Jahanzeb Khan
25 Jan, 2011

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Review

DS Review | Import: Will we give it a Nine?
The graphic ‘point-and-click’ adventure genre has been prominent since the early years of the video game industry, with several iconic and notable franchises such as Sam and Max, Myst and Monkey Island. However, the Japanese variant of the genre, the ‘visual novel’, didn’t have much of a presence outside of Japan, which was strange considering the popularity of the adventure genre. Thankfully though, this has changed, as we have seen the likes of Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk and Professor Layton arrive in our region and enjoy tremendous success, both critically and commercially. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (or simply 999) is yet another visual novel to arrive on the Nintendo DS, and while there is no local PAL release for the game (yet), a full English localisation is just an import away.

999 is a mystery thriller adventure where you play the role of a scrawny university student named Junpei, who along with eight other individuals, finds himself in a very unique and frightening predicament. The game starts off with Junpei waking up in a room and not knowing where he is. He soon realises that he is inside a ship but can’t remember how and why he ended up there all of sudden. On his wrist he finds a bracelet with the digit ‘5’ displayed, and that cannot be removed. He soon recalls being attacked (and kidnapped) in his apartment by a mysterious figure wearing a gas mask, known as ‘Zero’. As he makes his way out of the room he runs into eight other individuals who also have similar bracelets but with different numbers. The moment they meet each other for the first time, the mysterious Zero speaks for the first time, telling them that they are all part of an experiment called the ‘Nonary Game’, where they must follow the rules and escape the ship within nine hours by finding a door marked with a ‘9’. Failure to do so will result in them drowning into the ocean with the ship serving as their coffin. To further add to an already difficult challenge, breaking the rules of the game will detonate a bomb that's been stuck inside each of the nine participants.

The participants of the game are an eccentric bunch of characters, who introduce themselves using a code name (Junpei misses out on a fancy code name because his name gets blurted out right from the get go). The characters include the likes of an exotic dancer, a blind man and a crazy nerdy looking guy (you won’t spend much time with this one), among several others. The most interesting character that Junpei runs into is his childhood friend ‘Akane’, someone he hasn’t seen in nine years and her presence in this trial is beyond a mere coincidence. It becomes pretty obvious that Akane was Junpei’s love interest in the past and their reunion reignites an old flame, leading to some very interesting (and hilariously awkward) situations.

Junpei's journey begins with him waking on the wrong side of the bed... a truly crappy night was ahead of him.

Junpei's journey begins with him waking on the wrong side of the bed... a truly crappy night was ahead of him.
Ideally, all the characters must work together to successfully complete the Nonary Game and escape the ship but circumstances later on force mutual feelings of distrust and suspicion, circumstances involving mysterious disappearances and even some gruesome and messy murders. Nothing is what it seems and the characters aren’t exactly who they appear to be. The best example is Lotus, she may look like an exotic dancer who probably doesn’t have much of an IQ, but as the game progresses you will learn how remarkably well read, intelligent and computer literate she is. The main adversary ‘Zero’ is perhaps the most mysterious of all, whose true identity goes beyond anything you could imagine, and who for the most part plays a role quite similar to Jigsaw from the SAW series (although not nearly as sadistic).

The plot of 999 starts off as a murder mystery where the characters are engaged in an elaborate escape mission, but the mysterious nature of the characters and the true motives behind the Nonary Game add plenty of layers and suspense to the plot. As you work your way through the game’s many endings and head towards the true ending, you will be awestruck by the twists and turns that the plot takes towards something absolutely mindboggling. It really is all about attention to detail, as throughout the course of the game characters will bring up some fascinating stories and theories, and while they may seem like pointless ‘good to know’ ramblings at first, they are all subtle hints of the big surprises to come. The plot is well thought out, intuitive and paced extremely well, keeping you guessing till the very end and dropping your jaw at every turn. It’s worth mentioning that the localisation of the game is incredible as the writing and dialogue delivery is mature, intuitive, witty and chockfull of tasteful innuendo. Some of the best moments of the game are the hilarious innuendo filled dialogues between Junpei and June, which provide a nice lighthearted break from the otherwise intense plot.

5 wasn't Junpei's lucky number at all...niether was 0.

