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.
Went to gamestop ... they had no idea what I was talking about - This is why i HATE gamestop. They knew OF the game..but from way back and said it was discontinued but they hadn't heard news about the sequel or the re-release. It's not on their systems yet. I know Toys won't carry it cause it's M rated..and I know for a fact that they didn't carry it the first time around.
I know you can get the re-print at Amazon.com - not sure if that helps or hinders our Canadian friends, though.
I saw that, but are we 100% sure that's the reprint and not just the listing for the original game but with an updated box art? I almost ordered through Amazon but then I noticed that the date for that listing is 2010.
This is where I will be ordering the game from tomorrow morning: LINK. Plus, you know it's the reprint because it has the new "Zero Escape" branding in the title.
The fact that is has a different cover is a great way to let people know that YOU have an original print. This all works out very well for me, since there is a large part of me that would like to sell my original along with the collectible watch that went with it originally that you could only get by sending $5 over to Aksys.
BTW, the reason I'll be ordering the game from Aksys tomorrow is because I went to THREE stores today (GameStop, Walmart, and a local game shop) and NONE of them had even heard of these re-release. It wasn't in any of their systems, they barely knew what I was talking about.
I got my first ending tonight, and it wasn't a happy one. SPOILERS Clover decided to go psycho and kill half the others.
All in all, I'm really enjoying this game. It's intense...like, surprisingly so. A pretty consistently suspenseful game from start to finish. The storytelling is really compelling and there are moments that are like a punch in the gut. I'm excited to find more endings and try the next game!
My only real complaints are that there are some kinda dull puzzles, the characters go off on tangents at odd times (considering the general tension of the situation), and most of all, some of the dialogue is terrible. And I don't use that lightly, but there are some truly badly-written sections in the game that really take me out of what's otherwise extremely compelling.
Most notably, almost all of Junpei's and June's interactions make me physically wince! They friggin' examine a bed in a life-or-death/murder scenario and she starts tittering and falling over herself and he's oblivious...it's like the worst anime trope ever. Or later on, she says that a piece of frozen meat could be used as a hammer because "it's very hard," and Junpei asks her to repeat that phrase over and over and starts blushing?? Where did this wannabe Beavis and Butt-Head humor come from?? It's completely out-of-place and ridiculous, especially considering their lives were both in immediate danger at that point. The worst of all is this farcical elevator dialogue that plays out like a Frasier script (where one character thinks another is talking about sex when they aren't), but without any believability or charm.
Sorry to spend a lot more text complaining about the game rather than praising it, but I really did love it overall. I just had to get that off my chest because those amateur moments felt like someone far worse at writing took the pen for a moment. Ace Attorney did a much better job at balancing humor and drama. That aside, 999 is entirely engaging and stressful and good stuff. Looking forward to the next two games!
Wouldn't a guide be almost necessary to get all of the endings? I guess you can do trial and error but there are spoiler free guides out there that end up saving a lot of time and frustration really. Unless if this is the updated game... which I think made it a bit easier to get the endings?