Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, or just 999 for short, is the first game in the Zero Escape trilogy, a series of escape-the-room visual novels with a healthy dose of quantum physics and a whole bunch of really great characters. I actually didn’t realise that it was a trilogy until recently, since I’d played 999 ages ago and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward, slightly more recently, but I had no idea that a third game, Zero Time Dilemma, had come out until I happened to be talking to a certain somebody about it.
That certain somebody is NekoJonez, curator of NekoJonez’ Gaming Blog (excuse me, that’s NekoJonez’ award-winning Gaming Blog these days) and general all-round Pretty Decent Fellow. So, naturally, I was all like ‘hey, Jonez, I definitely really have to play Zero Time Dilemma‘, and that somehow turned into ‘I need to do a Let’s Play of the entire trilogy’. My Recettear LP is coming to an end, and this seemed like a decent thing to fill the gap – although, since it’s a full trilogy consisting of three lengthy visual novels, it’s going to be a while before the gap opens up again! It’s a commitment, but should be fun. And Jonez has even agreed to work on this with me, so there’ll be two of us instead of the usual boring old me! Huzzah!
So here’s how this is going to work. Since the Zero Escape games are very text-heavy, there’ll be fewer screenshots than usual, but the entirety of the text will be embedded in each post. I’ll be using a script rather than copy it out; shoutout to NorseFTX, whose script is here – but beware massive spoilers for the entire game, obviously. There are some differences between Norse’s script, written for the DS version, and the Steam version I’m playing, mostly that a fair bit of the narration seems to have been scrapped in favour of extra dialogue; I’ll mostly just stick to the script, but if anything’s sufficiently different I’ll add it in. Oh, and I won’t be using the script to help me figure out the puzzles or read ahead for story; I don’t remember any of the solutions, so this is effectively a blind run.
As for how the formatting of the thing will go:
Text that’s nice and normal, like this, is me talking, as usual.
Text in bold will be Jonez talking.
(Text in italics surrounded by parentheses is the in-game narration.)
Junpei: Finally, text in italics with a name in front is dialogue. I might also put it in different colours depending on who’s talking, but we’ll see – it might be handy once we get lots of different characters in one scene.
So that’s the format of the thing. Other stuff to mention, I guess, is that I’ll be playing the Steam releases of all three games. 999 was originally a DS game, later ported in slightly de-gamified format to iOS; VLR and ZTD were both 3DS titles, and the whole lot’s now available on Steam. I suppose I should also reiterate that I have played 999 and VLR before, though it was a while ago and I remember very little about the details of the story. I’ve not played ZTD at all, but it’ll be a while before we get to that!
Jonez, anything else to mention?
I don’t need to introduce myself since you did that pretty well earlier. Well, for those who didn’t know, the iOS version had an additional ending. It’s a spin on of the endings, but we will mention that when we get there. I honestly remember quite a lot of the Zero Escape series. It’s one of my favorite visual novel series ever. Period. I wish they make more entries in the series but this time with new characters. But, now we have three games to get through. I played the whole series on my (3)DS, so I’m curious if they changed some things up for the PC release.
And with that, we begin.
Okay, good. I was worried it was a true story.
I’d forgotten about this – if I remember right, the ‘Novel’ parts are more of your regular VN-style dialogue trees while the ‘Adventure’ parts are the room-escape puzzles. (Note: I’m proven wrong about this almost instantly. It’s just your preference as to whether you prefer to get to read the narration text in novel-like format or not.)
Footnote, I’m so glad that they added an event tree in this port. In the original, when you wanted to go for a different ending, you had to replay the whole upcoming section. Oh, the pain was real.
We start with an FMV! Hype. There’s a boat, a countdown, and then an explosion. I can only assume the three things are related!
Okay, this is where the text begins. Just to reiterate, there’ll be screenshots dropped in so you can see what’s going on, but most of this is going to be text. Anything that’s not in italics is either me or Jonez talking (he’s in bold), and stuff in italics is either dialogue (if it has a name before it) or narration (if it’s in parentheses).
