Visual novels tend to be too niche of a market to be successful in the west. So, obviously, there are rarely any translated VNs, and certainly not ones that are on game systems. Well, Aksys loves bringing over stuff from Japan, so they took a shot at bringing some over. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is for the Nintendo DS, and it's actually part puzzle and part VN. Now, when I say that, I don't mean the puzzles seem like they were tacked in as an after thought, or it just has a puzzle minigame or something on the main menu. The whole game does revolve around you solving these puzzles in order to progress, and the story is centered around these puzzles.
The puzzles aren't anything depressingly difficult though, so they won't really prevent you from moving on with the story. Some of them may get you stuck for a while trying to solve them, but you should be able to get them eventually when looking at all the clues presented to you. Before I explain how the puzzles are set up, it'd probably be better if I talked about the general story.
9 people are kidnapped by a mysterious person that goes by the pseudonym of "Zero," and are placed in a sinking ship with 9 hours to escape before it completely goes under, and given strange bracelets with an assigned number on them, all for some experiment with human guinea pigs. Obviously it's not as easy as just finding a map of the ship and running to the lifeboats. Most of the doors are locked, and can only be opened by solving puzzles within the rooms, such as finding the key by gathering clues and combining them, or finding out the password for the door by looking around the room and such. So to solve puzzles you need to investigate the rooms thoroughly for clues and use them to find a way out. Some of the puzzles are really well thought out, and it's always satisfying when you find the answer.
But what really shines in this game is the story and characters. The 9 kidnapped people have to work together in order to escape the ship, and almost every one of them has something likable about their character. The story itself is actually written by one of the writers of a popular VN, Ever17. Some parts of the story really do have that Ever17 feel to it as well, so it shows. Like Ever17, there's plenty of pseudoscience themes going around, and tons of bricks to be shat in the final path. The multiple endings will give you clues to the truth of what's really going on, and I enjoyed trying to put together the pieces before getting the full explanation.
The endings are determined, of course, by the choices you make throughout the story. However, the major plot changing choices would have to be deciding what door you want to go through. You see, there are 9 doors with different numbers painted on them. The doors are locked, and can only be opened when combining the numbers different characters have on their bracelets. Only those that opened the door may enter, meaning the groups have to split up every now and then. This is one thing I'm a bit nitpicky on. It makes it so that the most important choices in the game are decided on a gamble. There's no real way to tell where the doors will lead, and there's no hints that a certain door may lead to a BAD END. You simply go through doors until the very end. But it's just a slight annoyance, I like having the ability to prevent bad ends based on logically thinking through the choices presented to me, rather than having to rely on luck. Though it's understandable why they did this. After all, you play as one of the people trapped in this boat, and the person running the experiment obviously doesn't want to leave huge signs around hinting to what doors are the correct ones to enter. It's made for you to go through it using trail and error. The true ending can't even be unlocked without doing at least one other ending first.
It's still a really enjoyable game, with some interesting puzzles and a nice plot. It's not even that long either, it can easily be finished in a week or less. If you don't have a DS, or just don't want to spend money, there are other ways of playing this if you catch my drift. So if you're looking for something new to read, you might want to pick this title up.
~ Kirari ミ★