Disclaimer: The following review reflects my opinion on 999: 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors. The following review also contains a very minor early-game spoiler.
The DS is Nintendo’s most successful portable console, featuring an all-star lineup with games like Zelda, Pokemon, and Mario. While 999 is well known among avid DS gamers, it’s a relatively obscure title among the average gaming audience – a “hidden gem”. 999 is a visual novel developed by Chunsoft and, thankfully, localized by Aksys Games. As western audiences are not accustomed to visual novels, their localisations are unlikely; 999 was a risk taken by Aksys. With its release in 2010, 999 received critical acclaim, and for good reason.
As a visual novel, 999’s story is its defining feature. The intrigue is well-written, thrilling, and filled with interesting characters and unexpected plot twists. 999 follows the story of Junpei, a college student who wakes up trapped in a room rapidly filling with water. He escapes, and eventually meets eight others who have also awoken in strange rooms. After the characters discuss their current situation, they suspect that they are stranded on a sinking ship. Suddenly, a nearby microphone begins to sound, and the speaker introduces themselves as Zero. According to Zero, the nine main characters have been unwittingly selected for the Nonary game.
The Nonary game provides the foundation of 999, and as expected, it is built around the number 9. Nine people are trapped on an abandoned ship, which will sink in 9 hours. However, there is no way to escape, unless the characters comply with Zero’s game. Each character has a numbered wristband that is used to open doors, numbered from one to nine. Three to five characters can open a door, in the hopes of eventually finding a door labelled with “9”, which leads to the exit.
Without any spoilers, the plot is incredibly engaging and mind-blowing. It will keep the player guessing, and the ending is absolutely unpredictable. The characters also have well fleshed-out back stories, which are relevant to the game’s plot. The only exception is a character that serves very little purpose to the plot, other than providing fan service. It is important to note that the player will have to experience the game multiple times in order to receive the “true ending”. While this may seem tedious, the game allows players to skip scenes that have already been viewed. More importantly, it is incredibly difficult to achieve the “true ending” without a guide. However, starting off with a single, blind run-through is highly recommended.
Compared to its story, gameplay is a relatively minor aspect of 999, consisting of a series of puzzles after opening one of the numbered doors. The puzzles are generally well-written, but they tend to drag on. Sometimes, it seems as if the player is trudging through puzzles simply to continue with the story. Since the gameplay is not a major part of the 999, players who don’t enjoy puzzles can rejoice. At the same time, puzzle fans receive a small bonus. Overall, the puzzles are solid, but at times, they break the flow of the plot.
Graphics and Soundtrack
From a purely graphical standpoint, 999 isn’t anything special; it’s definitely no Zelda: Spirit Tracks or Bowser’s Inside Story. However, the game’s art style gives it a strong appeal. The character models and environments are incredibly detailed, where the player can interact with many aspects of the environment. The touch screen can be used to receive a description of an item, and occasionally, a short conversation with one of the characters.
The soundtrack captures the tone of the game, which is typically dark and visceral. However, it did not contain any noteworthy tracks that left a lasting impression.
999 is definitely a high quality title. Its story is memorable, with several head-spinning plot twists. As the strongest aspect of 999, it is undoubtedly the game’s main selling point. Furthermore, 999 features a fitting art direction and soundtrack. While 999’s gameplay is solid all around, it is significantly less interesting and exciting than its plot. However, players looking for an excellent story will most likely overlook these small flaws.