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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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 Excellent  9.5 / 10
12/31/10, 19:22   Edited:  10/23/12, 07:27
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@Pandareus The ending you get is only based on door choices, yes, with one exception, the "true" ending requires answering a couple of questions correctly as well as the correct door choices. You may want to check out the path map it's just a diagram that shows what doors lead to what ending, it's mostly spoiler free, albeit the one word names of the endings give a bit away about what is involved...

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 03:36   Edited:  02/14/11, 04:36
I really don't think a guide is needed to find the true path.
Once you have been through a few endings it's pretty obvious what you need to do regarding the few things that aren't door-related. Ie. Jog Seven's memory by saying the words "Ice-9" and give Clover the... Clover.

I didn't use a guide and figured it all out in five distinct playthroughs.

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 04:18
But there are twelve potential paths through the game. And to even be able to get the "true" ending you first need to get a specific one of those twelve paths. And nothing really points you in the right direction. You may stumble upon it, but I wouldn't count on it.

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 04:38
I suppose. I guess I just "clicked" with it. Whenever new information was given out or seemingly-important decisions came up (what to do with the clover) I assumed it was an important path. Of course, I was lucky enough not to get the "coffin" ending. If I did I would have been really confused as to my next course of action.

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 08:46
Hey Zero, did you get the feeling that close to the end of the game, Junpei's realization of the last door was sorta lost in translation? In text, his flashback of Zero saying the rules makes sense when reading it, but how it would've been heard in actuality didn't.

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 09:56

Good point, and I agree. There might be some sort of mistranslation there. Either that, [Zero] intentionally said it that way to confuse the players. In any case, we should really talk about that kind of stuff in the "SPOILERS" thread.

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 16:20
Yeahhhhh there is a spoilers thread, that is where this discussion should be!

Posted by 
 on: 02/14/11, 16:50
Hmm, last night I made my way to the coffin ending, and now I see why it's called a "dummy" ending in the endings chart you linked to, Zero, clearly it's just half of an ending. I guess I shouldn't have bothered, but my reasoning was that there was a chance I might never see it if I did the safe ending first.

Oh well, at the very least the next few playthroughs will be even quicker, I suppose.

Posted by 
 on: 02/15/11, 19:44
Yeah that ending isn't even really considered one of the actual endings. It's basically just what happens if you don't fulfill what you need to in order to get a certain ending, but take that path anyway. I didn't bother getting it but I've heard it's not worth going out of your way for.

Posted by 
 on: 02/15/11, 20:15
I don't mean to be a grumpypants, but... I just got the safe ending, and I think I'm enjoying this "game" less and less with each playthrough. It's just retarded to force people to fast forward through text they've already read, tonight it took me around 45 minutes to get to new content. Then there are times when you can't fast forward because you picked door 7 instead of 8 this time, but you still get separated from June so you get basically the same dialog as before, only you can't skip it.

Goddamn it, I really resent it when developers decide it's okay to waste gamers' time like this. Really, it's such a lack of respect for your audience.

Are the Knife and Axe endings really all that important? Because at this point I think I'll just check the true ending on youtube.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 06:58   Edited:  02/16/11, 07:04
At least you liked Ghost Trick.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:01
@Pandareus Don't Youtube it, just go through it! There is a ton of dialogue throughout the whole "true" path which I'm pretty sure you only get after getting the ending that you just got (though not 100% sure since I never got the dummy ending), so just watching it on Youtube would make you miss a huge chunk of the story.

As for whether the other two endings are important... sort of but not really. Playing through those paths will let you fill in some storyline stuff that you won't get otherwise, but it's not completely necessary or anything.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:10
It's definitely worth playing through every path before you head for the true ending. There is a lot of character interaction, hints and nods in the multiple endings.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:12
Yeah but he is burning out it seems. It's worth playing through, but is it necessary? I'd fear that he would play through one of them, totally burn out, then go Youtube the "true" ending instead of playing through that path like he should.

Man, we're probably spoiling way too much in our comments here, considering this is a review thread.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:14
I don't understand...if you're on the verge of burning out just take a break.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:17
Maybe. But this is video gaming, where new games keep coming and coming and if you put one down for too long, you may never pick it back up again.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 07:22
I usually play 4 or 5 games at a time, and often even more than that. I guess I'm weird. 999 really grabbed me, though. I finished it in a week or so, but I still mixed it up with some other DS games and some DKCR.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 16:35   Edited:  02/16/11, 16:36
There is no excuse for 999 imposing on gamers the tediousness of having to fast-forward through text and cutscenes he's already seen, and of going through the motion again and again for puzzles he's already solved. None. I mean, I already consider puzzles that just have you going through motions without actually having to solve anything to be bad puzzles. Now most of these puzzles are pretty good, actually, but only the first time you do them.

Honestly, I don't understand why so many of you are so accepting of it. I guess the ending must be truly mindblowing. But even as I type that, I realize that I am setting myself up for disappointment and will probably be underwhelmed.

I'm trying to mix it up, but getting the second ending last night took a little over two hours, pretty much all the "gaming time" I had set aside. And most of that 2 hours wasn't quality gaming time. At least 30 minutes of it was going through the motions for a couple of puzzles and fast-forwarding crap. Maybe 30 minutes was spent on new puzzles. And over an hour it it was me constantly taping the A button, desperately trying to make the text move on as quickly as possible because god knows I had finished reading that sentence before it was even completed.

Damn. Mr Grumpypants just fully revealed himself. I really hate to be that guy in a thread full of love for a game. I know I'm annoying. But I don't feel I'm wrong.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 16:50
Do...do you know you can hold the right-button on the dpad to fast forward text?

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 16:55
I mentioned fast-forwarding through stuff a couple of times, actually, yes. It still takes a surprisingly long time. Two points I made that you may have missed:
- You can't skip puzzles you've already solved.
- You may find yourself forced to go through text you've already seen at regular speed (i.e. too slow in the first place, and torture-like when it's something you've read before) if you pick door 8 instead of 7 and vice versa. That's one specific example (the realisation that June can't go through the same door as you) but it's not the only one.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 16:58   Edited:  02/16/11, 16:59
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