Saturday, 1 January 2011

Game Review - Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

Format: (DS)

999 is a unique and special title on the Nintendo DS. Not so much because it is tailored for an adult audience, which is rare on the handheld, but because this interactive novel and puzzle hybrid, is just absolutely mesmerising. You find yourself entangled in a psychological game of death reminiscent of the SAW franchise, as you and eight other characters try and find your way through an assortment of devilish and clever puzzles aboard a sinking freighter. This ship is the stage for one of the most fascinating and gripping stories of the year, which pulls you deep into its dark twists and turns, making it almost impossible to put down and almost irresistible to replay again and again.

Explaining a summary of the story simply does not do justice to the world 999 plunges you deep into, however if I was to give you a taste then it all begins very similarly to SAW 2 the movie. Nine characters find themselves awoken on board an abandoned ship with no memory of prior events, and are informed by a mysterious psychopath known as Zero, that they are taking part in an experiment known as the ‘Nonary Game’. You play the role of Junpei, a terrified college student, who alongside a very vibrant and elusive cast of characters, helps pave the path for one of the most mind-blowing stories in any recent games history.

It is important to note that indeed 999 will require plenty of reading time. The game is built completely around the phenomenal story that is developed by understanding each and every character but with no voice acting, you will be required to clock plenty of hours in the text. This really, is one of the joys of 999 because it allows you to visualise and imagine each character’s tone and voice and this helps to make your experience with 999 individual to you. 999 provides all of the characters’ thoughts, speech, explanations of puzzles and everything in-between in text form, so unfortunately if reading is not something you find interesting, this perhaps might not be the game for you.

You are given nine hours to escape the nightmare you find yourself in, even though the clock actually progresses at set points in the game, so you have as much time as you need to read and complete the puzzles. An important aspect of a puzzle game is to ensure the puzzles are not too easy, but at the same time, provide a perfect level of challenge. This is certainly the case here as 999 makes sure you will be mentally tested, but nothing is ever too much and to ensure you don’t get stuck, there are clever hints and tips available from your comrades if you so happen to find yourself in a bind. Before each puzzle commences you find the game uses a point-and-click mechanic where you are required to find points of interest and items in different locations. Using these items you then proceed to try and complete different tasks that Zero has set for you, all of which are intuitive and fun to get stuck into.

The real beauty behind 999’s story is that each character is always one small step away from imminent death. This may sound incredibly daunting, but this is largely where the game’s replay value stems from. Each locked room can only be accessed by a certain number of characters and this is decided by looking at the room’s number and then looking at the number on each character’s bracelet and finding the digital root of that number. Depending on the root, a different amount of people can come in with you, leaving other characters alone, with their thoughts for survival. 999 does a fantastic job in building psychological tension as it is apparent from the beginning that survival instinct is priority for some of the characters. This makes it a difficult task in choosing whom you will trust and who you try to confide in.

What might come as massive shock is that 999 almost sets you up to die in your first play through. I got killed, my friend got killed and his friend got killed, all in our first play through. This may seem ridiculous but once again, slots perfectly in the experience that is 999. You see, every decision you make in this game changes the outcome of the finale, who lives, who dies and so forth. If you happen to meet your demise, the game triggers a fast-forward ability that lets you begin the game again, skip dialogue and story you already know and it even highlights your prior choices so you can change your decisions and answers to certain scenarios. This allows you to progress in a different manner and as a result, uncover new and interesting facts surrounding the characters and story, all of which is so gripping its just unbelievable. There are six different endings available and believe me, it will be very difficult to put the game down before you find out all of the resulting finales and how they come about.

999 does have a couple little problems that taint the experience somewhat. When you die and the fast forward mechanic triggers, it would have been nice to be able to skip some of the puzzles you have already accomplished. As easy as it is to get back relatively quickly to you previous place in the game, some of the early challenges slow this process down and can be irritating. I also thought that the game’s pacing had some issues. For a story that really thrives off of urgency, the set time clock is somewhat of a downer. It would have been very interesting to see how this game played out with an actual timer on each puzzle, this would mean that you’d have all the time needed to read and really take in the story, but once the puzzles kicked in, you’d have to work hard and fast as the tension mounted.

From a technical perspective, I don’t think it gets any better on the Nintendo DS. 999’s visual presentation is beautiful, I love the character design that is reminiscent of Manga and Anime. The surroundings are easy to take in, which is a good thing considering you have to explore them and find certain points of interest. The creepy audio helps to enhance the experience and is a real treat if combined with headphones. The game handles very well, it is smooth and little problems were encountered with completing puzzles.

To conclude, 999 is a phenomenal interactive novel and puzzle hybrid. The puzzle genre has taken a massive leap on the Nintendo DS with plenty of top tier titles entering the market, but this is considerably more, it is special, it is thrilling and it is engrossing. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a fantastic tale, told with absolute precision and is intertwined with intuitive puzzles, twists, turns and so much more. This is the perfect Christmas gift for anyone over 17 who own a Nintendo DS. To be honest, it’s the perfect present whatever the occasion just buy the game!

Technical presentation – 10

Graphics – 10

Game-play – 9.5

Replay value – 10

Final score – 10 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor

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