A horror-mystery so nice, you'll play it thrice, twice.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, an interactive novel by Chunsoft, is a hell of an accomplishment. The game presents a compelling narrative-based experience that you will want to play through several times, a trait that is often absent in a lengthy text-heavy story-centric game.
The game puts you into the role of Junpei, a fairly normal college-aged kid who has been kidnapped and taken away to a decade-old passenger boat along with eight other people. Each has been assigned a number, and given explicit instructions for survival: find the ninth door. All nine people on the boat have been selected against their will to play the "Nonary Game," a life-and-death game in which they will split off into teams to explore the nine numbered doors on the boat in hopes of finding the way off of the ship, and back home. Very explicit rules have been handed down as to who can pass through a numbered door; if these rules are broken, a bomb inside of the rule-breaker will go off, killing the rule-breaker.
If it sounds grisly and dark, that's because it is. The game features violence and gore, much of it done through text description. However, the game is also heavy on humor and personality quirks, shown most clearly as Junpei gets to know the other eight people that have been brought to the ship with him.
Most of the gameplay is merely reading; this game is an interactive novel after all. Between large chunks of text-based dialogue and description, Junpei and his teammates explore a room on the boat, trying to find items to solve a puzzle and escape. The exploration segments of the game are very similar to adventure games. Players use the stylus to examine objects in the room and have conversations with their fellow shipmates about what they find.
The puzzles are tricky, but rarely so hard that a player might be compelled to resort to finding a walkthrough. In some cases, they are the esoteric puzzles that games such as Resident Evil are known for (put the gem in the suitcase to find the key to open the globe that presents sheet music to be played on the piano to unlock the room), but in other cases, they are clever and well thought out. In almost every case, I felt that when I solved a puzzle, I had done so using the most rational route possible, giving me a strong sense of satisfaction as I played through the game.
999 has six different endings depending on how you progress through the game, some of which are prerequisites for others. While this may seem tedious at first, subsequent playthroughs are made easier by allowing players to fast-forward through the dialogue, which consists of 75 percent of the game. Also, some of the endings contain videos that give hints on how to get the next ending. Only after players have reached the "true" ending will they be able to put the pieces of the mystery together for a comprehensive understanding of the plot. A single playthrough only reveals background on a few specific characters and some of the deeper mysteries.
The story itself is very well written, with plenty of twists and turns and lots of gaps to be filled in as you play. In fact, the game feels like a strong argument for video games as a new medium of storytelling, as a simple novel would be unable to construct the narrative the same way that the game has. It is truly an accomplishment of storytelling, and one that is unique to the platform.
The graphics in the game are standard adventure game fare, with lots of cardboard cutouts against static backgrounds, and multiple angles of the same room depending on where your characters are standing. The art is nicely done, but doesn't do too much to lend to the atmosphere of the game. Most of the characters only have a handful of frames of animation, leading to a comic-book-style presentation. Likewise, the music doesn't do too much to add to the game, and most players will probably play the game on mute after hearing the beeping sound of dialogue being displayed for hours on end.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a fantastic experience from start to finish. It is a game that truly expands what narrative video games can be capable of, and does so with a engrossing story that draws players in until the very end, all six of them.