That’s very good. Let me provide the music for this, since the game has a really good soundtrack!
(A loud noise startled Junpei awake, and his eyes snapped open. As they adjusted to the light, he realized that he didn’t recognize his surroundings.)
Something I had no idea about is that Junpei now has VA work, which I don’t think was in the DS version when I played it. Does everyone have full voice work now?
The first Zero Escape game that got voice work was VLR on the 3DS & PSVita. So, when they were porting these games to the PC, they added voice acting to the game.
(With a “crack”, Junpei’s head connected with something metal. He rolled over and threw out his hand to steady himself, but he found himself groping at empty air. His balance lost, and his still-fuzzy mind struggling to understand what was going on, Junpei tumbled down to the cold, grey floor.)
Junpei: OOOOOOWWWCHGODDAMNIT! Gah! What the hell!?
As befits a game series with ‘escape’ in the title, we start in what seems to be a locked room with no idea how we got there.
Yeah, that’s a bed alright. Good job, fella.
I always wondered how it’s possible that he fell from the top bed. I mean, there is an iron bar stopping you from doing that. The only part you can fall down from is the ladder. So, Junpei, congrats mate! I never knew somebody could go full retard that hard.
Junpei: I fell pretty far. Ugh… That really hurt. Damn, my eyesight’s kind of blurry. Must have hit my head. No, wait, that’s not it…
(Junpei glared around the room, still trying to determine where he’d woken up. The fall had shaken the last cobwebs of sleep from his mind, and finally, he understood where he’d fallen from. It was a bed. A 3-level bunk bed, in fact. Junpei had fallen, apparently, from
the topmost bunk. His shoulder hurt, his knee hurt, his hip hurt… His entire body hurt. He could feel a bump forming on his forehead, where he’d slammed it against the low ceiling. He wondered if that bump was the reason he felt his vision wavering a bit, but that seemed unlikely. At first, he thought the tremor that ran through his legs was just another effect of his rude awakening, but as he looked around, he realized it was real… The whole room was shaking.)
(Was it an earthquake, he wondered. It didn’t seem likely. It was shaking far
too quickly for an earthquake. Then again, Junpei had no idea what it was, if not an earthquake. He tried to tell himself it was important. Junpei rubbed the growing bump on his head and gingerly climbed to his feet. His balance regained, he finally took his first good look around the room…)
Junpei: Where… am I?
As you can see, the Steam version’s taken out a little bit of the original narration and replaced it with Junpei basically just saying stuff to the same effect. I’m not too concerned about this, but I’ll try to make sure that all the necessary information gets across one way or another; just be aware that the text that gets presented here may not exactly match up with either version.
(His pain momentarily forgotten in the face of the confusion of his circumstances, Junpei looked around the room once again. Minutes passed while Junpei struggled to get his bearings. Then, as suddenly as they had begun, the tremors ceased. A cold silence fell over the room. From somewhere far away, Junpei could hear the sound of metal squeaking. He felt his stomach tighten. There were a thousand things the sound could have been, but none of the things he could think of were good.)
(In an attempt to distract himself, Junpei looked around the room once more. There was a stove that looked more antique than functional. The 3-level bunk bed had mattresses that were so thin that they were little more than blankets. On the other side of the room was an identical bed, and set in the wall between the beds was a slightly dirty iron door. The first thing Junpei noticed about the door was the number roughly emblazoned across it. On the surface of the door, in red paint, someone had written…)
Junpei: What’s this  mean…
(Suspicious, and still utterly confused, Junpei approached the door, slowly. Standing, at last, in front of the door, Junpei grabbed hold of the L-shaped handle. A push yielded no movement, and a pull the same result. A few more tries cemented the truth in Junpei’s mind: it wouldn’t open. It didn’t matter how much he pushed and shoved. The handle wouldn’t budge.)
(Next to the door was an odd-looking device that reminded Junpei of a card
reader. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the odd-looking device was keeping
the door shut. Junpei knocked, hard, on the door.)
