Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Playtest: Piercing Prose
What would you do if you woke up and found yourself in the belly of a third class cruise ship cabin with water pouring through a porthole? Seek a way out! With only a fuzzy idea of what happened, you have to help Junpei, the lead character in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, escape.
Don’t worry Junpei can’t drown here. There’s no time limit so you can take your time to look or better put "poke" around the room in search for clues. Players tap the touch screen to inspect objects and move around with the D-pad. Lucasarts adventure game instincts kicked in when I started Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. In other words, I tapped everything. You don’t have to do this. While what you need may not be obvious, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors isn’t a pixel hunt. Most essential clues are in plain sight and the game is helpful enough to push you in the right direction if you’re missing something. Once you procure the right items, maybe combine a few things, the solution is just a few dial clicks away.
After Junpei bolts from the flooding room he runs into a group of strangers also caught in the Nonary game. He then meets Akane, a childhood friend, who is somehow caught in the mess with him. Their reunion is marred by a message from Zero, the masked captor that trapped them on the elegant ship. Each unwilling participant is given a bracelet, numbered between one through nine, which they need to open doors by calculating a digital root (a sum of all the digits in a number until you get a single digit). The group is an oddball bunch – a man with amnesia, someone lacking one of the five senses, and a dancer. You don’t know their motives or even their real names. Early on, everyone except Junpei (Akane spills his childhood name) has a nickname based around their bracelet number to keep Zero from knowing their true identities. You’ll have to play through Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors multiple times to discover those.
With so many unknowns, there is natural tension within the group, which only rises when characters disappear and parts integral to continuing the Nonary Game suddenly appear. Being a visual novel, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is heavy on text with the occasional character animation on the top screen. The bottom screen narrates the story often providing great insight into what’s going on inside Junpei’s head. Aksys did a stellar job localizing the game by peppering it with colorful adjectives and witty character dialogue. No line of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors sounds dry, unless its meant as a joke. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the hundred or so Aksys selected to illustrate each grisly death are plenty. I… don’t think I’m going to look at "pizza" the same way after reading what happened to one character. It’s amazing how emotionally charged and descriptive Aksys made the game. Aksys painted, with words, vibrant scenes that feel more detailed than polygon loaded cutscenes.
The story may be the soul of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, but there’s more here than a wall of text. Zero created puzzles for players to solve. Before you step into a puzzle room, Junpei gets to pick which door and the characters that go with him. Each door has a number emblazoned on it and you need to make a group with a digital root equal to that number to enter. If you need it, there’s a calculator with a handy digital root function to help calculate who can go into what door. Because of the digital roots choices are somewhat set, which makes selecting a puzzle (and the resulting story dialogue) more akin to one of those ’80s "Choose Your Own Adventure" paperbacks. Most puzzles stick to the find-the-item formula with a few twists like box moving and a tiny bit of music.
When I completed one group of puzzles and reached an (unfortunate) end I immediately started Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and went a different route. Chunsoft added a timesaving text skipping feature for future plays. Hold right on the D-pad and you’ll flip past text you already read. While puzzles have the same solutions, you’re bound to see a new puzzle in a second play through since you can’t enter every room in one run.
More importantly, you’ll see another side of the game’s story. The enigmatic ending is definitely a highlight of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Kotaro Uchikoshi purposely ended with a bit of ambiguity to spark discussion. After seeing "it" I read through the interview we did with Uchikoshi. If you missed it and beat Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors check it out, it shined some light on the characters and the themes Uchikoshi covered.