999: The Novel is the iPad version of the 2009 DS game 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. Given that the original release only appeared in Japan and North America, this iOS port finally gives European players the opportunity to sample the precursor to the awesome Virtue’s Last Reward. The visual novel’s narrative is told from the point of view of twenty-one year old Junpei Tenmyouji who, along with eight other hapless victims, finds himself trapped aboard a sinking cruise liner after being kidnapped by a masked individual who answers to the name of Zero.
As you may have guessed from the game’s title, in order to escape a watery grave the unlucky nine must conqueror Zero’s Nonary Game, which involves getting past nine locked doors within a strict nine hour time limit. Each of the participants has been allocated a number from one to nine, which becomes relevant whenever you come across a sealed room. Locked doors can only be opened by a party whose total assigned numbers have a digital root that matches the door’s number. If this is all giving you a headache don’t worry. Anyone lacking mathematical skills, such as myself, need only concern themselves with picking what door Junpei should enter. Once this is accomplished the group will organise themselves into teams to make your selection possible.
What is controversial about the iPad version of 999 is what happens upon entering a room. In the DS version players were expected to solve several puzzles in order to exit the room and explore the rest of the ship. The iPad iteration however does away with the puzzles altogether, simply telling the reader that “after a while the group figured out the puzzles and moved on.” It’s a strange decision given how the iPad touchscreen is more that adequate to handle the interface of the DS original. For all intents and purposes the iPad conversion has transformed 999 into an adventure book were you pick a door and then see how your selection impacts the plot. If you dislike brainteasers this is great, as you can enjoy the story with minimal distractions, but I imagine some players will feel that the omission of riddles makes the iPad download inferior to the DS original.
That’s not to say that the iPad version doesn’t surpass the DS in other areas. Visually the iPad can boast to having higher resolution graphics courtesy of the system’s bigger screen and retina display. Another plus is that the game includes a story flowchart similar to that found in Virtue’s Last Reward. Using the chart you can rewind back to events you have previously seen, which is handy for picking unexplored doors that lead to alternate endings. The system isn’t perfect though, as selecting a scene were you pick a door still forces you to read some text before you are permitted to make a selection, but it still trumps the DS cartridge which forced you to restart the story from the very beginning.
I am going to give 999: The Novel five stars out of five. The missing puzzles aren’t a deal breaker for me as the inclusion of the flow chart more than makes up for it by cutting down on needless backtracking. I can also let the lack of puzzles slide as the asking price is a bargain £3. That’s considerably cheaper than your average DS game. It’s a shame that I cannot comment on the story more without giving away major spoilers, as the plot is by far the game’s strongest aspect. Escaping a sinking ship is gripping enough, but trust me there is much more to it than that. The mystery surrounding Zero’s motives, in orchestrating the Nonary Game, is packed with clever twists that would put Fight Club to shame. If you enjoy mysteries, sci-fi or anime I can highly recommend 999. It’s just as enjoyable as any traditional paperback you can name with the added benefits of music, sound effects and graphics.