"999” is yet another game I heard about through Nintendo Power magazine — and like most of the games for which this is the case, it lives up to its reputation. Not counting its sequels (which are distinct in their own respective rights), “999,” officially called “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors,” is perhaps the most ambitious and offbeat adventure game I have ever played (except maybe “D” or “Strange Telephone”).
“999” is, put tersely, the film series “Saw” plus “Myst.” The player is one of nine people trapped in what is allegedly the real-life ocean liner Gigantic, all of whom are forced to take part in something called the “Nonary Game” by a mysterious figure known as Zero. Said people have nine hours to find a door with the number nine painted on it and escape before the ship sinks. Each person has a wristband with a number on it, which is needed to unlock the myriad numbered doors around the ship (which run on an abstruse lock system involving baccarat calculations and kill everyone who passes through them if all members of a team don’t immediately run through).
The gameplay consists of text-heavy dialogue segments and almost laughably video-game-y escape-room puzzles, the former of which is painstakingly exact in its continuity and the latter of which is knowingly banal and corny by contrast. There are multiple endings to find, which bring out the real strength of “999” — its interwoven story.
First of all, the multiple routes line up with each other and deliver on plot beats in different ways, with the correct route only making sense as “correct” after the player has already completed it. The door-lock system must have been a bear to write around, especially given all the plot-twist tomfoolery surrounding the wristbands added in; so too must the other twists and threads have been annoying to capitalize on and remain consistent with. This isn’t even mentioning how bizarre and oddly compelling the plotlines get later on, or just how important it is to approach “999” like “NieR,” completing multiple loops to see all it has to offer.
With the exception of “Hotel Dusk,” I’d say “999” is the most visually ambitious adventure game on DS (and there are many). In addition to its absurdly detailed character portraits (each with their own ridiculously smooth animation), there are 3D models of items and scores of complex prerendered backgrounds as well as several detailed still images used at different points in the story. This multi-media approach sets “999” apart from the competition; while most DS adventure games tended to use sprite-work (“Ace Attorney,” “Professor Layton”), pre-rendering (“Trace Memory”), or full-on 3D (“Hotel Dusk”), few juggled all three, and even fewer did so successfully.
The occasional prerendered FMV cutscenes are thrown in for good measure too, and cement the game’s status as one of the most ambitious adventure games on DS. Its soundtrack, while often subdued, adds a lot to the more tense and poignant scenes of the game, and it’s no wonder why the sequel reused so much of it.
“999” may be on outdated hardware, but it lives up to its cult hype. It’s got style and substance in spades, its writing puts some of the best in gaming to shame, and while its puzzles are generally shallow, there’s nothing quite like it. You can find it cheap online or in most game stores.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed six games, all of which are featured in the compilation Rong Wrong November ‘19. He is a neutral game reviewer. The DS version of 999 was used for this review.