9 hours 9 persons 9 doors

Seek A Way Out: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors

It's the morning after my escape from death onboard the Gigantic. I'm tired, confused, but--more than anything--I'm blown away.

9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors is a game with two parts visual novel, one part suspense, and one part horror. The game places you in the role of Junpei, a college student who finds himself onboard a ship in a locked room.

Oh, and he's going to drown thanks to the water flowing through the busted window if he doesn't get out soon.

Junpei is one of nine people onboard a ship that is set to sink into the ocean in nine hours. Their kidnapper, a person in a gas mask identified only as Zero, tells them that they must find a door with a "9" on it to escape. But things go awry quickly. A group of people in danger of death will not remain calm. Some will blatantly refuse to go along with the kidnapper says. Others will insist on doing as told in order to reach freedom. Some are old, some are young, some are brutish, some are demure. Among these clash of personalities is Junpei. You decide which doors he goes through, as well as the actions he makes and the things he says. The smallest of things given to you, as well as the strangest conversations, are all important in the end. You won't know which doors will lead you to safety and you won't know which characters are controlling everything. If you don't play by the rules, your body's not going to remain in one piece.

 Talk about a strange cast of characters.

Think of this game as the choose your adventure books from elementary school, but there's gore, tragedy, telepathy, and conspiracies. 999 has six possible endings, three of them leading to your brutal murder. One abruptly ends because you didn't gather the necessary information to continue and another ends in tragedy and confusion. That particular ending gives you a lot of necessary information for the final "true" ending, but don't write off the other endings--they also help fill in the blanks of the story, as well as give answers to "What if I hadn't had that conversation with her?" "What if I hadn't accepted that from him?" And because of those six endings, this game has obvious replay value. The story doesn't make sense if you don't listen to all of the conversations with different characters. Granted, hearing the same things over and over gets old quickly, so the developers allow you to speed through dialogue you've already encountered and it automatically stops as soon as you come across new dialogue. (Unfortunately, you will have to redo puzzles several times, so keep a pencil and paper with you. You'll be able to memorize some of the puzzles after one or two times.)

999 is all about solving puzzles in life or death situations, putting forth the idea that your true potential emerges when you are in a true emergency. Some of the puzzles are difficult and close to impossible for those of us who weren't blessed with logical reasoning and mathematical skills. For some things, you just need to explore the environment and keep clicking on the screen until you find something. But other puzzles require you to input a series of numbers from clues. This game is obsessed with digital roots and base-10, so you'd best listen when they explain concepts you never came across in algebra class. If you're like me, you won't be able to solve some of the puzzles, much less figure out how to flush the toilets through one of the doors. Do your best to solve them on your own, but don't feel too defeated if you have to look up answers. After all, we're not the ones with our lives on the line.
Don't even joke about that, Snake.
Though, this game does make you feel like you're on the ship with them, especially when playing at night with the lights off and the headphones in. The music sets the mood and changes with the atmosphere of the situation. At times it will suddenly crescendo and at other times it will disappear completely. You can see the change in characters and after a playthrough or two, you can predict what's going to happen next--or who's going to kill you next. Because you are directly interacting with the environment through Junpei's eyes, it's almost as if you were there in his place. There's a great deal of suspension of belief the game can put you through. Add some mystery in there, and it's already more convincing than most horror movies. You try going to sleep right after dying. The flash of red on the screen and the sudden sound of a knife piercing flesh won't leave your mind.

 (I did mention that this game is rated M, right?)

My only real complaint with this game is the idea of the group having 9 hours. While they're chaotic at first and just talk for a while, you can understand why they can't figure out what to do at first. But by the time they only have 1 hour left, characters go off on long-winded stories instead of worrying about their time limit. If I were Junpei, I would have punched them all in the face and then forced them to help me solve puzzles instead of telling me their life stories. These are all important things to the overall plot, but I would have liked to see a greater sense of urgency in the characters' attitudes.

Um...don't you think we should be a little more concerned with living long enough to hear Elvis's songs again?

 This game is largely text-based. It reads like a novel--vivid imagery accompanying the stills on the top screen of the DS, and you see Junpei's innermost thoughts and feelings. Some of it is hard to read, but you can't simply stop. So you continue reading about the chunks of flesh that were once a body just 81 seconds ago. If you don't like reading and thinking, don't get this game. And if you don't like excellent point and click games (such as the Ace Attorney games, Professor Layton, Trace Memory, or Time Hollow), don't bother. But if you love chilling, tragic stories that make sense by the time you finish, you won't want to put this game down.

Take my word for it. Seek a door with a 9.