Junpei: Hey! Hello? Is anyone there!?
Junpei: Open the door!
(There was no response.
Junpei threw his left fist into the door–
Junpei: What the hell is this…
(He wasn’t really sure what else to say. On his left wrist was a bracelet of a sort he’d never seen before.
In the center was a large LCD display.
It looked like nothing else so much as a watch, but it clearly wasn’t that.
After all, it showed only a single number.)
Junpei: That’s…that’s the same as the door…
(True, the numbers were the same, but he had no idea what that might mean.
All he knew was that it was strange, and new, and he wanted it off.
Junpei flipped his hand over, as if to remove a watch, but… The other side of the bracelet was solid: no buckle, no clasp, nothing. He sighed, and flipped the thing back over. There were a number of rivets around the rim of the face. Perhaps… He pushed them, but nothing happened. On a watch, they might be dials for adjusting date or time, but on this
bracelet they did nothing.)
(Junpei was at a loss. What was he going to do?
Growing more desperate, he began to tug at it.
Junpei: Damn! Ugh! It’s no good… Damn thing won’t come off!
(A steel ring ran from the face, around Junpei’s wrist, and back in to the face. He wouldn’t be pulling the bracelet off any time in the near future.)
Junpei: What the hell is the deal with this thing?!
(Frustration and desperation were beginning to mix as the reality of the situation began to dawn fully on Junpei. So much was happening, and none of it made sense. Junpei felt as though he were about to explode.)
Junpei: Where am I!?
Junpei: And why the hell am I here!?
Junpei: Why! Why!?
Junpei: What the hell happened to me!?
There’s a little flash of images here, only a couple of frames so I couldn’t screenshot them. From what I could tell, we see Junpei looking in a mirror, the bracelet, someone in a gas mask, and probably a couple of other things too.
I’ll be honest: I actually remember way less of the plot than I thought. I’d forgotten it was on a boat, I’d forgotten about the bracelets, I can’t remember what the numbers mean… I’m kind of happy about it, though, if it means I basically get to play it blind again. All I remember is some of the characters’ faces and names, to be honest.
Then my commentary will be the total opposite. I remember a lot from this game. When I’m really invested in a story, I can remember a lot. I don’t remember each and every detail of course, but I know that certain things happen in a certain order. And don’t worry, I’ll keep my commentary as spoiler free as possible.
Ooh, Jonez. You’re welcome to drop lots of hints to keep me interested, but I’ll try to stay as unspoiled as possible!
(It was at that moment that he noticed the window.
The window was round, rimmed in riveted brass, like a window from an early 20th
Junpei: What…? Wait… Am I in a ship?
(Junpei walked slowly toward the window. He could see nothing beyond it but thick, impenetrable darkness. Junpei squinted, trying to see something…anything…
It was at that moment–)
Junpei: What the–!? …You gotta be kidding me!
Junpei: Wh-What the hell is going on here?!
(A crack split the glass of the window, and for a moment Junpei stared at it.
Then the window burst, and water began to pour into the room.)
Oh, that’s not good.
You know, when I played this game for the first time, I honestly thought we were in a submarine. You know, which cruise ship would have windows under water?
Junpei: WHAT THE HELL! GODDAMN IT!
(Junpei yelled, and spun around.
His feet slipping on the water already coming through the window, he ran for
Junpei: Hey! Anyone! Is anyone there!?
Junpei: C’mon, if you’re there, say something!
(There was no reply.
As Junpei screamed, and pounded on the door, the water began to rise. It was now ankle-deep on the floor, and rising quickly toward his knees.)
Wow, things just keep getting worse. I’m impressed that whoever put us here was able to time it so that the water started coming in after we’d woken up but before we’d had enough time to find a way out!
Just imagine Junpie being like: “Just 5 more minutes.”
(Things were not looking good for Junpei. Not good at all. He needed to find a way out– and quickly!
