First released in Japan and then in North America a year later, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, or 999 for short, is a point-and-click, escape-the-room-esque visual novel game available originally on the Nintendo DS and now on PC, PS4, and PSVita. (Check out the trailer!) While it did not originally pick up much traction in Japan, it has accumulated its own following in North America. I firmly believe that it is important for everyone to experience this game for its immersive gameplay, intriguing storytelling, and emotional depth.
Before we begin, what’s a point-and-click game? As the name suggests, you point your cursor (or in this case, your stylus) at an item and click on it. This results in dialogue between players or an internal monologue from the protagonist that provides information about the item, usually resulting in character development or worldbuilding. Sometimes you can even keep said item in your inventory. Escape-the-room refers to a genre of games where you try to escape a room by using items you find. In 999, you find keys after solving puzzles in each room that aid your escape. Finally, a visual novel is an interactive game genre where the player is taken through narrative cut scenes in between game play and is often given some choices that can affect the outcome of the game. These choices typically results in multiple endings. 999 has six possible endings.
In 999, you play as the protagonist Junpei, a college student who is abducted along with eight non-playable characters, or NPCs, and forced to play a “Nonary Game.” This game, orchestrated by a masked person who calls themself “Zero”, puts the characters in life-or-death situations while they are aboard a sinking ship. Each character is equipped with a watch that has one number from 1-9 displayed. There are 9 special doors with a number written on each, and the characters must work together to figure out what group of them can go through a door equal to that number. For example, if they want to go through a number 6 door, their watches must have numbers that can add to 6. The NPCs often help the player determine what group of people can proceed through a door. The goal of the game is to find the number 9 door and get everyone through while also uncovering why these people were chosen to participate in this game.
In addition to being an original idea, the game is also well-executed in its storytelling and character development. All the characters that are pulled into the Nonary Game are crucial for discovering the purpose of the game. Through dialogue, you discover character quirks, and while interacting with objects in the rooms, you also learn about their histories and connections to the Nonary Game in cutscenes and story narration.
Junpei himself has a very distinct personality rather than the usual “blank slate” protagonist that is especially common in visual novel games. Junpei instead has an upbeat attitude despite the situation at hand. For example, he has over twenty comments about a ladder in one room that you can read if you continue to click on it despite the time constraints of the Nonary Game. The comedic jokes from Junpei help to break some of the tension that can arise during this game when death looms over all the characters and create a much more enjoyable experience.
The most enjoyable aspect of this game is the emotional impact it provides, specifically through its endings. While there are six endings, the true ending, the final of these six, can only be unlocked after completing the first five. It is within this sixth ending that you achieve the emotional climax of the game after spending anywhere from ten to thirty hours with these characters. The friend who introduced me to this game bawled during the final ending, and I cried myself as I played. It was a deeply emotional scene for me that resonated because of the writing and direction within the game, and impacted me more than most other games I’ve played.
999 is about friendship and love and the bonds between people that cannot be lost, even over long stretches of time. Junpei (and by extension, you, as the player) develop friendships with the other players of the Nonary Game. You see and experience the love between each of them by uncovering these mysteries. The story builds up a believable storyline that ends with an emotional soundtrack and direct involvement in a character’s fate. It makes for a powerful climax that pushes players, like myself, to tears.
999 is a breath of fresh air within the world of video games. Wonderful visuals, a fantastic storyline, a beautiful soundtrack, and memorable characters are the perfect ingredients to make a great game. Add in interesting puzzles and attention to real science and history, and you’ve got yourself a game that everyone, including you, should play at least once in your lifetime.