Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Chunsoft aren't new to the world of visual novels. To the contrary, Chunsoft are credited with creating the only visual novel that's received a perfect score in Famitsu and they've made great strides in the rogue like genre with the titles such as Shiren the Wanderer and the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games. Even with their accolades the success of 999 was a miracle for Chunsoft as what was once a minor title released by ATLUS to target a small niche for a minor profit ended up selling out within it's first week, causing high demand from the games fans for a reprint (The same thing happened with the similarly great DS game Radiant Historia). But why would a visual novel be ranked up there with some of the best games on the DS?

Since visual novels are less interactive than other genres (to the point where it can be questioned whether they deserve to be called video games at all) these games rely of strong character that drive a story through to a satisfying conclusion. The story of 999 revolves around 9 characters separated by 9 rooms with 9 doors (duh). The protagonist is Junpei, a mild-mannered teenager who finds himself kidnapped by a mysterious masked man known only by a codename: Zero. After escaping his quarters he meets 8 more people who share the same situation as him. The rules of how to escape are established and it's up to your character to survive.

The premise is set up well enough (echoing back to the criminally under-rated S.O.S: The Human Escape) but it's the characters that make the game truly unique. The character designs are done by Kuni Nishimura who some people might recognise as the artist behind the characters from Street Fighter III and the upcoming Code of Princess for the 3DS. The characters don't really fall into any archetypes of characters you might expect from an animé inspired visual novels and they don't succumb to the tropes that makes 95% of the games in the genre insufferable to get through.

ATLUS really does deserve to take the credit for such a brilliant localisation of the game, to such extremes that it makes you wonder if all of the critically panned visual novels before it (good examples are Time Hollow and Lux Pain) were suffering from bad translation, leaving an entire genre untapped because of laziness. The most interesting parts of the game are when the characters are given room to have general conversations that manage to weave exposition about the current events of the game with interesting accounts of events happening in the games mythos (that allow the player to follow a series of clues hinted at in these scenes as the story progresses).

The game isn't restricted to a series of moral choices as most Visual Novels are or pixel hunting expeditions of the LucasArts variety. The game features puzzles that can best be compared to the Phoenix Wright style of crime investigation where you look for objects that either help uncover more about the game's world or allow progression through the story. Like most visual novels or other games that focus on a strong narrative the game has multiple bad endings along with one 'true ending' (which without giving anything away is arguably the most metatropic ending since Yu-No). Without devolving into spoiler territory, all of the endings contradict each other which makes sure that each playthrough shown an interpretation of the conclusion as though it were a real event rather than a mere story progression.

Like Chunsoft's previous visual novel Shibuya 428 which got a perfect score in Famitsu, 999 has gone on to receive critical acclaim most noticeably from Western audiences who suddenly found themselves in enamoured in a once dead genre. There are some legitimate criticisms that can be applied to the game such as the aforementioned endings that make some of the plot twists in the endings seem rather cheap with no foreclosure and the character designs may not appeal to everyone (Lotus in particular is especially divisive). That being said, this game has some of the finest example of writing I've seen in a video game and it deserves more attention than it's already been given.

Find 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2010-11-16
Publisher: Aksys
Devleoper: Chunsoft


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