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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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Well, without re-doing the puzzles, then the game wouldn't really have any gameplay during subsequent playthroughs. And it's not like the puzzles take that long anyway - once you know the solution, there are shortcuts you can take (since you already have all the clues you need) and the first few puzzles don't take longer than a few minutes. There's also the thing about Junpei finding new clues if you look at certain things you didn't before, or choose different dialogue choices, or examine/discover stuff in a different order. And doing that kind of stuff all ties into the final ending. It's not arbitrary - everything in this game is done for a reason.

But hey, not every game is going to be for everybody. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. And hey, don't worry about "being annoying" or whatever. It's good to have varying opinions about stuff - 'tis the purpose of forums such as this, no?

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 16:59

Gah, because of you Anon will miss my response.

Going through motions doesn't qualify as "gameplay", as far as I'm concerned. You're not "solving" anything at that point, so it is in no way fun. It's not even a game. It's a series of tedious actions that you must perform before moving on. It's work.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 17:03
I don't know why you're mashing the A button, though.

Yes, there is some repeating sections but mostly everything, including text during puzzles can be skipped. Skipping text with the dpad is really fast. And sometimes I slow it down to re-read a section that I may have skimmed too quickly the first time. Redoing the puzzles annoyed me a bit, too. I just took it as a challenge to finish them as quick as possible because I knew the solution, and you can complete them in a few minutes. There are some interesting conversations about plot-points with some characters during the puzzles, and you'll want to explore every possible combination of doors to get the most out of it.

It sucks that you got the coffin ending first, though. I got all the bad endings, then the safe ending, then the true ending. Really satisfying.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 17:05
Pandareus said:

Going through motions doesn't qualify as "gameplay", as far as I'm concerned. You're not "solving" anything at that point, so it is in no way fun. It's not even a game. It's a series of tedious actions that you must perform before moving on. It's work.

Well, I didn't feel that way when playing. But I'm a little easier to please than most, I think. But like I said before, it's not just "going through the motions" - there's other stuff happening *during* the puzzles that can change the outcome of the adventure. It's not just solving "Professor Layton" puzzles again and again, y'know?

I'll concede that having to redo the *very* first puzzle over each time I restarted was a bit tedious. Even though I knew the solution and didn't take more than like, a minute and a half to solve it, I can see where you're coming from when you say it can feel like work. I wouldn't be against being able to skip that first one.

But the later puzzles (that are more tied-in with the story) are mostly worth a return trip, especially if you didn't choose the "right" choice during the dialogues.

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 20:34   Edited:  02/16/11, 20:35
@Pandareus Well, I'm not necessarily "accepting" of it, I (briefly) mention the repetition as a negative of the game in my review. And on IGN I was almost in a little argument with someone on the DS forum where I was taking your position, that repeating the puzzles/etc. was needless, because he kept saying it was necessary and it really wasn't. (I forget who he was, chances are he is here too reading this, lol.)

Still, the true ending is that awesome. And there is a bit of new gameplay in the final path too, I think, although if you did the dummy path perhaps not, I forget. Maybe don't hype yourself up too much though. Just enjoy the ride for what it is, and be amazed when it comes to the end.

BTW I'm not sure which paths you have chosen, but there is enough unique content for about 2.5 playthroughs, when it comes to the puzzles. So if you're not doing all 5 playthroughs, you shouldn't be repeating puzzles THAT much. (Albeit stumbling upon the dummy ending is unfortunate, as you'd have to take all the same doors to get the true ending.)

Posted by 
 on: 02/16/11, 22:57
I just got the Axe ending. I didn't add anything to the story, IMO, and the whole playthrough was pretty much exactly the same as a previous one save for Clover being off in one or two scenes. Is the Knife ending basically the same? Because if so, it really is something I can just youtube, and I'll finally move on to the real ending.

Posted by 
 on: 02/18/11, 17:16
It might be, I forget. A lot of the paths add some character development but they don't necessarily add huge plot points or anything.

