A few days a go it hit me that I had a New 3DSXL sat downstairs, unloved and unused. Since I bought it upon release – I’ve played two games. Chrono Cross and Pokemon Y (or X, I forget which due to its nostalgia-crushing ways). So I came up with a plan, a plan so cunning – actually I just decided to play some old DS games that I missed the first time around. First up is 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999 here on out because that’s a long-ass title).
Waking up in a locked room on board a giant ship, Junpei is thrown in to a Saw-like scenario. Soon after awakening, a porthole cracks and water begins filling the room giving you the motivation that you didn’t need to figure a way out of the room. There’s a few items of note which all go towards solving the puzzle – there are no red-herrings, Junpei apparently has a knack for picking up just the stuff that he needs. Handy.
Upon leaving this room, you’re thrown together with 8 other characters – all part of a game designed by clever psychopath, Zero. The experiment, or game, is known as The Nonary Game and in it, 9 people (persons?) must work together to escape the ship. The twist? They have just 9 hours to do it before the ship sinks. To cover the last of the three 9s, there are also 9 doors which lead you through the ship. The last door – number 9 – is the final door. There’s another twist, each door has to be entered by 3-5 people, no more, no less. Each door has a number from 1 – 9 and the people who enter that door together must meet a certain criteria before it will allow them entry. Break a rule, and you’re likely to end up a bloody mess all over the ships interior walls.
999 has really good write-ups, I mean really good. As a fan of stories – it sounded right up my street. Boy did I hate this game.
I’ve written about this before but with visual novels, you know you’re not going to have the best time in terms of gameplay. Behind that, there’s a story and if it isn’t well written, there suddenly becomes no point in playing. Let me say this now, 999 does has a good story behind it – it’s just that there are huge problems which make it almost irrelevant.
The puzzle sections are uninspired, almost to the point of being mindlessly solved – and if you’re struggling the game will hold your hand, stopping just short of actually solving the damn thing for you. To do this, often-time characters will pluck up some obscure knowledge that just feels forced. This problem is prevalent throughout the writing – the characters just don’t feel like real people – and at times their reactions are at odds with the situation. The game doesn’t let you forget about the whole ‘9 hours before the ship sinks’ thing but the characters don’t seem to care, they’ll stand around having pointless conversations as if their lives weren’t in danger. It’s such a big problem because when it happens, it removes you from the game. The obscure knowledge problem is later explained in subsequent playthroughs – but coming in with no prior knowledge damages the game and before you figure it out, it’ll already be too late. At no point does Junpei seem to question this knowledge either.
Another problem comes from an actually very clever gameplay mechanic – replayability. 999 should have tons of it – the game has 6 outcomes – a number of which are bad and a ‘true ending’. The clever part of this is that the story is woven in to those endings – a bad ending isn’t truly a bad ending – it’s a learning experience. The idea is that you’ll play the game again but this time, you’ll have more knowledge of the scenario because you’ve experienced it before. Again, this is written in to the plot, so I’m not just saying this from your point of view as the player.
My first ending was not a good one and had no conclusion meaning that I was left feeling unsatisfied having not been aware of this gameplay mechanic before playing. The main problem? The thought of playing through the game again filled me with dread. Truthfully, I couldn’t wait to finish the game the first time. Bad writing and bad puzzles left me with nothing. There are whole sections of poorly written descriptive text with sometimes unbelievable dialogue thrown in. A second play-through was the last thing I wanted. In the games defence, you do get to skip repeated dialogue this time around and you get do get some different puzzles to solve (although you will find yourself solving the same ones over and over, too). None of this was saving it for me.
I wanted to find out what was happening but playing the game 6 times to find out based on it’s problems? Yeah, not going to happen. So I cheated, had a look at what was going on, watched a few endings, got a bit confused but there’s a pretty good story behind the game – a weak ‘just-for-shock’ twist but good nonetheless. The game itself simply doesn’t offer enough incentive to dig deep and find the answers. It feels like I haven’t finished 999 but the thought of doing so fills me with dread and life is too short for bad games.