Junpei ran a hand across his forehead, brushing the sweat out of his eyes, and looked around the room.)
Right, that’s the first portion of the story done, and now we’re in the puzzley-escapey section. We get a quick tutorial explaining that our goal is to unlock the door – no shit – and that we can move around the room using Q and E, clicking on ‘suspicious’-looking objects to find items and clues that’ll help us get out.
My brain was so hard wired from playing the DS version, I always tried the arrow keys. Since it looked like a D-pad.
Yeah, the hotkeys are actually kinda weird. Q and E let us move screens, WASD lets us move a cursor around, and the arrow keys… are assigned to menu functions like saving and the item menu. Peculiar.
First things first: I check the window, just in case.
Junpei: Water just keeps pouring through the window. It’s like a waterfall. I don’t think shoving something into the window is gonna stop the water. In other words, if I don’t wanna die, I need to find a way out of this room.
I have to figure this out!
I’m not going to be including everything Junpei says in response to me clicking stuff from here on out, by the way, just the interesting ones.
I pick up a picture frame from over the sink. The item menu tells me that there are [screws] keeping the back on – yup, square brackets and all, so I’m guessing that’ll be important later. Speaking of, this is what the item screen looks like:
I can rotate things and click the ‘search’ button in the top right to investigate.
There’s a little note above where the picture frame was; this is definitely going to come into play later, but not sure how yet.
Junpei doesn’t think the sink is important, but clicking on the pipe does prompt him to suggest that maybe he’ll crawl into it and find a way out.
Or maybe not.
By the bed, there’s what looks like a stove with a kettle on, and a blue suitcase, which is more immediately interesting.
At first, I was rushing this puzzle, since I thought there was a sort of timer. You can see it clearly, this ship is going down.
The case has some sort of code lock, with four digits, as well as a small keyhole. I can only assume that whatever’s in it is going to be invaluable in getting out of here, so mission one right now is finding out how to unlock it.
Moving on for now, the stove door opens, and there’s a screwdriver inside. Remembering the [screws] on the back of the picture frame, I use the screwdriver on the frame and…
This is what’s on the back of the picture. Comparing it to the note we got off the bulletin board suggests that the numbers 7463 are going to be important – probably the code to the suitcase, but we still need a key.
What do ya know, the kettle on top of the stove just happens to have a key inside. I try out the numbers and the key with the case.
The key turns, but the case doesn’t open. I guess there are more numbers to find.
I have to admit something here. At first, I didn’t realize where you needed to get those numbers from. So, I honestly tried each combination until it unlocked. And I learned this fun fact, some dials of this lock, don’t go to the higher numbers. So, there is a sort of help system built in. But, later in this room, I learned about the symbols on the cards.
But, that isn’t the only time I derped in this puzzle. One time, when I played through this room. My brain was so tired, I thought that each paper represented one case. Instead of one-half representing a part of the code for a case. So, whichever color came first, that was the paper for that case. The result, frustration when I realized I was messing up this puzzle.
We do a bit more searching: the device next to the door has a lever, but it doesn’t do anything right now, and what seems to be a card swipe on the side, so Junpei figures we’re probably looking for a card.
There’s a mirror near the door, taped to which I find a red key. The penny drops: I bet there’s a blue case and a red one, and another set of coloured shapes somewhere. Junpei also spots his reflection, prompting our first Expository Flashback! Wahoo!
Junpei: What’s up with my face…
(His confusion was well-justified.
His face was drawn and pale, and the dark circles under his eyes made him look as though he was nearly dead.)
Junpei: Man… What the hell happened to me?
Junpei: How did I end up here…?
(Even as he said it, something in his mind opened, and a memory bobbed to the surface. It was the last thing Junpei remembered before waking up in the strange room. It was past midnight when he came home. Junpei shuffled up the stairs, and opened the door to apartment 201. Inside was his apartment. A small, one-bedroom affair, that ran him about $630 a month. He moved into it when he entered college, and so far he’d been there for 3 years and 7 months. He stepped inside and turned on the lights. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling blinked and flickered slowly to life, as if waking from a deep slumber. Their cold light illuminated the landscape he’d come home to so many times before… Everything was as he’d left it. The magazines piled up in the corner. The text books collecting dust. The CD cases covering the floor. The jeans and t-shirt he’d worn the day before, then tossed onto the floor.
