Monday, June 6, 2016

Review #327: 999 - Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

 That's a lot of nines.
 I like me some visual novels. Very linear, story driven games in which you read, read, make a choice, read, read, read, make a choice, etc. And after finding out that 999 was made by the same developer that made the fantastic Danganronpa, I just had to give it a whirl.

 The premise is as follows: You follow Junpei, one of nine different captives that have been trapped on a sinking ship, and had numbered bracelets attached to their arms. Throughout the ship they will find different numbered doors, 1-9, and only 3 to 5 people may pass through a door, if the sum of their bracelets' digital root equals to the number on the door. There's mystery, murder, betrayal and multiple endings. As for the story itself, I found it decent, but flawed. Some of the dialogue feels forced, as sometimes out of the blue, characters will decide to mention things, like Prospagnosia, and who'd knew that eventually you'd discover a character that suffers from it! Or they will decide to mention occult stuff, and who'd knew, it'd end up being pertinent to their situation! And they will offer fairly long winded, detailed explanations, while under the strain of time, they have 9 hours before they go boom, after all! And every little things ends up being pertinent. Who'd knew! Also, the game is relatively realistic, but all the realism is thrown out of the window when you enter the True Ending Route, dealing with preternatural themes that really brought me out of the game. Lastly, I know that Danganronpa came out after this game, but I had played it before even touching 999, and... let's say that I knew who Zero was immediately. Still, there's moments of absolute brilliance, but talking about them, or even hinting at them, would put me into spoiler territory.
 When you are not reading or deciding on which door to take, you'll be tasked with solving different puzzles in order to proceed. I'm gonna be honest, I found the puzzle sections to be a drag. Not only do they commit the sin of feeling like a pixel hunt, having to click on every little thing that you see, including stuff that looks like background decoration, but sometimes some objects will only trigger after you have interacted with others. Take the Kitchen puzzle, for instance, there's four piles of plates as well as a bill. You need that bill, but you can only take it after you've interacted with the four different piles of plates! Yeah, I didn't have much fun with the puzzles.

 Another issue I had was with the game's overall speed. Unless you are replaying a scene or puzzle, you can't skip the text. The problem lies when you have to retry a puzzle, as the game will force you to go through the slowly scrolling tutorial text every time you attempt it. Heck, even if you accidentally tap on something you've already interacted with, you are forced to read the text again. It's very annoying. I also found myself reading faster than the text would scroll during the story scenes, but I didn't mind it so much then, it's only during the puzzle sections that it really becomes an issue. At least, on future playthroughs, you can just fastforward the explanation texts.
 Ah, future playthroughs, the game doesn't handle them as well as I would've liked it to. Firstly, you can only fastforward text, not skip it. It sounds inconsequential, but fast forwarding text can take a couple of minutes before you get into any kind of new stuff, which can be boring. Imagine yourself holding right on the directional pad, fastforwarding the text, trying to keep yourself busy in any other way until you get to something new. The game will also have you doing the puzzles. Again. If you want to get every unique ending, it translates into solving the initial puzzle five times. And if you want the real ending, it will take at least two playthroughs. And the game doesn't allow you to skip puzzles if you already know the answer, oh no, you can't even attempt to introduce codes until you find the hints. It means busy work, a lot of busy work that could be better spent trying to solve the puzzles you haven't encountered yet.

 999 is an alright game, but I'd hesitate to favor it as much as people do. 'One of the DS's best hidden gems'? Doubt it. 'The best Visual Novel on the DS!'? I hope not. And mind you, the story itself is interesting, when you aren't rolling your eyes at all the super natural stuff, but I don't think the game lives up to the huge amounts of praise it gets. There's a lot of annoying little things with the puzzles, there's a ton of dialogue that feels forced, then there's all the annoyances related to the required multiple playthroughs.... It's a good game, but flawed.
 7.5 out of 10

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