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Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Video Game Review
I got Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on Christmas a few years ago. Before then, I had never played a visual novel before, but several people promised me it was a worthwhile game. So, I gave it a go. That Christmas break, I played that game for almost one full week straight. Really, if I had to describe it in one word, it would be "phenomenal."
Most games require one of two things to be considered a great game: great gameplay, or a great plot. But even with great gameplay, what's even more necessary tends to be memorable characters (the Mario franchise comes to mind). Without one of these, a game may easily fall into obscurity within a few years.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, otherwise known as 999 for short, does not disappoint.
The basic plot of 999 is that you, as a dorky college kid named Junpei, have been kidnapped and placed in a ship that seems awfully similar to the Titanic with eight other people by a mysterious and ominous person called Zero. They must work together to play the Nonary Game: a game where they must put their lives on the line; if they do not find the exit, the door with a , then they will sink with the ship. As they play the Nonary Game however, more questions arise: Who is Zero? Who are they, and why have they been selected to play this game? And what is Akane, Junpei's elementary school friend, doing on the ship?
This game does not allow for much more than that without revealing some major spoilers, as the plot twists completely revolutionize your perception of the game in the first place. However, I can say that the dialogue is thought provoking, the narrative compelling.
This game is very far from a 'dumb' game: Most cases have different characters talking about strange scientific phenomenon. Some of these include Sheldrake's theories on morphic resonance and different forms of crystallization (such as Ice-9, which is a pseudoscience phenomenon created and popularized by Vonnegut), prosopagnosia, and more. A lot of the pseudoscience presented in the game is very consistent and, from that universe's perspective, plausible and realistic. As a person who loves science, it was exciting to see these characters discuss new theories that I'd never heard about in a very simple manner that was very easy to understand.
However, that's not to say that this game is only serious. Though the 'story' mode of the game is generally very grim and tense, among the fanbase it's generally more known for the simply fantastic amount of puns and humor that comes with examining the rooms during 'puzzle' mode. An example is the infamous 'ladder jokes' that you can get in the first puzzle room; you, as Junpei, keep clicking on a ladder in the cabin room, and Junpei at first mentions that it's a ladder, but then begins to tell the ladder the most ridiculous ladder based puns, before finally deciding that he should actually focus on escaping. There are many moments similar to this, and I highly suggest examining objects more than once to see if there's any sort of dialogue added to it.
The characters are very well written, if not a bit formulaic. It's a bit understandable, as you have a rather lot of characters to focus on for a rather short game, and Kotaro Uchikoshi, the creator of Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, used the Enneagram to design his characters around. He focused on giving each character a stereotype which he subverted by the end, and the result are very in depth, complex characters. Every character has a compelling backstory, and their interactions are either interesting, suspenseful, or humorous.
The format of this game is called a Visual Novel. That is, it, for almost all intents and purposes, acts like a novel, except for parts in which you get to interact and change the direction the story is going.
There are two modes that you switch between. The main mode is 'story' mode, which is very dialogue-/narrative-heavy, and for the most part reads like a novel. However, during certain sections of the narrative, you get to make decisions. Sometimes it's to guess a character's motivations, other times it's to choose which door you wish to go through. Sometimes your choice will determine the ending you will get; it's somewhat similar to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book you might have read as a kid.
The other mode is 'puzzle' mode, in which you've gone through a numbered door and you now must find a way to get out of the room you're now trapped in. You must examine certain objects, occasionally combining them, to solve the puzzles found in the room. Eventually, you will have solved the puzzles and will either find a key or automatically open the door to the exit. Every door contains a different puzzle, and while none of the puzzles are too difficult, all of them are challenging. If you don't understand how to solve a puzzle, often the characters in the room will help you by dropping hints that might help you solve the puzzle.
Have you ever played 999?
Both parts are great - the story mode propels forward the main plot and delves deeper into the mystery of Zero and his ship, but the puzzle mode is where you get to interact with the different characters and, more often than not, learn more about them and how everything connects with itself.
As you continue to solve puzzles and make decisions, you will near an ending; there are five 'bad' endings and one good, or 'true' ending. However, I would suggest attempting to get every ending, as they all reveal something interesting about the characters, and you have to get a certain bad ending before you can get the true ending. However, when you start over, you quite literally start over - in the cabin poor Junpei was stuck in when you began! Luckily, after you've finished one ending, the game will let you fast forward through a lot of the dialogue in the narrative form, but you still have to go through the puzzle rooms and solve the puzzles, which is a definite downside to the game. Oftentimes you will memorize what you need to click to get out of the room as quickly as possible.
This game was designed for the Nintendo DS, so it has a dual screen. The top screen is where the characters will be displayed, as well as where the dialogue will be. The bottom screen is where the narrative is displayed. You will also make your choices and interact with objects you find in the puzzle rooms on the bottom screen. While the dialogue on the top screen is very easy to get through, it can occasionally become tedious to get through, as it's often filled with purple prose and will reexplain things discussed in the dialogue. That doesn't make it worse, but it can be a bit long sometimes.
That being said, the DS interface is very important and even integral to the story itself. The way Uchikoshi utilized the platform to further his story is amazing, and this story could not be told on any other medium, or even any other gaming interface.
Generally, I don't even notice music while playing video games, as I tend to focus on gameplay and story while playing, but 999's soundtrack deserves a special mention. Each room has a different track playing, and it never gets old, no matter how long it takes for you to escape from the room. The music often adds to the atmosphere to the room, and during story mode, the story really adds to the mood ("Trepidation" is guaranteed to chill you to the bone), and when the music stops, it really makes you pay attention, so I highly suggest playing with the sound up.
"Morphogenetic Sorrow" is, by far, the best song on the soundtrack, however. It plays during the climax of the game, and it fits perfectly with the moment and adds so much depth and emotion to the scene. Lately I've begun to tear up at the sound of the song, and music doesn't often move me.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Rating
This game is definitely one of my favorite games of all time! There are some problems with it in the gameplay aspect, but the plot is so tightly and well written that it's easy to overlook this in favor of appreciating the beautiful storytelling. It's a highly overlooked and under-appreciated game, so I hope that you all will give it a try sometime!