Two years ago when I played the prequel, 999, I was thoroughly impressed by the true ending. Virtue’s Last Reward jumped from being merely impressive to utterly mind-blowing. Needless to say, VLR blows its prequel out of the water and sets up for something much larger than I originally imagined. I have actually lost sleep over this game, which is not something I can say about most games, even for some of my absolute favorites (by “losing sleep,” I mean I slept for 3 hours and in those 3 hours I dreamt about myself playing the game).
999 is an adventure game developed by Chunsoft and published by Aksys for the DS. Written by the writer of Ever17, possibly the most well-known all ages visual novel that had an official English release (sadly the company is out of business now), 999 has a suspenseful story with numerous plot twists and 6 endings. The majority of the game consists of novel style narration on the bottom screen, and dialogue between characters appears on the top screen. Aside from the visual novel elements, there is also times where you must solve puzzles and escape a room. The best part about the game is the story, so it’s not a recommended buy if you’re looking for a purely room escape game. Prepare to do a lot of reading.
I heard about this game through Siliconera or some other gaming news site a while back, and immediately got interested since it was an adventure game. First thing I noticed upon playing the game was that the text was slow. Really slow. Like, I read twice as fast as the text speed. I’ve always been the type to not wait for the text scrolling in visual novels. It’s a frustrating thing to get used to, the slow scrolling of text. Graphically, the backgrounds make the atmosphere really oppressive (dammit, I hate them metal doors and the creaks they make) except for the fancy looking rooms.
There isn’t that much gameplay to be honest, since 999 is more of a visual novel than anything else. The only gameplay you’ll get aside from door and dialogue choices is probably finding a way out of the room. The escape part basically consists of puzzles that you have to solve in order to find the key to the door that leads to the next part. It was pretty fun and exciting for me at first, but eventually they started to feel gradually easier. The difficulty of the puzzles don’t rise as you progress through the story, so later rooms are just as easy as earlier rooms. The puzzles overall are pretty easy, I never really got stuck much (unlike the Ace Attorney series). After the 2nd playthrough or so, I was willing to give anything for a “skip puzzles already done” function because playing through the same door multiple times isn’t fun. You pretty much know exactly what to do by then. 7/10 for gameplay, I didn’t really care about the puzzles when they just seem like an annoyance stopping the awesome plot.
Screw the gameplay. Screw the frustratingly slow text. Dammit, the story is probably one of the best I’ve seen in a while for a video game, with impressively spun together plots and many twists. The suspense is really effective; each time after solving a room, my heart pounds for more story and revelation. Every ending had me pumped up. Even after obtaining the true end, I still think about the story a lot, which proves the quality of the writing. Even in this twisted plot the characters are forced into, there is still hilarious moments that I always love in a game. There is a perfect balance of comedy, suspense, and touching moments in the true end, which concludes with a much-needed sense of satisfaction and peace. I’m usually harder on the story aspect for visual novels, but 999 gets a 10/10 from me.
One of the most important elements of a good visual novel is the characters. Importance-wise, it is right up there with the story. I’m glad to say that 999 knows this and fleshed out their cast. I eventually got attatched to everyone. My personal favorite character is definitely Snake. He was alright at the beginning, giving the air of a blind Miles Edgeworth. However, it was during the ‘safe’ ending where he became totally badass. Damn, I almost shat bricks there. Too damn cool, man. My second favorite is probably Clover, because she is just so adorable in the True path. I didn’t play the axe ending where Clover goes batshit insane and kills everyone, but I don’t think I want to now…maybe I’ll do it later. Anyways, the cast is easy to get attatched to, and are part of the reason why 999’s story is so strong. 10/10 for characters too.
Since this is a visual novel, the graphics just consists of background illustrations and character sprites. Doesn’t exactly push the system to the limits, but the 2D art works just fine here. The character designs are all clean and unique, with a variety of poses and facial expressions. The backgrounds range from bright to depressing to just downright disturbing (I’m looking at you, torture room). I didn’t initially like the metal doors and wall backgrounds (I like my shiny trees and beautiful blue sky, usually) but I eventually got used to it. There are plenty of CG events that get the job done to make action scenes more interesting. 8/10 for graphics. Not exactly high-tech, but they’re pretty good looking in terms of design.
