You have been Chosen…You are going to participate in a game
The lights were off. The doors were shut. I was sitting on my desk chair like a paper weight sits on a desk. I wasn’t moving anytime soon. It was around 4 A.M. and I was in it for the long haul; I was going to finish the game. The Nonary Game.
In two weeks time, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward will be coming out for the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, the sequel to said game I am reviewing. Rather then jump into the game with a blank slate, I grabbed a DS and picked up 999: Nine Doors, Nine Persons, Nine Hours; a game that had picked up a mountain of accolades solely on its ability to execute a complex story that unfolded from its seemingly simple roots. Many of you more than likely know of movies, games, and books that play out in a similar fashion: group of people are kidnapped and forced to play a game of life and death. It is a tried a true formula that excites the brain’s reptilian complex and limbic systems in the most traditional of senses: it pumps adrenaline into your body.
So what separates 999 from the rest of these games? Its an assortment of things actually, all of which accumulated to a consensus among player who have completed the Nonary Games; this game is one total mind@#$%.
The game plays out like any other traditional visual novel game, story segments that would eventually be followed by puzzle sequences. Its a very traditional format, however I stress this because this is a much more Japanese style of game; there is a reason why there aren’t many American visual novel games, hardly any really. The story begins with the main character, Junpei, waking up inside a ship’s cabin wondering: where he is, how he got there, and why he is there. Suddenly water begins to pour into his locked cabin; the top screen fades to a transition screen: Seek a way out! *Begin story to puzzle sequence* Simple enough to follow along.
However, as with many visual novel style games, the emphasis is on the story. The puzzle segments act a diversion to this narrative. When you eventually escape from your cabin you will encounter the other eight players, totaling the titular nine persons. Our antagonist, Zero, will give the his instructions/rules: You have nine hours to find the 9th door. Each person is equipped with a bracelet that will detonate an explosive inside each person’s intestine if you happen to break Zero’s rules; its not a pretty sight…
As the Nonary game progresses, you will be posed with a series of choices, most of which will effect the outcome of your playthrough. The beautiful thing about this game is that it demands multiple playthroughs. It is actually impossible to get the canon ending without having gone through the game once. To explain why would be spoiling the fun, but just know that there is a reason for it. And while the game will force you repeat some of the same sequences, rest assured to can blaze through the story parts you have previously witnessed with the fast forward feature unlocked after you’ve completed your first playthrough. This allows you to get to the points in the game that you have yet to experience much quicker. It is also impressive to point out that story itself has subtle clues to guide you to the true ending, I cant say what detail, but if you can catch it you will find the true ending much quicker. Many things that were implemented into game were done so on purpose. You will question, you will sweat, but most of all you suffer trying to solve the mystery behind the Nonary Game.
While the premise may seem to be horror by nature, this game is ultimately a mindbending psychological thriller. You will be afraid at times, but it will be mixed in with a myriad of emotions caused by the many outlets of emotion presented by the game. The music, while bogged down by the handheld nature of the DS makes best use of sound to date from the handheld, helping escalate the tension with impressive execution. Also, the use of a dual screen was necessary for this game, so its was a natural choice to choose the DS as the handheld of choice. Towards the end, it becomes apparent that the two screens become more and more necessary. This, paired with the story sequence’s crazy twists and turns equates to a rather fascinating tale, among the best I have ever heard in any medium. If you think you know 999 by looking at the cover, sorry friends, you know nothing.
999 is not without it’s faults. As I mentioned before, the game plays out in a nine hours time span (In game). That being said, it took me roughly eleven hours to complete my first play through; obviously I had to read everything. However, I felt a lack of pressure knowing the game was going to shoehorn me into “hour 2″ or “Oh, I guess its 4am”, after solving a puzzle. I could have spent two hours on a puzzle beginning at 1am and I finish around 1:30 am. Its a small complaint, but something that would have contributed to an overall clock would have put more weight on my choices. The whole thing began to seem arbitrary at one point. It hardly affected the atmosphere though; despite a lack of pressure, there was definite sense of fear and motivation to complete the puzzles in a timely manner. The game can also suffer through repetitive puzzle game-play, however I find this subjective since some puzzle can be quite brilliant. It will eventually wear you down though, somewhere towards the end your final playthrough. There is also the matter of the graphical quality. I can appreciate the style chosen to go about this project, however I can sympathize by someone being put off by stills. The entire story is told via narrative and still pictures. This can be a turn off by some, but the artwork is very well done and certain scenes are extremely impactful.
I cannot stress this enough, 999 is a tour de force in every sense. They puzzles are challenging and fun, and contribute to the overall narrative in brilliant ways. Depending on your choices in the game, the overall narrative will change to reflect those choices in both the story portions and puzzles. By my third playthrough, more detailed information on certain aspects of the mythos were beginning to emerge. This being said, you will more than likely die on your first playthrough. Thats ok though, with that knowledge, you will be able to progress even further. And why you achieve the true ending, you will become suffer from a head trauma I refer to as being mind ‘proper’ f$#@ed.
Having recovered from 999′s climactic ending, Jaime was able to write down his thoughts about the game with a clear head. He loves story based games immensely, and thinks 999 exceeds so much in that category that he still quakes at the major twist. If you wanna talk about 999 or other story heavy games, hit him up on Twitter.