Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (otherwise known as 999) isn't your average game: While it has an original concept unlike any other game, the thing is, this game isn't really a game... at least, not in the sense you may be thinking. This game is what's classified as a "visual novel," which is an interactive novel of sorts: You read lines upon lines of dialogue which watching static anime sprites go through pre-set poses. Visual Novels are rare to see outside the land of the rising sun, but they certainly ain't nonexistant: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are but one of a few that sees success overseas. However, while Phoenix Wright is certainly a well received game, visual novels are for the most part, hit or miss, with games like Time Hollow and Lux-Pain failing to make a splash. With Akyss releasing 999 to everyone, will it reach to the same heights as the beloved Ace Attorney series, or will it end up in the bargain bin?
999 is commonly compared to the Saw films, and with good reason: 999 has characters put into something called the Nonary Game, where they must play for their life. Nonary means nine, which makes perfect sense: The nine characters has nine hours to find a door with a nine on it, or else the bomb in their intensines (read: impossible to regurgitate) will blow. To traverse through the doors, they need to satisfy certain conditions: The characters are all assigned a number from one to nine, and three to five of the characters' number's digital root must equal to the number of the door they want to go in. So to go through Door 5, their digital roots must be 5. For example, characters 1, 2, 4, and 7 would have the number (when added up) 14, and 1 + 4 = 5, which is their digital root, allowing them access. Failure to follow these rules will result in immediate death.
Now before you get too stressed out about worrying about who goes into what doors, let me just tell you that it's pretty much automatic on how the game proceeds: You read through lines upon lines of dialogue until you're given a choice on what to say, or what to do. While not every choice you make will determine which of the 6 endings you get (3 of which are bad with 1 red herring), it will become pretty obvious when it will (like which Door do you want to go through when presented the choice). While that would be the gameplay of most visual novels, 999 has a little extra something included to make gameplay a little more exciting... Escape puzzles.
Solving the puzzles
Like the overabundance of flash games that flood the web, the Escape segment of the game have you searching a confined room for items and clues on how to get out of a room. While some are certainly brain-teasers, most of the time you just need to know what to do at what time. There's quite a good number of puzzles that exists in the game, but most are solved the same way: Look through every "clickable" object until you have all that you need, and then ask the characters on what you should do with them. Most of the time, they just flat out tell you what to do, like "Use this to do that," while at other times, they simply give cryptic clues along the lines of "Have you found something that can be used to decode this?" It's interesting to find out how to solve each puzzle, but hardly any of them requires any brain power to do so. But should you get stuck, you have the option to save at ANY time without fear of being backed into a corner, so you can always put the game down without going to sleep mode.
But you will find out how hard it will be to. This game simply has an engrossing story that'll leave you wanting to find out more, and with lovable characters that you'll grow attached to. While most people have nicknames to hide their true identities, it won't be long until you're able to recognize each and every character. Even though there's no voice acting, the way the dialogue was written gives everyone a different vibe, such as giving Snake a "princely demeanor" or Clover that "bratty little girl attitude." Sure, they are anime clich'es such as the lovable lug (Seven) or the snobbish, big breasted woman (Lotus), but the presentation allow them to each stand on their own, and that is important, if not absolutely crucial, in a visual novel (after all, who'd love the Ace Attorney series without Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, Dick Gumshoe, etc.?)
Kinda reminds you of a certain someone I just mentioned, eh?
However, unlike Phoenix Wright, but like most visual novels, this game is meant to be played multiple times. There are 6 endings, and while some are essentially the same as one another (they don't end on a good note), all of which should be experienced, sans one ending that, in particular, is nothing more than a tease. While it may take over 7 hours to get through one playthrough, on repeated playthroughs, you're allowed to fast forward dialogue, effectively cutting the time in half. For a game with multiple endings, this and the "save anytime" feature are a godsend. However, the only problem is that you can't fast forward puzzles you've done before, meaning you have to do them again. While knowing the answers certainly helps, you still have to do things in the order you have to instead of going straight to the answer, which can be annoying. It is intended that you have to redo the puzzles because sometimes the main character, Junpei, will learn new things during the puzzle if you did things differently before then, but to still have to do the puzzles itself is a real drag.
Still, the endings are all worth to get (except the coffin ending, which is essentially half of the true ending, so it's pointless to get since you'll probably want the true ending anyway) just for the experience. In fact, this whole game is an experience: The character designs are typical, but the atmosphere of the scenes are particularly haunting, with the appropriate music accompanying them. And since the game is so well written, you may find yourself becoming Junpei as he tries to not only survive, but to the find out about the truth of this game: Why are these characters selected? What is the purpose of the game? Why is his childhood friend that he haven't seen in years here? These are questions that are answered well in the true ending, which is achieved not just by going a certain route, but by achieving a certain "bad" ending before it. While I will certainly keep my mouth shut on spoilers, I can say that the both the "bad" ending, as well as the "true" ending of this game stands out to be one of the highlights of this game, and it simply must be experienced. You may see it coming with the clues sprinkled throughout the game, but seeing come to fruition is a feeling unlike any other.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with 999: Like a good book, it filled my mind with a great story filled with haunting details that all ties up together for a grand finale. While I wasn't a big fan of the unanswered questions that lingered, this game simply is an experience that's well worth the 35 dollar price tag. However, the controls weren't as nice as they could've been (not as smooth as Phoenix Wright), and while having multiple endings SHOULD'VE given you a reason to play again and again, the time you spend in each playthrough drops to the point where you spend more time at the puzzles than reading anything else, and 3 of the 6 endings don't contribute anything that you couldn't have found out in the two "true" endings... But this game clearly had a lot of thought put into it, and while the visual novel aspect of the game means that it may not BE for everyone, everyone needs to EXPERIENCE this hidden gem.
While it isn't much, a couple of these are sprinkled throughout the game, specifially for the key moments.
Graphics ---- 8.0
-While the sprites of the characters are so crisp, the animation isn't as smooth as it could've been. The backgrounds are nice to look at, but it's not unlike something you couldn't see on those online "escape the room" flash games.
Sound ------- 8.5
-While there is simply no dialogue at all, the music is haunting when it needs to be, which is quite often. Some of them do cycle over and over throughout the game, but for the most part, it does the job well.
Controls ----- 7.0
-I can't believe on how the controls are somewhat awkward. Sure, the hit box is generous for some items, but for others, it's almost a nightmare. I had trouble at a few puzzles simply because the game failed to register what I was doing, or it registers it too late. I'm not sure if it's just me, but I never had this problem before the puzzles...
Fun Factor --- 8.0
-Going through it once is like reading a really good book: You'll find it hard to put down. And on repeated playthroughs, learning the revelations, as well as the "what if's" scenarios, is equally enjoyable, but redoing puzzles aren't, especially when they were a nightmare to do the first time (write down your answers).
Final Verdict - 9.0
-This game is like a book, so it's a hit or miss thing for most people. Visual novels aren't for everyone, and it surely could've been more. But instead of focusing on what the game could've been, focus on what it is, because it excels at what it does.
Will anyone make it out alive?