Pixelhunter – 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors


9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors. It sounds almost like the title of a horror movie but it’s one of the few American DS games rated ‘Mature’. It’s a scary story full of nightmare scenarios, twists, turns, blood and skin-crawling descriptions and suggestions. It might be a little tame for some but those with active imaginations might want to leave the lights on.

The story begins with the protagonist, Junpei, waking up with a memory of being drugged by a mysterious figure in a gas mask. As his senses return to him, he realises that he’s in what looks like a cabin on a ship and that it’s starting to flood. But the door is locked, so how does he get out?


Point, touch, click, solve.
Point, touch, click, solve.

Once he escapes the cabin, Junpei discovers that there are eight other people who are also on the ship against their will. A voice over a loudspeaker, identifying himself as ‘Zero’ tells them that they are playing the ‘Nonary game’. They have to work their way through various numbered locked doors to door number nine in nine hours, or the ship will sink with them on it. Each character wears a bracelet that forces them to jump through the hoops that Zero has set and also makes sure that they play the game. They have to, or they die.

There are two types of section in the game. ‘Story’ sections further the plot through narrative and dialogue. ‘Escape’ sections are point-and-click puzzles where Junpei is placed in a locked room and forced to find clues to get out. You can look around the environment, touch objects to examine them and combine items to make new ones to progress in classic point-and-click style.

999 has a lot of text. It’s part point-and-click adventure, but mostly visual novel, with swathes of the story taking place through masses of narrative and dialogue that you just have to read through. You only get the option to fast-skip through text if you’ve finished the game once, but the story is where the heart of this game is. This game also necessitates completing it several times to see the ‘true’ ending which needs to be seen to be believed. 999 is known for its multiple endings and labyrinthine plot, one that fits perfectly within the Japanese visual novel genre so to treat it any other way is to do the game and yourself a disservice.

This game also necessitates completing it several times to see the ‘true’ ending which needs to be seen to be believed.

The puzzles therefore are more like adornments. Although I’m not a particularly sharp puzzle-solver, I found the majority of the puzzles quite easy, the only real pressure coming from the story’s scenario, instilling a sense of panic in certain sections. Even though the majority of the time you’re not in any real danger, the story often makes you believe you are, which is sometimes enough. The importance of the story over the puzzles explains why the game was successfully modified into a visual novel for iOS. Essentially, the puzzles have been stripped out and the dialogue animations jazzed up to look more like an animated comic rather than mostly static images captioned with text like in Ace Attorney or the early Final Fantasy games.


999 – or rather the Zero Escape series since there is a sequel for 3DS and PS Vita called Virtue’s Last Reward with far higher production values – has a small but dedicated following. However, at the moment, the creator Kotaro Uchikoshi is struggling to find funding for a third game. They’re not profitable enough in Japan for Spike Chunsoft to pour money into a third game, which unfortunately leaves a wonderful series unfinished.


I can equate it to something like the pain of Firefly being cancelled as I feel close to the same level of heartbreak. The legion of Western fans who have formed Operation Bluebird in support live in hope of Uchikoshi finding another way, as he did consider crowd-funding options at one point. Christian Nutt, of the Gamasutra community, has written a wonderful article laying out how Uchikoshi could save the series, also touching on why it’s important he does so. The series is a rare breed, rare enough and good enough that I hope he’s successful. For now though, all Zero Escape fans wait for Uchikoshi to find the way out.


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