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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.

Game Tit­le: Nine Hours, Nine Per­sons, Nine Doors

Gen­re: Adven­ture

Release Date: 24.03.2017

Plat­forms:

Deve­lo­per:

Publisher:


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

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