We went on a little road trip this past weekend, and I finally got a chance to play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors during the ride. I must say, I was expecting it to be good, but I wasn’t expecting to like it quite as much as I do. I seriously played the game until my DS was about to die; I just couldn’t put it down. You could compare it to a good book: once you start, you just want to keep reading to find out how it ends. Now, I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel that comes out later this month.
In 999, you play as Junpei, a college student who wakes up on a sinking ship with no idea how he got there. It turns out that there are eight other people on board with similar stories, and they must work together to solve puzzles and escape death over the course of nine hours. There are nine numbered doors, and if they find the one with a “9” on it, they can make their way to freedom.
The story does a brilliant job of keeping you in suspense, often teasing you with small details that add up to a bigger picture. If you want all of the information, though, you’re going to have to play through six different endings. Only one path that will lead you to the true ending, so you will have to pick your doors wisely. Of course, you could always do what I did, which is follow a helpful, spoiler-free guide to get to the endings you want to see.
The game’s intriguing, entrancing, and mind-bending story would be nothing without its colorful cast of characters, though. Each and every character has a distinct personality, and as you learn more about them, they become anything but flat. They don’t necessarily grow too much as people (Come on, they only have nine hours!), but they do develop relationships with each other and they definitely make you care about what happens to them.
The artwork in 999 is good as well. The characters are well designed, and the mysterious ship is very detailed. The only annoying thing is that sometimes the environments were so detailed it was easy to get lost in a couple of places or miss something that needed investigating, but I suppose that just contributes to the sense of immersion.
Speaking of immersion, the soundtrack does a great job of pulling you into the game without being overbearing. There is actually a lot of silence in 999, so when you do hear music, it really adds to the atmosphere and helps you tap into the sense of urgency that the characters are feeling.
Luckily, you never actually have to rush your way through any of the puzzles, even if the music makes you feel like your life depends on your next button press. Some of the rooms are pretty big and some of the puzzles can be frustrating, but since there isn’t actually a timer ticking down for you as the player, you can take all the time you need to figure things out. Thankfully, the puzzles usually are only annoying when you’ve somehow managed to miss exploring a part of the room you are trapped in. So, if you hit a stumbling block, just take some time to poke around some more with the stylus. Odds are, you’ll find just the item you need around a corner you didn’t realize you could investigate. Otherwise, the actual completion of the puzzles really isn’t that difficult.
Once you’ve beaten the game for the first time, you can go back and restart it with the memories of your previous playthrough. You’ll need to do this to get the true ending. It’s also really nice because after your first pass, you can skip all of the text you’ve seen before. If I have one complaint, it’s the fact that you can’t increase the text speed unless you are flying through story stuff you’ve read already. At least you can save at any time; this way, if you need to shut off the game, you aren’t stuck waiting until the end of a long text sequence.
One other thing worth mentioning is 999‘s mature rating. It definitely earns it with lots of swearing, tense situations, very detailed descriptions of some rather gory corpses, etc. This probably isn’t a DS game you’ll want your kid playing if you don’t want them picking up curse words and seeing huge blood splatters. If I’m honest, 999 really is a bit of a twisted game, though it does have a touching ending and a brilliant story.
The Good: Great story with great pacing + suspense, well-rounded characters, nice art, good music
The Bad: No speed increase option for text
Bottom Line?: Keep in mind the rating, but if you like a good story with well-done suspense and great characters (basically, if you aren’t out of your mind), go play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors as soon as you can get your hands on it. Still not convinced? Here’s a trailer.