999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is a 2010 visual novel and puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, developed by Spike Chunsoft and it might nearly be perfect. I feel this post will be a bit vague due to spoiler etiquette but I simply had to get the word out.
The game’s central premise is that there are 9 people trapped in a sinking ship who are forced to play the Nonary Game, in which the only way to win is to leave through the 9th and final numbered door within the ship. The game has an introductory puzzle as somewhat of a tutorial before you are introduced to the game’s colourful cast of characters, who may at first come off as one-note clichés but a great deal is revealed about them over time making them perhaps one of my favourite casts in gaming bar Persona and the Metal Gear prequels.
The puzzles are very satisfying, striking an exceptional level of fair difficulty and variance between each of the puzzle rooms. The feeling of one of these puzzles clicking in your mind is Phoenix Wright levels of satisfaction, I can almost hear the Cornered theme play in my head as the pieces come together. Of course it isn’t that prominent, as 999 soundtrack is pretty exceptional itself, while this is especially true in a few climactic moments, the basic puzzle themes are stand-outs too.
The game also gives me some occasional Metal Gear vibes in how it will sometimes dive into seemingly unrelated pseudohistory, pseudoscience nonsense, but make no mistake, this game is unbelievably efficient. Nearly everything it tells you matters, whether it matters in 5 minutes or 5 hours.
It is a story I think could only work in a game, not in the way of something like Gone Home (which I feel was a fairly boring story told in an interesting way) where it has to use its interactivity as a crutch, being the only thing to keep it interesting, 999 could absolutely stand on its own as an movie or (god forbid) an anime, but so much is added to it through the medium that the iOS version (which eschews all the puzzles for a more straightforward visual novel) isn’t nearly as good.
So why talk about this game so vaguely? I feel it got a bad hand, a hard 18 rated DS (where you absolutely need to play it over the iOS version and probably the upcoming PC port) game in 2010. Never released in Europe. Has a somewhat more popular sequel. It may genuinely be up there with my all time greats, and I implore you to see if the same applies to you.