There was one thing that didn’t belong, however.
There was a breeze. Breaths of cold night air wafted into his apartment, carrying the smells of autumn with them. The white curtain framing his window swayed gently in the wind.
Huh. That’s weird… Did I leave that open…?
Junpei walked toward the window, trying to remember if he’d closed it or not
before he left. One of the panes was hanging open. He stuck his head out, and looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Junpei shrugged. He must have just left it open earlier.
He closed the window.
Then it happened.)
(Junpei turned, and found himself face to mask with a man dressed all in black.
The man wore a deep hood, and a bulky gas mask–his face was entirely hidden. Junpei tried to scream, but all he could manage was a strangled croak.
He tried to step toward the man, but his legs could no longer support his weight. Junpei collapsed to the floor–a crumpled heap of limbs, like a discarded puppet. Too late, he noticed the white smoke that was quickly filling his apartment. A small object, shaped distressingly like a grenade, sat on the floor in front of his face, hissing. The white smoke poured out of it at an incredible rate. The smoke had grown so thick that the details of Junpei’s apartment began to fade into the white haze. He could feel his mind begin to fade as well, a white haze that was not the smoke creeping into the edges of his vision.)
???: Consider this a privilege. You have been chosen.
(A rasping voice wormed its way out of the gas mask.
It was cold and harsh, and distorted in some way Junpei couldn’t put his finger on.)
???: You are going to participate in a game.
???: The [Nonary Game].
???: It is a game…where you will put your life on the line.
Now that this game has voice acting, by the way, this voice is seriously creepy.
(That was the last thing Junpei remembered. The white smoke overpowered him, the masked man faded from his vision, and he felt his consciousness fall away into the white mist.)
Junpei: That’s right! That guy with the gas mask!
Junpei: That son of a bitch must have taken me here!
(As to who the man was, or might have been, Junpei had no idea. Indeed, he wasn’t even sure that his assailant had been a man.
The voice had been cold and mechanical–likely passed through a voice-changer–and the body had been covered in a thick cloak.
Who was the man in the mask?
“You have been chosen.” Junpei remembered that much, but… What it might mean… That was beyond him. Junpei had no idea where he was, or why he was there. There was only one thing from his memory that seemed important…)
???: You are going to participate in a game.
???: The [Nonary Game].
???: It is a game…where you will put your life on the line.
Junpei: The Nonary Game, huh… What the hell is a Nonary Game!? Goddamnit!
(With a yell, Junpei drove his fist into the mirror.)
With that, we’re back to the puzzling.
On the other bed, I move the pillow and find another slip. I’m guessing from this new memo that the codes are probably blue 0263 and red 7485, so let’s go try the blue one.
In the case, we find a file explaining what digital roots are, and a stack of key cards: blue, numbered 6 through 8. Digital roots, apparently, are the single digit you end up with after repeatedly adding all a number’s digits together: take 678, for example. 6+7+8=21. Still more than one digit, so 2+1=3. So the digital root of 678 is 3. I hope this isn’t too important because I suck at maths.
Oh, hey, the file also contained a calculator which has a digital root button! That’s gloriously handy.
So what have we got so far? We’ve opened the blue case to find out about digital roots and acquire some key cards. We have the red code and key, but no case. That’s… something? I dunno.
Let’s try the cards in the reader thing.
Junpei reckons this is the right thing to do, but we need more cards. Best keep searching.
Behind a curtain I hadn’t really noticed, next to the bed, I find the red case and open it.
In one playthrough, I got so lazy with going through this puzzle, I actually didn’t pick up the deciphering paper. Yeah, I actually wrote both the codes down of the cases so I could open them faster. But, that’s only a big issue in the DS version. Thankfully, in this version of the game, we don’t need to replay this room.
