. That's useful information, Zero. I'm wondering how that will work, exactly...

In any event, I also got an ending where I ended up getting gassed, so I assume I've seen all the endings with the exception of the good or real one at this point.

Aside from conversation branches that have an obvious impact on stuff, like getting the bookmark and getting closer to Clover, is there anything that breaks down what choices impact the conversations you see? I've been through the room where Lotus hacks the computer 3 or 4 times, and she's only copped to being a programmer and talking about prosopagnosia once. I must have done something different, but for the life of me I can't think about what it is.

Also, I'm starting to wonder about Akane's relationship to Zero; I'm guessing the Zero bracelet actually being a 6 isn't random, but who knows.

Zero, talking about this game with you, especially since you've beaten it and know the game's secrets, is pretty frigging meta.


Posted by 
 on: 01/27/11, 19:50:18
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