Nine people trapped aboard a sinking ship. Nine hours to escape the sinking ship. Nine special doors that will impede them in process of their escape. Not only are they in constant danger with a time limit mercilessly placed upon them, but they’re left to ponder their mysterious circumstances: who kidnapped them, and what did they have in store for the group? What lies in the shadows of this incident? And as the protagonist finds himself wondering, ‘Why do I know these things?” That is the situation in 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a visual novel/game that manages to not only combine a very good mystery with high amounts of suspense, but also \manages to introduce a narrative style so unique, it could only be done on the DS.
The premise is that nine persons are trapped aboard a sinking ship (something on the size of the Titanic), which will go under in nine hours. These nine people were each kidnapped by someone who goes by Zero. Zero forces them to navigate through the ship, and find a door labeled 9. In order to do so, they will eventually come across eight other numbered doors; these numbered doors have special conditions. If anyone fails those special conditions, they die. What initially follows is a plot that might pass for an overly-elaborate Saw scheme.
Presentation-wise, this game is rather standard as far as visual novels go. You have the background + sprites combo, and then select CGs that pop up here and there. Additionally, CGI movies occasionally play. In the audio department, the game’s OST is rather unique in that there aren’t a whole lot of happy tunes. If my memory serves me correct, I think there are only one or two songs that sound upbeat. Aside from those, you get lots of suspenseful tracks, and some particularly well done tearjerker tracks as well. All in all, a good soundtrack. However, narrative presentation really takes the cake. The narrative presents two perspectives, one for each screen. The top screen is handled like a normal visual novel that follows the perspective of the main character, Junpei. He doesn’t have a sprite, but he still speaks, and you get to see his thoughts as well. The bottom screen is a third person narration of the events currently going on around Junpei. Now, this may seem incredibly redundant at first, but it ties into the plot EXCELLENTLY by the end. Remember how I said the style of a visual novel is, at the very least, unique? Yeah, this is one of those VNs that perfectly exemplify the medium’s potential. The game’s narrative is just too good. It even effectively manages to connect the different routes/endings in an ingenious manner. This component is perhaps my favorite part of the game.
You might’ve seen me use the words “game” before. Yesthat wasn’t a mistake; this title actually does have some gameplay. The gameplay is very much like that of an adventure game. Whenever you enter certain rooms, the exit is always either locked or hidden away, so you must click on parts of the environment, get flavor text, hints, or something that advances the puzzle (like some sort of item). You can inspect that item to look for something that even further advances the puzzle and possibly even use it somewhere down the line. Repeat ad nauseam until you get out of the damned room that you’re stuck in. Oh, sometimes there’s more dialogue! You can probably imagine that the gameplay isn’t very substantial. To 999’s defense, many of the puzzles require logic and are quite stimulating. Unfortunately, the rest of the puzzles involving clicking everywhere, something that’s reminiscent of Phoenix Wright’s detective segments. As many could remember, those weren’t the best parts of the series.
On to the characters! You have Ace, an older gentleman, Snake, a young man dressed like a prince, Santa, another young man who is aloof for the most part (but can be quite foul-mouthed), Clover, your token young girl, Junpei, the main character and college student who doesn’t get enough sleep, June, the main character’s childhood friend, Seven (nice nickname, by the way), a large man who doesn’t use his head all too often, Lotus, a woman dressed like a dancer who can also be quite mean-spirited, and the 9th Man, one who seems unusually nervous. If it sounds like I copied most of this from Wikipedia, then you’ve got quite a good intuition. While the characters start out fairly archetypal, they all have hidden secrets and depth that often surprised me. The director, Kotaro Uchikoshi, admitted that he created characters using Jungian archetypes but would fill them out with intricacies that make the characters well rounded (Uchikoshi actually has a thing for Jungian archetypes, as you’ll see in reviews to come). By starting with archetypes, the audience can immediately connect with them, which helps when characters grow. While it may sound like I’m overstating the importance of a standard character creation procedure, this method works particularly well. That’s not to say I didn’t have any complaints. The characters get varying amounts of importance. While this is also normal in fiction, the ‘nine’ motif made it seem like each character was equally important. Not the case. Additionally, I feel like the nature of the plot prevented the reader from fully appreciating the characters. It sort of felt like they were playing second fiddle to the plot, but that still doesn’t change the fact that this was an outsanding cast.
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