Monday, November 6, 2017

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS)

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a puzzle visual novel (or point and click adventure) released for the Nintendo DS (and finally ported to PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4 and PC eight years later!).  The story is told via text, with no voice acting.  Therefore, there is a lot of reading and no option to increase the text speed.  You can skip text that you have already read in a previous playthrough though which helps a lot in speeding things up in subsequent playthroughs.  The game has six endings and in order to have the full experience, you will need to play through the game multiple times to get all those endings as they each reveal a different bit of the overarching narrative.  It also makes the true ending that much sweet as each ending reveals just a tiny tidbit of information, with the true ending revealing all which by that point, you come to realize just how much you actually know.

While reading comprises most of the game, the other part are escape room puzzles where you select and investigate objects in the locked room to find items which you can use, and combine, to help escape.  You will obtain clues within the rooms, combine items to create new ones and minigame puzzles where you need to break codes using the hints you have found.  The game is completely in 2D barring a few animations of doors opening.  Character models have limited animation.  While you can use the physical buttons to advance the text, you have to use the touch screen when solving puzzles as there's no other way to explore.  You turn around in the room using arrows on the touchscreen and touching an object will let you investigate it, which is too cumbersome for a button control scheme anyway.

You get unlimited time with solving the puzzles.  Basically, if you get stuck, you need to select everything that you can see to get as many items as you can but some items can be hard to pick out from the scene.  A sort of hint system would be nice because the puzzles can be hard to decipher, obscure and at times, unintuitive at what you need to do.  Who would have guessed that you need to combine the dry ice with frozen chicken in order to crumble the dry ice?  In terms of the plot, you play as Junpei, who was kidnapped along with eight other people to play the Nonary Game.  Each person wears a bracelet with a number from 1 to 9, there are also nine doors which they must find and explore.  The goal is to find the number "9" door in order to escape.  The twist here is that each door only opens if the digital root of the people entering it (based on their bracelet's number), matches the number on the door, which gives some intense situations when the group realizes that not everyone is going to survive.

Making the game more intense is the fact that the characters only have nine hours to escape.  If they haven't escaped by the end of the nine hour time limit... they all die.  It takes a while for the plot to get going and multiple playthroughs before you finally get answers.  However, by the time you complete the true ending, you feel that the revelation was very clever and it leaves you pondering over what you have just witnessed.  It can really do your head in and gives you a fresh new perspective on what had happened.  It is lovely in the way the story manages to tie together threads from various other endings into one cohesive story.  Even better was the way it utilized the DS's two screens.  That said, the ending left just enough questions unanswered or vague that while it was still satisfying, it doesn't give you complete satisfaction.

Not everything is positive since the game spends a lot of the dialogue stating the obvious like the bracelets have stopped their detonation sequence, or that the character has a knife which can cut through meet.  It can get very repetitive with these pieces of dialogue which adds nothing except pad it out.  You have to repeat puzzles every time in every playthrough which is boring.  The game can get quite gory and unsettling in its descriptions.  Since characters die, it goes into detail explaining the remainders of the body and its effect on the surroundings.  Overall, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors tells an intriguing story that while slow in the beginning, is really worthwhile by the end of it.  You must be prepared to replay the game multiple times in order to truly appreciate the various plot threads.  While the escape room puzzles are fairly weak in terms of being unintuitive in its explanations and the repetitive nature of the game, it is definitely worth playing.


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