Platform: Nintendo DS, PC
Steam Page: The Nonary Games
Recently I managed to complete a long time item from my VN bucket list: 999. I had been meaning to read the VN and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward, for quite some time now but never quite got around to it as I don’t use my 3DS all that often. With the Steam release and a brief gap before Persona 5, I decided to finally sit down and give it a try and boy was it worth it.
I’m a fan of mystery games, so I was expecting to like 999. The premise is that a mysterious figure in a gas mask kidnaps 9 people and forces them to play a game on a sinking cruise liner where they have to solve a series of room escape puzzles before the ship sinks. This involves splitting the group numerous times to go through different paths and reach the final door with a ‘9’ on it. As a plot hook goes, it’s definitely one that had me invested as they make a good point of keeping tension high with the clock continually ticking down in the background as the characters are doing things or talking to each other. That said, I did feel like the room escape puzzles often interrupted the flow of the story as they are really the only segments where you are in control and can slow down the breakneck pace.
The first puzzle was hard for me as I didn’t really grasp the concept of a room escape puzzle and didn’t manage to click on enough of the right things. As a result, it took me far longer than it should have to solve a very high tension puzzle which ended up removing some of the tension from the scene. Once I got the hang of it, though, the puzzles themselves ended up being pretty trivially easy. I would have liked some kind of difficulty option as for most puzzles there weren’t any false clues or solutions that weren’t glaringly obvious. The Casino, for example, made me feel like Neo from the Matrix as I just waltzed through picking up every correct item and solving each puzzle on my first try because I could see the code. The Laboratory was also nice as it relied on people working together on two sides of a room and the Cargo Room had some puzzles that made me think beyond just ‘this item goes in this slot’ which was nice. For the most part I felt like the rest were a nice way to highlight the structure of the game but ultimately fell kind of flat because of their difficulty and pacing interruptions. It doesn’t help that the story is really quite good and so as soon as an escape segment started I just wanted it to be over to get back to the main story.
I won’t say much about the story itself due to spoilers other than that it is quite good. There are a few minor changes from the DS version to account for a singular screen, but they are integrated well from what I have read about the original. The method of choosing how you split the group determining how the story progresses felt pretty organic as you’re never quite sure what those other folks are talking about or what will happen if someone manages to get their hands on an item without you to stop them. Speaking of the Steam release, they have added a flowchart that allows you to jump around from scene to scene which can be helpful as well as full voice acting with dual audio–which are both definite improvements from the DS release.
The cast was also enjoyable and with a good amount of depth. Each character has a certain appearance and stereotype associated with that but they all manage to have interesting personalities beyond the surface which the game spreads out over all of the routes. I always felt like I was learning new and interesting things about the people around me while reading and that was a small joy in itself. On top of that, the protagonist is a level-headed, rational, and intelligent person who manages to work quite well in the setting. I can’t think of a single character I disliked–which is actually something of a rarity for me.
To wrap things up here, 999 is absolutely worth your time if you like mystery and puzzles. The story will have you engaged and guessing and while the pacing can slow down due to the puzzles, 999 never really overstays its welcome. I clocked in at 14 hours, though I am still missing one side ending as of this writing. I am quite looking forward to reading Virtue’s Last Reward as I have heard the sequel is basically an across the board improvement, but sadly that’ll have to wait until after my Persona 5 bender. Until next time!