Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
極限脱出 9時間9人9の扉 (Kyokugen Dasshutsu 9 Jikan 9 Nin 9 no Tobira)
Chunsoft / Aksys
Nintendo DS / iOS
Junpei is a normal college student. One day, he awakens and finds himself trapped in a room in a sinking ship! He learns he’s not the only one to be kidnapped and brought here, and they are all being forced to play a life-or-death game by the mysterious Zero.
With the third game in the trilogy coming up, I start at the beginning. All I can say is, “Better late than never.”
I remember hearing about Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, but I wasn’t too interested since I’m not a huge fan of survivor tales. I didn’t even realize for a long time there was a sequel. But with the third game in the series coming up, I found myself swept up in the hype over the preorder limited edition watches. After seeing how in-demand the watches are from the second game, I decided to keep my preorder. But I like to do things in order, and if I’m going to get the third game, I need to start from the beginning. So I’m starting with Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and plan on reviewing Zero Escape 2: Virtue’s Last Reward later (and Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma eventually).
The basic premise is that you, the player, take on the role of Junpei, a college student trying to survive in a life-or-death “game”. Unlike most visual novels, the text is not written in first person point-of-view. So it’s “Junpei did this” instead of “I did this”. The game makes use of both of the DS’s screens for the text. The top screen features dialogue while the bottom Junpei’s thoughts and narration. I was kind of mixed on it. On one hand, it made it easy to determine when characters are talking, but on the other, I kind of wished the menu was displayed.
Since the story is essential about a survival game, the game is quite mature. I have a feeling since the game was going to be rated M anyways, Aksys just went full-on with the swear words like Hakuoki. Regardless, expect blood and violence but no sexual situations. This is a game of fiction, but there are some real-life references, and the game delves a bit into science-related fields. Since the game isn’t voiced, you will need to pay close attention. The game will repeat important topics, but you will not want to read too quickly and miss out on some explanations. I was taken by surprise by some of the twists, and the game’s true ending has a relatively satisfying conclusion.
Despite the whole game taking place in nine hours, the characters do seem to talk a lot. I know the characters have to explain the scientific concepts, but geez, how fast were they solving these puzzles? They talk forever sometimes! The various choices means some characters get more time than others. Obviously, since the group doesn’t get any breaks like in a game like Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, most of the characterization is limited to quirks. There’s the smart one, the tough guy, the sweet one, etc. This is not a game focusing on character development or even the characters; you play this game for the story. And it is quite a good story.
The adventure part of the game features a good number of choices with several branching paths and endings. There are several different endings, and completing them helps unlock the true path. It’s not a secret route like in many other games; it’s the actual story. As one would expect, there are some bad endings. After playing a game like I Doll U where the choices were extremely limited, I really appreciated the decision-making. However, I do not feel like the other routes added much to the story outside of shock value; most of the important information gained during your explanation is repeated in the main route with some additional dialogue. You could just borrow a copy and just do the main route (by following a guide) without missing much.
The game is a visual novel with minigames. The minigames essentially boil down to trying to escape a locked room. Since the game is set on a ship, the characters visit a range of rooms (hospital, lounge room, etc.). This helps add variety to the story and the minigame themes. The puzzles are not bad, but they can be annoying since there’s no memo feature in the game. Some puzzles involve just combining items and putting them in the right place, but other puzzles involve manipulating pieces or decrypting codes. Be aware the iOS version eliminates the puzzles, so that’s something to consider. So it’s a straight-up visual novel there. Anyways, unless you’re using a walkthrough, keep a paper or note-taking app handy. One of the things I was afraid of was a time limit since the whole game takes place in nine hours. Fortunately, you can play the game at your own pace. So whether you take one minute in real-time or one hour, the story just continues according to its own clock. Your comrades may comment on it, but you won’t be punished for bad guesses. They also do keep giving tips if you get stuck. This is important because the game, annoyingly, only allows one save file, and you pretty much have to save to unlock each ending.
Also annoying is the fact, when you replay the game, you must redo the puzzles. You can’t even skip the prologue. It gets really boring and annoying to keep doing the same thing over and over again. Plus holy cow, the “skip read” feature is horrible. You have to hold down the right directional pad, and it’s so uncomfortable. I wish it had like a “press once to skip, press again to stop” feature. Of course, a “skip to next choice” would be best, but holding the directional pad is, again, uncomfortable. You also often cannot skip dialogue if the preceding scene is new. For instance, you may chose a different door the second time around, but end up with the same conversation afterwards. The game won’t let you skip the dialogue until the next “chapter”. (There are no formal chapters in the game.) The iOS version, however, includes a flow chart allowing you to jump back to previous areas.
The CGs (well, the characters themselves) have an anime feel to them, not surprising for a Japanese game. I would love an explanation on Lotus’ outfit though. I guess Chunsoft felt they needed some fanservice. There’s no gallery to look at the CGs later. As this is a Nintendo DS game (later ported to iOS), the graphics are a little dated. They feel like a step up from the Ace Attorney trilogy, but I still feel like I’ve seen better. I do like the animations which help add personality to the characters; they’re a little more unique than the traditional “shake head” sprites. One character will scrunch his beanie in his hand while another will point dramatically. Like any artwork, some CGs are nice while a couple are ugly, seemingly off-model.
I did notice at least one typo ( “another think comin'” instead of “another thing comin'”). But what really drove me crazy reading this game was the digit “2” being constantly used in the dialogue. The game was full of dialogue like, “What are you 2 doing?”, “Hey, you 2, hurry up!”, and even “2 people will be left behind!”, and I couldn’t stand it as an English major. I was taught the numbers one through nine should pretty much always be written out. Some people may argue against this practice or rule (some say numbers as high as 20 should be written out), but you definitely write out the number when it’s at the beginning of a sentence! It’s one thing if they’re talking about, say, door 2, but not in the phrase “you two”! Who decided this?!
I don’t know how necessary this game is for the sequels, but despite the annoying gameplay aspects, the story is quite intriguing. I enjoyed Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors and think most visual novel fans who don’t mind a bit of gore and sci-fi will enjoy it.
The DS game is still in-print, so you might want to pick it up before it becomes hard to find like other niche games. Note that there are two covers for the game, the first version being more expensive to acquire. It’s not too much of a premium if you want it though (approximately $10 more).
As I mentioned, the game has a sequel currently available on both Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The third game in the trilogy is currently in development.