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Review

Review: Zero Escape – The Nonary Games: 999

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In December 2009, a game with the title Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors started a craze in Japan. Critics loved the mixture of visual novel and escapist gameplay, its sales however stayed on a normal scale on the contrary to what’s going on in the game itself. Spike Chunsoft created a port together with Aksys Games and released the collection this week (at the time of the original review).

Of course the name “zero Escape” already hints at it pretty well, it includes the escape room mechanics, which players have to overcome to progress. The subtitle “The Nonary Games” adheres to the number 9 which is quite difficult to overlook in “999”; and the “Game” or rather “challenge” for the characters in the collection itself.
You will find the digital release on either Steam for the PC or in the PlayStation Store under its name or via the PS4 tab. North America got quite lucky since they have the luxury to be able to pick it up at their local retailer for PS Vita and PlayStation 4. Keep in mind that we only had the chance to play the PlayStation 4 version of the 999 remaster.

Story

We wake up in some kind of 3rd-class cabin. A bed, closet, everything looks kind of vintage, not from the current year at all, an early 20th century ship seems much more likely. Water suddenly starts leaking through the now cracked porthole and anxiety takes over. Our protagonist tries to barricade the small window up but it’s of no use. He can’t escape, it’s impossible, even the door is locked with an electronic device.
Searching the rather small room only revealed two suitcases. So taking apart the interior comes next, and after the protagonist misused some of it, deciphered some notes flashbacks informs the player what actually happened and who might be behind this.

We are Junpei. The brown-eyed man is in his early 20s, disheveled somewhat medium-length brown hair. He looks not only slim in body physique but rather battered as well, as a quick look in the mirror makes very apparent.
As the player we see most of the story and happenings of the game in first person view, which is not uncommon for escape-room games and visual novels. The look in the mirror thus provides the first look at the protagonist and it might probably be the last one as well.

A man wearing a gasmask broke into our apartment, only to sedate and abduct us.
An announcement resounded through a speaker, telling us that we are part of “The Nonary Games”. Everyone who participates is risking their lives, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have to find a door inside this facility with the number 9 on it.

It sounds totally absurd, but you haven’t seen half of it yet. Now we get to introduce ourselves to the other eight players in the hall:
Ace has very noticeable gray-streaked brown hair and quite a strong appearance, the blind Snake knows how to express and articulate himself well. Silver has his name because of the color of his hair, Clover is the lively little sister of Snake. Akane is known as “June” and the protagonists childhood friend, Seven, is a man of his word and quite burly. Lotus takes the saying “You’re as old as you feel” very seriously and then there’s “Number 9”, quite the hectic and mysterious fellow.
Now you’re thinking, those can’t be real names, right? You hit the nail on the head. To protect their identities every player in this game has a codename.

Every figure in the game got assigned a certain number, so does every important door in the game. To get the mechanism to open the door, every participating player has to scan their bracelet including the personal, unchangeable code inside it at the lock. There are certain rules though, only 3-5 people are able to go through one door and the digit sum has to match the writing on said door. This quite interesting mechanic separates 999 from many games with similar mechanics.
The following story is packed with twists and turns, including short flashbacks for every important character. The last third of the game manages to double the games effort regarding tension once more and will conclude in one of six different endings.
We were only able to look into one of it, despite that it was quite an impressive and satisfying sight to behold.

Gameplay

There are two different parts of gameplay, one is the visual novel, where you have to talk to the characters, gathering Information about them, the surroundings and deciding what to do next.
You’re able to view and track your progress and most existing dialogue in the usual log, in case you missed something.
The second part is where one actually moves around, solving puzzles and riddles to progress in the game. For example to be able to exit the engine room requires the player to find a way to fire up the coal furnace, solving a musical puzzle in a cabin or get a win at the slot machine are all part of the gameplay.

Here it’s vital to find and use the right items at the right time. The inventory in the game helps quite a bit. As it is custom in escape room games, only items that are essential to the puzzles and riddles are listed there.
The D-pad lets you cycle through the useable items and lets you decide where you want to use it and sometimes even how, or take a quick look at the item itself.
A slight downside is in fact the slow cursor speed, even with the possibility to speed it up by pressing square, it’s still slow.

 

999’s riddles on the other hand are intelligent, motivating and certainly very unique in their way of solving them. In one of the rooms setting the whole thing on fire is one way of solving the rooms puzzle. Moving crates like Ryo Hazuki (Shenmue) is also required; but as it is implied here, there are sometimes several possibilities to solve them.

To unlock all the endings it is not required to start the game from scratch all over again, or to use different save files in the collection. In the PS4 version you can simply use the in-game flow chart to start from a certain point in the game. It’s possible that this common complaint actually inspired the inclusion in the collection and in the sequels as well.
Skipping entire dialogues is new, this was only possible in Virtue’s Last Reward, in the Nintendo DS version only speeding them up was possible, while pressing down on the D-pad.

Atmosphere

Since the game focuses mainly on the visual novel aspect, the story and atmosphere are equally important. Creepy notes a generally darker tone in colors and a fantastic soundtrack get the atmosphere across to the player. All underlined by the equally perfect performance of the voice actors.
While we only tried out the English version of the game, the main menu gives fans of the original voices an option to switch between English and Japanese.
Regarding design and execution of the game, even there is not much to criticize. While there are generally less animations thanks to the sprites and visual novel nature of the game, they are fluid and well made. The loading times were quite short and there were no crashes or errors to find.
The visual appeal of the characters was overhauled quite a bit but the fact that this was a DS game does not vanish from sight. Jaggy edges on objects and muddy textures are no exception, even though the backgrounds look atmospheric and well designed. But our protagonists didn’t have much time to stare at their items anyway.

The only thing that seemed a bit off was the “turning” or rather looking around the room. Using the L/R button on the DS/Vita or PlayStation 4 gives the player the possibility to look at what’s behind them. Here it’s clear to see that it is originally a Nintendo DS game in the first place. The effect while turning seems somewhat muddy, unclear and does compromise the usually tight atmosphere.

Conclusion

Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors and Danganronpa are sometimes referred to as a “must-play” if you’re into visual novels.
We completely agree with those statements, now that we finished 999 on the PlayStation 4 which finally received a complete release thanks to the Zero Escape: The Nonary Games bundle.
999 delivers an intriguing story, which sends it’s well drawn characters on an emotional rollercoaster.
There’s so much to discover that the rewind option is indispensable for the player, much like in Life is Strange. We simply would not want to play through the game without it, since it saved us a lot of trouble.
Generally the good work of the voice actors makes the whole scenario of “being trapped on an ocean liner, like the passengers on the titanic in 1912” much more believable.
In case you missed 999 before because you either did not have the handheld or lived in Europe? Now those problems are nonexistent and you may very well witness those 9 hours, 9 interesting characters and 9 brainstaking puzzle rooms yourself.

Packshot of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Game Title: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: 24.03.2017

Platforms: Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Aksys Games


This game was provided by the publisher for review purposes, check our review policy for details.

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