I have to confess – the only visual novel games that I’ve played before this game are eroges (don’t ask). So when I was considering this game, I was worried about whether I’ll enjoy it or not. But Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was praised a lot for its story, so I gave it a shot.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel/puzzle game released for the Nintendo DS. Playing a visual novel game is like reading a book that has plenty of accompanying images to help you visualize the story elements. Sometimes, you get presented with a choice – your answer can lead to a different story path and ending entirely, or it can add/subtract points which can also determine what kind of ending you’ll get (e.g. doing good things will get you a good ending, doing bad things will get you a troublesome ending).
The nine people forced to play this game [top row to bottom row, left to right]: Ace (1), Snake (2), Santa (3), Clover (4), Junpei (5 and the lead character), June (6), Seven (7), Lotus (8), and the 9th Man (9).
In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, you play the role of Junpei, who is trapped in an abandoned ship/cruise liner together with eight other people and forced to play the Nonary Game. Throughout the ship, there are nine special doors that are numbered from 1 to 9, and to win the game you have to find and be able to enter the 9th door. It’s not as easy as it sounds though – all nine people are assigned a number, indicated by an electronic bracelet, and in order to go through a door you need to meet a set of rules – failure to adhere to the rules would result to death.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has two main modes of play; there’s Story mode, where you get to read through what’s happening and sometimes get faced with a choice. Most of the choices I’ve encountered didn’t have a large impact to the game, just having minor changes to the dialogue. The choices that really change your path involve deciding between which doors to go through and who to go with.
The second mode of play is Puzzle mode where you face an obstruction and need to figure out how to get past it. During these modes, you are allowed to explore your area and look for clues or objects that can help you progress through the game. Searching involves using the stylus and touching the different items indicated on the lower screen. Meanwhile, a map on the upper screen shows you where you are and where you’re looking at.
Whenever you find usable items, they go into your Item Inventory which you can then access to interact with your surroundings, such as using a key in your Inventory to open a lock that’s on an unnumbered door. Sometimes, you will need to combine items that are in your inventory, which doesn’t always mean a literal combination – for example, combining a screwdriver with a picture frame would result in your character using the screwdriver to open up the frame so that you can read what’s on the back of the photo inside.
That’s basically how the game is. There are six different endings, some are bad ones and some are supposedly good – I’ve only gotten two endings thus far and both were sad.
Despite having no action whatsoever, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is quite intense – the story is very engrossing, and the dialogue is so good that you can really get into the different personalities of the characters. It’s presented in such a way that I can’t help but want to find out all the answers to this big mystery – who put me in this ship? Why? What do the rest of these people have to do with me? Who do I trust? It’s like reading a mystery novel, but better because I can actually influence how the story will end.
With six different endings, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a game that’s meant to be replayed, and I’m glad the developers realized that because they provided some helpful features that facilitates multiple plays. After beating the game at least once, you can choose to “Begin game with memories” which will allow you to fast forward through text that you’ve already gone through in previous plays. This mode also reminds you of your previous choices by presenting them in gray to help you avoid the mistake of choosing the same options and going on the exact same path that you went through previously. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to go through any puzzles that you’ve already solved.
If there’s anything that I hate about Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors , it’s that your choices may arbitrarily result in a good or a bad ending. In game design, it’s logical to reward a player for making a good choice and punish them for making a bad one, right? However, there’s no indication (at least not to me) in this game that would tell you which choices are good ones and bad ones – I tried to be good and considerate to all the characters in the game, and yet I still ended up getting the bad endings. What gives? But then again, this problem is present in all other visual novels that I’ve played, and now that I think about it, if a good ending is a guaranteed result of the good choices that I’ve been making, then it’d be very predictable, right?
I really, really like Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. It’s such a unique gaming experience that I’ve only had the chance of playing on PCs, so it’s quite refreshing to be able to play this on a handheld device. Despite getting only the bad endings, I’m already considering getting the sequel, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, which came out for the 3DS. I’d rank Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors as one of the greatest DS games to be released to the Western audience – it definitely belongs in anyone’s DS games library.