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999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS) artwork

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS) review

"9 people have been kidnapped by someone named Zero to take part in the “Nonary Game”, a lovely piece of mathematical idiosyncrasy involving the digital roots of numbers. "

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is an interactive visual novel with one hell of a mouthful for a title. I’m just going to call it 999, like everyone else does. 999 puts you in the role of Junpei, one of nine people imprisoned in a deadly game of survival.

999 is story driven – the top screen will show a picture of your surroundings and any other character currently speaking, and their dialogue box. The lower screen will display the prose of the story. Occasionally you’ll be called upon to make a choice, which can affect the direction the story takes – there are six possible endings.

The basic premise of 999 is this: 9 people have been kidnapped by someone named Zero to take part in the “Nonary Game”, a lovely piece of mathematical idiosyncrasy involving the digital roots of numbers. 999 is so identifiably a Japanese game. The dialogue, the number games, and the meticulous outlining of the “rules” of the Nonary game could not have come from any other culture. When Zero describes the rules of the Nonary game to the nine participants, it definitely reminded me of the opening chapters of Battle Royale, a Japanese novel/film/manga which when to great efforts to establish the rules to a bunch of fictional characters.

A lot of thought has been put into the Nonary game, making sure the rules aren't exploitable. The consequences for breaking the rules are defined. Each character has a bracelet with a number on it, and each character (aside from Junpei) adopts a code name in relation to that number. So you end up with a cast of characters with names like Ace, Clover, Lotus and… Seven. You won’t have any idea who these people are at the start of the game, and depending on which route you take through the story, some characters will still be a mystery by the end.

The different paths in the story come from the different numbered doors you must go through. Only 3-5 characters can enter a door, and their digital root must add up to the number on the door. The digital root is the number you get when you add the numbers together until there is only a single digit number. It can be quite confusing at first, but the narrative goes to great lengths to explain it, and you’ll soon find it easy enough to calculate, although you’re not really required to calculate it too often.

Anyway, there are 9 numbered doors, 9 being the exit. In a single playthrough, you will only need to go through 3 numbered doors. Each door takes you to a room full of puzzles that you must solve to escape. This is where the story stops and you take control. You use the stylus and the touch screen to examine your surroundings and collect items. The puzzles are quite varied, though most do have a basis in mathematics. Do you know your hexadecimal? My background in computers made those sections much easier, but again, everything you need to know is helpfully explained to you. Some of the puzzles can be tricky, ranging from combining items in a certain way to deciphering codes. 999 forces you to think, but it never gets so challenging that it sends you running to a guide. You’ll want to work it out for yourself.

While in these rooms, you’ll have one on one conversations with whichever characters are with you, and you’ll learn more about them; who they are, what their connections to each other are, and they eventually go from strangers to well-developed, rounded characters.

I can’t go into detail about the characters or the story, because the joy is in discovering it for yourself. What I will say is that it is really well written, and the tension and suspense is palpable. You have nine hours to escape, although thankfully that is in story time rather than play time, so you don’t need to worry about time when you’re solving puzzles.

Because you’ll likely be replaying this game six times, you can fast-forward any dialogue you’ve already seen (it’ll slow down when you encounter new dialogue) making subsequent plays much quicker.

999 is tense and engaging. The puzzles are intelligent and the characters are likeable and mysterious and you’ll want to learn everything you can. It is a modern day Choose Your Own Adventure, and it is worth the experience.


jerec's avatar
Community review by jerec (February 18, 2014)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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