Yesterday we featured a story about a curious "visual novel", a genre of gaming that many people are unfamiliar with. Today we have a review from Kotaku reader Ben Latimore about a slightly less controversial but equally intriguing game of the same genre: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.
"You have 9 hours." 999 is a puzzle game / visual novel developed by the team behind original Dragon Quest games, Chunsoft, and translated by Aksys Games. The game promises to be an action-packed thrill-ride, but does it live up to these grand claims or is it just a dud? (PS: Review will remain spoiler free.)
Storytelling: 999 is arguably my choice for having one of the best stories (if not THE best story) of any game in 2011. It remains constantly fast-paced and leaves you guessing all the way to the very end; you constantly have choices to make that determine your fate, and new plot elements are constantly introduced. The characters you encounter each have their own backstories and a lot of the banter is hilarious.
Even a dead, blown-up body is explored in gory detail through text, which is probably worse than attempting to show said body on screen. Every one of the game's endings (there's six or seven depending on the way you look at it) each have their own plot elements to introduce into the game -- one ending can show one side of a character, another ending can show a side of another character. I apologize for the vague description but it’d be a spoiler to clarify any further.
Soundtrack: Accompanying the story is a high quality soundtrack, with unique beats for every puzzle and different situations. It succeeds at setting the tone for the game, conveying action, relief and despair. It’s a very strong tool used to give the game a consistently mysterious atmosphere.
Puzzles: Interpersed between the walls of text and choices come with a series of Flash-style "escape the room" puzzles. Before everyone starts sighing and walking out the door, let me explain why this falls within the “Liked” category.
The puzzles are very well designed. Random screen-tapping is kept to a minimum, you're not time-limited in any way (even though the main story implies a time limit), and you're able to save at any area you like to come back to a puzzle later. Sometimes, even non-escape the room puzzles are dropped in to give a bit of extra variety. Everything related to the puzzles is just done right in every way.
Slow Skipping: As with other visual novels, 999 has multiple endings so it requires going through the game multiple times to see everything. While it's very enjoyable to do so, the skipping text goes rather slowly and it's impossible to skip in-game puzzles, even if you've done them before. The slow skipping feels like it pads out the remaining game time. The game's first puzzle will be burnt into your memory by the end of your last playthrough.
Addictiveness: Start playing this and you'll probably have a lot of sleepless nights. I stayed up until 3am getting the first two endings of the game. Then I spent another night getting endings three, four and five. My god, it's almost as bad as crack. The storyline is really just that gripping.
I'm pretty sure 999 is my favourite Nintendo DS game to this day. The story is fantastic, the puzzles are great, and it simply becomes a truly epic staple in the DS's library and something everyone should play.