Does the job of setting the atmosphere, but not really memorable. No catchy Crowning Moment of Awesome BGM here. 6/10 for generally uninteresting music (lol after Persona series, Touhou, Ace Attorney, and even Sharin no Kuni’s “Keniichi is doing something awesome” song, my expectations for music have gone up a lot higher).
Gameplay – 7/10
Story – 10/10
Characters – 10/10
Art/Graphics – 8/10
Music – 6/10
Total – 41/50, or 8.2/10
Due to the puzzles I ended up rating it like a normal game. If it had been pure visual novel, I would’ve cut out the gameplay category completely.
I bought this game on Friday, and beat the True End this morning. Despite how busy I was over the weekend, I still played 999 every chance I had. It was difficult to put down, and I even sacrificed sleep for it. My mind told me that it’s time to take a break and sleep, but my hands refused to let me. When I did finally decide to go to bed, I found myself awake two hours later saying “Must…get…ending…” and played until morning. I’m probably not a good example of what a normal, healthy person is, but the game was really that gripping. Makes me want to try Ever17 and Remember11.
Oh yeah, and the most lol moment for me? The final puzzle. That sudoku that will save your lives suddenly pops up from the ground and nobody knows how to solve it rofl. I knew doing so many sudoku puzzles in class will help save my life more than history or English XD
I picked the game up today after school (and pre-ordered Radiant Historia with it), and did one playthrough tonight. I don’t regret dropping $40 here. I got a bad end where the main character got stabbed (wrong door choice?), but only getting stabbed is kinda reassuring in comparison to some of the graphic descriptions of gruesome character deaths early-mid game. If “only” getting stabbed is reassuring in this game, then I’ll definitely have nightmares tonight. Or I’ll stay up all night playing games (probably better than trying to sleep while seeing guts and blood in my head).
Anyways, word of warning, I think 999 legitly deserves the M rating. You don’t actually see the really gruesome murders, but the text describes it in detail, so think twice if you’ve got a weak stomach. Other than that, the rest of the game is pretty exciting, with the feeling that you’ll get stabbed or someone else will die or see blood with every step you take. The point-and-click gameplay is also addicting if that’s your type of thing. Most gameplay revolves around you and your group looking for objects to escape or move on from a certain room. Story is told in 3rd person narrative, in novel style where text covers up the entire bottom screen, but dialogue and character portraits show up on the top screen.
I haven’t solved many mysteries since I got a bad end (dammit, this is what happens when I don’t follow a choices guide in a visual novel), so I’ll give it another go! I’m liking how all the characters are useful and intelligent despite whichever character archetype they intitally seem to fit in. In this game, you truly feel that nothing can be done if everyone didn’t work together.
Ghost Trick, Radiant Historia, and Pokemon Black…I’ll be buying one game a month at the start of 2011, so I won’t go broke that quickly (I hope).
I haven’t made any posts on it up until now, but one of the DS games I’m looking forward to is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. A visual novel/point-click adventure game by the writer of Ever17 (which I have yet to play but heard many amazing things about), 999’s English release is this week. I’m thinking of heading to EB tomorrow to see if they have it, since something like this might actually end up hard to find. Plus, I’m definitely buying early at full price to support the translation of English visual novels. Unlike Sony, Nintendo is more willing to allow things that are blurry in their definition as games so companies can have more experiments as to what to localize. If they let a game called ‘100 Classic Books’ be release on the DS then visual novels have higher chance, plus they’ve already released VNs with gameplay like the Ace Attorney series. Gotta thank shovelware for blurring the boundaries of gaming on DS as many of them probably aren’t what Sony considers ‘games.’
For some reason, Amazon.ca lists 999 as $35 while Canadian GS site lists $40. Maybe I should do online order, since Amazon has free shipping…although I’m getting tired of pre-paid cards. Dammit, when my urge to buy games finally dies down, games I really want to play come out.