For Christmas I received two gifts: an Amazon gift card and a copy of Virtue’s Last Reward, a puzzle game for 3DS that had plenty of positive impressions behind it. At first I thought I could enjoy the game on its own merits, but the back of the game case reveals that the game is a sequel to a popular DS puzzle game — Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (informally, 999). Well, I thought, I suppose I should play the first game, and Amazon was kind enough to sell me a copy for close to $20.
The prologue shows a young man waking up in a cabin aboard what appears to be an old steamship. Along with introducing the circumstances of his presence there, the prologue also serves as a tutorial for solving the game’s puzzles. The first two things I noticed: 1) the art looked very similar to the character art for a 3DS game I had been playing called Code of Princess. I love the detail of this particular anime-inspired design, and a Google search revealed the same artist, Kinu Nishimura, worked on both games. Splendid! 2) the layout of 999 reminds me of an old NES/Macintosh game called Déjà Vu, a game I loved when I was younger. You have to look for clues among still images of an environment and use whatever is available to move on to new areas and progress the plot. Many of the puzzles in both games are based on logic. 999 also makes use of a number of numerological and mathematical puzzles that may get you to bust out that calculator.
The story seems like something out of the Saw films. Junpei, the player character, meets eight other people (including a childhood friend) brought to the ship against their will. They’re all trying to figure out why they’re on the ship, and learn the rules of the “nonary game” from the masked, mysterious Zero. One of the nine hostages attempts to go off on his own in search of an exit and dies horribly doing so, communicating to the “players” that this is a deadly game in which they have nine hours to win. The rules explain that certain people with certain numbered bracelets on their wrists are allowed to open certain numbered doors that match up with its digital root (adding numbers until getting to a single digit — e.g. 5 + 6 + 7 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9, the digital root), which helps to create plenty of conflict. This contributes to the game’s choose your own adventure path, of which there are six endings to see, including one true ending. Interestingly, the other endings aren’t simply foiler or red herrings. Each ending provides distinct information about the overall story that makes sense of the true ending. There is a reason these people were brought together. All of them are connected in the big picture. It’s just incredible finding out how.
The plot is incredibly well-scripted and thoughtful, which is important since 999 is a visual novel. There is an abundance of hidden information and established connections in numerology I just hadn’t thought of until later. I loved the diverse cast and most of them are written in a way where they are sympathetic but flawed. Everyone presents differing arguments for the next move to take, and you’re always left wondering whose side you would be on and where to go to reach the exit and live. I couldn’t believe just how expansive its plot arcs are. The true ending gets ridiculous in a fun way, although I was honestly still scratching my head when all was revealed.
The puzzles aren’t too difficult for the most part. A few do require patience, and there are a few I honestly solved by luck. If you investigate something enough, the game will be happy to provide a hint or a thought that helps get your mental gears turning (I needed that for one puzzle involving dinner plates). I very much enjoyed my time with 999, though. Its assorted characters are relatable and the plot is well-written and well-paced. I love its artwork. The puzzles are well-done for the most part. A great package. Can’t give it a larger endorsement than that!