5 wasn't Junpei's lucky number at all...niether was 0.
It’s pretty clear by now that 999 is a game heavily driven by plot, and the story pretty much takes center stage, so you can expect to read through plenty of text and animation stills. Much like Ace Attorney and Professor Layton though, there is puzzle-driven gameplay. Junpei and his companions will find themselves in situations where they are trapped, and to progress they must seek a way out by successfully solving a series of puzzles (and trials). The puzzles range from numerical problems, logic puzzles that force you to use common items in clever ways and some unique mini-game puzzles. A lot of the puzzles require you to interact with static environments looking for clues and items; collected items can be ‘combined’ to achieve results that will assist in solving bigger puzzles. This item combination system isn’t literal as all you do is use items together, for example you can ‘combine’ a screwdriver with a picture frame which will result in Junpei using a screwdriver to take apart the frame and retrieve the photograph inside. The puzzles are challenging but in an intuitive, rewarding and clever way. They are quite doable and really put your brain to the test. Normally puzzle-driven games suffer from puzzles that are downright unfair and frustrating with little to no direction provided, but that isn’t a problem in 999 as the game provides a clear objective and some reasonable hints.

You will also face choices during the game, and since you’re stuck with one save file there’s no going back on an old save to change your decision, and of course with these decisions come consequences that pretty much alter the course of the story, thus leading to one of several endings. This adds a lot of replay-ability to the game and makes it very engaging, with each play-through shedding more light and answering more questions.

Seek a way out!

Seek a way out!
Being a visual novel, the visuals of the 999 mainly comprise of animation stills and pre-rendered environments, something that is prevalent in just about any visual novel game on the Nintendo DS. A game like 999 is driven by art, which is actually quite good courtesy of the cool character designs. While there is very little animation in the game, the characters are still expressed well enough even with just animation stills, giving them charm and personality. The music in 999 is dark, with intense, eerie and doom impending tracks to compliment each situation, the soundtrack similar to that of a murder thriller movie but there are a few catchy techno beats in there.

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a highly satisfying experience that will reel you in. The plot is perhaps the primary focus of the title but the puzzle elements are nicely done with each puzzle being an intuitive and rewarding test of logic and mathematical skill. What matters most in a visual novel is the story, and Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors delivers remarkably well in this area with its highly engaging mystery thriller plot, interesting characters and above all, excellent writing and dialogue delivery. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a mature and rewarding visual novel experience with an unforgettable story and some intuitive puzzle solving.
The Score
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a mature and rewarding visual novel experience with an unforgettable story that features some truly excellent writing. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
Sweet review. I remember reading up about this game somewhere a while back, but for some reason I lost track of it. Will definitely check this one out.

Is it just me or does the title sound wrong? Shouldn't it be '9 people', not '9 persons'?
3 years ago
No, I think "9 Persons" is grammatically the correct way of saying it?
Aksys (the devs) actually have a rep over on Siliconera, I believe, and from a few comments, you can really tell they took a lot of care and effort into the translation.

Great review, Jahanzeb! Totally agree with, well, everything. Kind of surprised me, when this game came out. No loud trumpets or fanfare whatsoever, then bam, a flurry of great reviews. Great game, can't wait for the sequel.
3 years ago
One of this year's best imports so far. Too bad, I couldn't score the bracelet watch.
3 years ago
Games like 999 make me scared of what we will miss out on with the region coded 3DS (if you don't import the 3DS itself). This and Ghost Trick have made for a fantastic end to the DS.
3 years ago
Nice review. Very informative, gotta love those odd theories. I wish I snaged one of those bracelet watchs.

I'd say they went for "9 persons" because the s on the end of each word, makes it sound secretive
3 years ago
oh shit, you did give it a nine. This game looks great and i'm going to keep a eye out for it and import it.
3 years ago
awesome review am starting this game as we speak. Very excited about it after reading the review. Glad it got a "9" lol
3 years ago
Great review. I really like the character artwork and designs, that's what really pulled my interest at first. The interactions between June and Junpei sound quite funny. Hopefully my copy arrives soon.
3 years ago
Yay! I made the '9'th post icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
It would have been more impressive if the review was your 999th post icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
I took a risk on this game because of your review and I'm really enjoying it (now on my third playthrough). So good job. And this isn't the first time I've picked up a game because of a PALGN review.
2 years ago
Well said sir. I'm also going through it for the 3rd time (slowly since friday).
By the way are you any relation to K-PAX ?
2 years ago
No relation. Actually I had to hunt down my old PALGN log-in...

I've finished my third playthrough. I've gotten three different endings but now I'm unsure how to proceed. I'm avoiding spoilers because I want to work it out for myself (three endings left to find). That said, working out what flags I need to trigger is tricky...
2 years ago
Finished the game. Got all 6 endings with the true ending last... on my ninth playthrough.
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