Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors

I do enjoy a good visual novel. They’re tough to find in the English market. Most of the ones available are basement-made indie with clumsy artwork, unrefined writing, poor use of the game mechanics, or all of the above. “9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors” (now available on the Nintendo DS from Aksys Games) has none of these problems.

In short: it’s pretty damn awesome.

Our story begins with Junpei, our player character, waking up trapped inside an old ship. The last thing he remembers is being kidnapped from his apartment by a strange figure. Soon, he finds that he is one of nine people “invited” to play in the Nonary Game, a deadly contest of mathematics and puzzles spread throughout the ship. If Junpei and his companions make it to the door marked “9”, they’ll escape. If not, the ship will sink in 9 hours and take them all with it. And if they break any of their game master’s rules, a bomb placed in their small intestines is waiting to take them out of the equation.

Now of course, there are two aspects to any visual novel: the story, and the characters, with each taking on more weight depending on the exact genre of novel. Luckily, 999 cinches both. The story – which has six endings (five bad and one true) to pursue – is fantastic, revealing more amazing plot twists with each play-through; while the characters are each unique and memorable, both in design and in personality.

Some western game critics have complained that the game is "wordy." To which I say: of course it's wordy, you twits, it's a visual novel, and a well-written one at that. You should know what you're getting into when you hear that genre.

The puzzles, which take the form of both point-and-click adventure logic and numerical brainteasers like the magic square, are all unique and well-placed; though they do get a little repetitive with repeat games since the individual rooms you explore don’t change. Take notes of anything that involves numbers and it’ll save you a lot of time along the way.

But easily the best part is in the True Ending, when the game makes perfect use of both the visual novel genre (where the primary goal is to unlock all endings with repeat games) and the DS’s unique duel-screen set-up to enhance an already solid and engaging narrative. Any more than that would be spoiling, so I’m going to shut my mouth here.

The bottom line: “9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors” is an excellent storytelling experience and a great game. If you have a Nintendo DS, check it out. And I mean, like, now.

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