How do I even begin to tackle this title?
I'd wanted to play Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) for quite a while before undertaking this Game Journal. I'd had the Nintendo DS version sitting on my shelf since 2011, but had never played it due to other games taking my scant free time (games I've mostly forgotten). With the advent of the PlayStation 4 remaster, including 999 and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward (VLR), I decided to give this updated version a try, promptly played a few hours, thought it was interesting and was subsequently distracted by another game, one I also forgot.
After now having finished 999 and achieving all it has to offer, I can say that I'm never going to forget this experience.
What 999 manages to do with its cast, narrative, and gameplay is nothing short of near genius. It takes nine disparate personalities, escape-room influenced gameplay and a twisting plot, and melds them into an experience that, I believe, showcases the best that the visual novel genre has to offer.
If I've been light on details, forgive me, because I think 999 as a whole is a game that's best experienced with very little knowledge beforehand. I can say that director and writer Kotaro Uchikoshi and the localization provided by Aksys Games is stellar. I can say that the soundtrack, composed by Shinji Hosoe, communicates tone and mood perfectly, weaving between tracks that denote suspense to heart-warming crescendos. I (Stranger) can say that podcasting the twists and turns with Leona (Jade), Hilary (Hilary) and Michael (Monsoon) was fantastic fun.
It's not an entirely perfect experience, with some of the late-game puzzles within 999 eschewing ingenuity for mild tedium, but it is worth experiencing.
If you're curious about visual novels or good stories, I think 999 is well worth your time.
Give it a shot, and see where a story set upon a sinking ship takes you.
For a time, I thought 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors ruined mystery stories for me. They say new experiences cause your brain to knit together new pathways to help you understand and process them faster in the future and I certainly think this game created some new pathways in my brain. The characters, the story, the pseudo-science, the twists, the thrill, the emotion, this game took me on a boat ride I will never forget.
For a few days after I beat this game, I was having little revelations almost hourly. The story is so carefully constructed and so cleverly written that your first playthrough of this game is somehow a completely different story than your second. After the True Ending everything is re-contextualised and you realise you were not playing the game you thought you were.
One of life's little cruel realities is that you can only play a game for the first time once and that is probably more true for this game than many others. Though like the best mystery stories, that doesn't mean that it stops being interesting just because you know how it ends. If anything this game gets better with replays, as there's always one little detail you didn't pick up the last time you played, and the well of appreciation doth spring anew.
I am one of those people who spend way too much time on YouTube watching other people play games I've already played just so I can live vicariously through them. Barring any Seven-esque amnesia, this is the closest way I've discovered to getting that feeling of playing something for the first time once more. So when I saw 999 was on the docket for Retro Encounter, I knew I had to be on it, if for nothing else than the sheer selfish pleasure of getting to be there as Hilary and Stranger discovered what 999 had to offer. It's safe to say I was not disappointed, and the Nonary Games trilogy has gained two new fans.
Yes, for a time I thought 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors ruined mystery stories for me... but then I played its sequel Virtue's Last Reward and I was proven wrong. Very wrong.
Truth had gone, truth had gone, truth had gone...
I found that phrase repeating in my head after finally getting to the true ending of 999. I started wondering why that stuck with me, and the best explanation I can come up with (other than the catchy repetition) is that it embodies one of the most impressive aspects of this game. Elements in 999 are incredibly carefully placed so that at any given moment, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
On its own, this message is a really simple plot device. In context, it looks very different. It draws on the emotional power of Clover's death in the Safe ending, it can't be understood without information from multiple paths in the story, and the lateral thinking required with it ties into puzzles elsewhere on the ship. On a thematic level — and this is where it draws staying power for me, I think — the idea of truth being gone is extremely relevant to a story centering around morphogenetic fields that allow the transfer of information a person has not actually experienced. Something like that completely changes your idea of what's true. I can come up with so many connections for this one tiny piece of the game, and I'm fairly sure I could do it for any number of other parts.
On top of that, 999's solid gameplay and good pacing make it a decent thriller/detective story. The tension is there, the characters are well developed, and you do feel invested in trying to figure out what's going on. I think I can speak to this specifically because it was my first time playing the game. Like any good mystery, my first "read" had me suspicious of everyone and considering many theories about the games and relationships between the characters, yet when all the information was in front of me, I could see a specific set of evidence that leads to the accurate conclusion. (It's there, even if there's a lot of other information thrown at you and you're not very likely to guess the significance of that set of evidence before the ending.)
My only gripes are occasionally with the gameplay. There were certain environments where the controls made it difficult to navigate or find objects, and sometimes puzzles were too similar or a little tedious...or not quite as satisfying to solve as I would have liked them to be. Did I really earn that "you found it," or is this game being just slightly condescending? On the whole, though, this game presents a watertight narrative (haha) and achieves both its aims. It investigates the question of where inspiration comes from by drawing in all these disparate elements and connecting them, as well as presenting very different characters and showing how they process the life-or-death Nonary Games; it also gives you a definite "you found it" feeling of accomplishment when you finally put all the pieces together. I am glad I played it and can see why it generated such excitement when it was selected as a game journal.
I would normally say something like "I had a lot of fun playing 999 this month!" but I was so entranced that I finished it in three nights, weeks before we recorded the first episode. I first played 999 on the DS eight years ago (but I'll say it was nine years ago to stay consistent), and my second run was just as exciting as the first.
999 inspires distrust in the player right away. The very first minute has our hero escaping from a room under urgent threat of drowning. In the first 45 minutes one of those nine characters on the cover dies in a grisly manner. The other eight are alternately likable and suspicious, and nothing is as it seems until the final minutes of the True Ending. I dare not go into story or character details, but 999 is full of shocking imagery and some real mindblows for plot twists and turns.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is the total package. As a mystery story, it has genuine intrigue and drama with a satisfying conclusion. As a puzzle adventure game, it has thought-provoking escape rooms with moderate challenge. For anyone interested in visual novels or video game storytelling, 999 is a must-play. And the digital root of "a must play" in base ten... is nine.