Posted by 
 on: 02/18/11, 18:20
I've been playing this game recently. I remember when I first read this review I was still confused about the game's structure and what the heck the nonary game even meant.

I now have two endings under my belt (very grisly endings: first ending I got was Junpei getting stabbed after discovering Lotus' dead body, and second ending I got was everyone being killed off in groups, up to and including Junpei being killed last as he walks toward the submarine). I love the story. The fact that you are able to replay the game using knowledge from your previous playthrough makes it exciting to see how things turn out differently.

But I can see this becoming tedious if I don't pick the correct choices to make sure I see a different ending each time I play. I just want to prevent getting the same ending twice even though I took a different path, which is why I may end up just using the gamefaqs path branching guide to save some time that you mentioned here:

Zero said:
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: 04/05/11, 01:29   Edited:  04/05/11, 01:30
BTW the latest Nintendo Power has a bunch of features on this game. Some highlights...

"Localization editor Ben Bateman says the company is "definitely pleased" with its performance and reveals that the title is already on its fourth printing."

Kotaro Uchikoshi interview...

"999 gave me a lot of confidence. I have a feeling my style is a better fit for the US. In Japan the genre I love and excel in - sci-fi mystery - isn't too popular here. [laughs] With that said, I'm currently developing a game that's even more geared toward the international audience than 999. In order to create a game that can be enjoyed by the world, my staff and I are spending nights and days working hard. In fact, we're planning on releasing a lot of visual novels in the future with localization in mind."

"I didn't write 999 with the intent that it would have a sequel. Do I think that it should have one, though? Yes, I do. I guess it all depends on how 999 does, so please, spread the word on your blogs, and Twitter and Facebook and so on, and you'll make me a very happy man. We're counting on the fans!"

And because I find it hilarious (and sad?) how much he hates his (probably soon to be ex if she ever reads this?) wife...

In both of your last two games, the male and female leads have been childhood friends reunited after a long absence. What intrigues you about that relationship?

"Hmm, I suppose it is because my wife has become a very scary lady. So I guess I'm longing for a character that reminds me of my childhood friend who was so sweet and innocent. On a subconscious level, of course..."

And later on...

"So to answer your question: What would you change if you could go back in time? My answer would be: my wife."

And more later on...

"Lastly, I hope from the bottom of my heart that a lot of people will read this interview... and that my wife won't be among them."


Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 06:03
I wanna play his next game!

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 07:51
Nice to see it's done well because I'd love to play more games like this. 999 was amazingly engrossing.

I like that he says his wife has become "scary."

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 09:09
lol @ the wife comments

Can't wait to play the next game. I've taken quite a liking to visual novels on the DS, it's an experience you can't really get anywhere else.

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 16:17
This is how it was playing it on my DS Lite

This is how it was playing it on my 3DS after trading in my DS Lite
not terrible but noticeably more blurry which is rough for a text heavy game

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 16:25   Edited:  05/04/11, 16:27
vids said:
This is how it was playing it on my DSi XL

Fixed for me.

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 16:34
Did you learn your lesson? Never trade in hardware!

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 16:45
@Guillaume ha! I wish the 3DSs were made with XL screens
@anon_mastermind yep. so much for portable gaming. in the future everyone will need 15 pockets.

i'm hoping they fix the DS up-res in a future firmware update but with Nintendo's track record with firmware updating of consumer requests (Virtual Console to SD Card anyone) I expect that 2 years after the 3DS XL is released.

Posted by 
 on: 05/04/11, 17:56
I just bought this game on Amazon, along with Radiant Historia. After reading your review, I'm really excited to play it. I might actually play it before Radiant Historia. I need really need to scratch my point and click adventure itch and this game seems to be the right medicine for that.

Posted by 
 on: 11/15/11, 04:48
Sequel? to 999 confirmed for North America.

Posted by 
 on: 02/21/12, 22:04
I could have sworn there was a thread for GPD

Posted by 
 on: 02/21/12, 22:08
Good to see it's confirmed for here. WOO!

Posted by 
 on: 02/21/12, 22:39
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