9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

It’s a neat little adventure game. The writing and translation are rough in spots, the production values are rock bottom, and the story, at least initially, seems awfully derivative. But the game ends up going to some neat, quirky places, and the story ends up being told quite well. In particular, it has this weird obsession with scientific trivia that I find endearing.

There are multiple paths through the game, and the intent is that the player plays through the game multiple times, exploring different branches and spending time with different characters, and then ultimately getting a different ending. I had, probably, the ideal experience. My first time through, I stumbled on to the path that leads to the “true” ending, but early on made a wrong choice in a conversion, which eventually led to things spiraling horribly out of control, and bad, bad things happening. Then I pulled up a FAQ, did the other major endings, and then got to go back on to my original path, but with the extra, added knowledge of how to prevent the catastrophe. The game generally does a good job in expediting replays – though repeated puzzles still need to be solved again, most repeated text can be fast-forwarded through.

I have a real affection for games that integrate and justify their mechanics within their game world. No small part of my affection for the line of Ubisoft Montreal games from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, through the Assassin’s Creed series derives from how much they commit to this. So I appreciate how 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors keeps bringing up, again and again, the idea of remote learning and persistent memory, suggesting that there’s at least a thematic connection between the narrative of the game, and the way the player accumulates knowledge over successive play-throughs. It was a pleasing surprise when it turns out that this connection is actually explicit. The revelations that accompany this surprise do retroactively remove a lot of the tension and feeling of danger from the first two-thirds of the game, and raises a bunch of plot holes, but nonetheless, I thought it was pretty neat.

As for the actually gameplay, it’s sparse, and there are long sections where it’s just reading page after page of dialogue. But when the puzzles actually show up, they’re fairly good. They did take an unfortunate approach to difficulty. The last couple of rooms – a library and rundown workshop – are intentionally hard to explore. They look the same from every angle, and its very difficult to pick out the significant objects from the insignificant ones, or be sure that the whole room has been searched. I would also very much have appreciated a Professor Layton-style scratch-space overlay during puzzles in order to plan out solutions and right down important information and the like. But in general, I didn’t need to resort to external help sources, and the game is pretty good about giving help on puzzles when it thinks you need it.

999 has also made me appreciate the production values of the Phoenix Wright series. Even just the little bits of voice and animation in the Ace Attorney games adds so much personality and makes it so much easier to get a feel for who the characters are. I had a lot of trouble getting a read on the characters in 999 – what they’re moods and attitudes were, even the ages on a couple of them. In a game whose story is so dependent upon its characters, it’s a real shame that they so often came across as cyphers. I understand that a lot of the characters are hiding who they are, but I wasn’t even getting a good feel for who they were pretending to be.

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