A chilling story and satisfying puzzles work hand in hand to make Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors a deeply absorbing adventure.
- Story is smartly written and suspenseful
- Rewarding puzzles
- Multiple pathways and endings provide replay value.
- Gameplay sometimes takes a back seat to reading
- Starting over forces some repetition.
You wake up on an ocean liner. You have been chosen to take part in a deadly game. Along with eight others, you must find a way through a series of rooms that offer no easy exit, or die trying. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors pulls you into this grim circumstance through its absorbing storytelling and through puzzles that engage your wits but rarely frustrate them. The terrifying dilemma the characters are forced to confront is not one most people would ever want to face, but this excellent adventure game makes vicariously experiencing that horrific situation tough to resist.
The most immediately striking thing about Nine Hours is how much time you spend reading. Long stretches are spent just clicking from one screen of text to the next. It's not just dialogue from your companions that appears as words onscreen. Your character's thoughts, detailed descriptions of your environments, and subtle observations about your companions' behavior that the animated portraits of them aren't capable of conveying are all communicated through text. The first time you make your way through the game--and you almost certainly will want to play it multiple times--perhaps a few hours of your time with it will be spent reading, and this can sometimes make Nine Hours feel more like an interactive book than a game. This may sound like a bad thing, but in fact, the story is so well written that these passages only work to pull you deeper into the fear and tension that build as you progress through the ship.
For purposes unknown, an enigmatic figure named Zero has captured nine people and brought them to this ship to play what he calls the nonary game. The prisoners have little choice but to play, as Zero has taken the liberty of planting a bomb inside each of them, and he lays out certain ground rules the nine must abide by if they don't want to end up splattered on a bulkhead. Early events make it very clear that Zero is not messing around, which creates an atmosphere thick with dread. You play as Junpei, a college student. Among your companions are a very capable blind man, a flamboyantly dressed woman with a thorny attitude, and, mysteriously, a girl Junpei was friends with in elementary school. Is this mere coincidence, or did Zero choose the two of them for a reason? There is no voice acting here, but you won't miss it. The expressive portraits and the rich writing give each character such a distinct personality that you have no trouble hearing their voices in your head as you read their words. The environments you explore aren't impressive to behold, but they're clear and easy on the eyes, which is vital as you seek clues to aid in your escape, and throughout your quest, atmospheric sound effects like the ominous creaking of the ship send shivers up your spine.
Zero gives the players nine hours to make their escape, but there is no actual time limit. The clock advances at set points in the story, so you can take as much time as you need to work out the puzzles in each locked room. Thorough exploration is always the key to success. Viewing your surroundings from a first-person perspective, you move to set positions in each locked room in a manner reminiscent of Myst and numerous other point-and-click adventure games, and tap items in the environment to inspect or interact with them. The puzzles incorporate everything from sheet music to baccarat, but no prior knowledge of any such elements is needed to work out these brainteasers. Simple experimentation or some informative words from one of your companions always tell you what you need to know. And the puzzles never become irritating pixel-hunts; everything you need to inspect is clearly visible, as long as you look carefully.