Oh, yeah. I do vaguely remember having to play this room a lot of times to get every ending, so I’m happy if we no longer have to start from the beginning every time.
In this one, there are some red key cards – 1 through 3 – which is what I was hoping for. We still don’t have 4 through 6, though, or anything above 8, but I guess we’ll try them anyway.
The red cards don’t open the door either, but Junpei has a thought: that stuff about a digital root must be important. He figures that maybe we have to present the cards that give a digital root of , the number on the door, and the game seems to agree because we get a nice little maths minigame.
Luckily, I’m not so terrible at adding things up that I can’t work this one out.
Junpei: There’s nothing keeping me in here now! Time to go!
We click on the door, and…
… we are out! Thank you tutorial room for introducing us to the gameplay and the story in quite a thrilling manner!
(Accompanied by a wall of angry water, Junpei shot out of the room and into the opposing wall. Gasping to catch his breath, he looked around. He was in a narrow hallway. The water that had followed him out of the room was rapidly pouring out of the door. It flowed quickly down the hallway, and slammed into the foot of the short flight of stairs.
Just 5 steps in fact.
And at the top of this short staircase…)
Junpei: A door! Another door!
(Junpei leapt up the stairs, straight for the door.
The door burst open, and Junpei exploded out of it, only to freeze in his tracks.
What other possible response could there have been to what he saw?)
Junpei: Wha…what the hell…?
(His voice trailed off, and all he could do was stare. A polished floor stretched out before him, ornate staircases rising up from the edges, each one of them equidistant from the others. The stairs and pillars were solid wood, and Art Nouveau embellishments and
decorations covered the walls and pillars. It looked like nothing so much as the entrance to a luxurious mansion from the early 1900s.
Junpei couldn’t help but wonder…
Was he really in a ship?
The water quickly filling the hallway behind him suggested that yes, he was.
As he looked, a fresh wave rolled out of the room he’d been in, gathering speed
as it moved toward the stairs.)
Junpei: Yeah, that’s what I thought…
Junpei: This is totally a bo–
Junpei: Wait, what the hell?!
Junpei: A wave?!
Junpei: Sh-Shit! I gotta get outta here!
(Junpei spun around, his wet shoes squeaking in protest on the polished floor,
and ran toward the tremendous staircase in front of him.)
(As he ran, he glanced quickly at the plates mounted on the wall, denoting the
decks of the ship. He took the stairs 2 at a time, not entirely sure where he would find himself. Just as he began to wonder where, in fact, the stairs did lead…
Junpei saw another person out of the corner of his eye.
He stopped short, nearly tripping over the next stair, and looked. It wasn’t
just 1 person he’d seen… On the landing to the left of the stairs, there were 4 people staring at him… And on the right side, 3 more.
All told, there were 7 of them.)
(It looked as though they had been on their way down the stairs. They’d stopped short when they saw Junpei, their eyes wide. He’d done the same of course, and now they stood there staring at one another. Junpei didn’t move, one foot placed awkwardly on the next step, in the middle of a stride.
Who were these people?
This entire interaction lasted only a matter of seconds.
The woman spoke to Junpei, and time began to move again.)
From here on out, since we’ve now got more than one person talking, I’ll be assigning each person a colour. This lady’s a sort of nice turquoisey cyan thing to match her top (I’m almost reluctant to call it that; it’s basically just a scarf tied around her chest); Junpei’s light blue for his jacket.
Dancer: I guess there’s another one of us now.
Junpei: A… a dancer?
Dancer: No, I’m not. You better get moving!
I remember you, fan service lady.
Correction, mate: we remember her.
If I remember right, this character starts a bit of a trend in the trilogy (he said, having only played two of the three games) of scantily-dressed women who are secretly really smart and badass.
Right, well, this seems as good a time as any to wrap up part one, since I’m expecting we’ll be doing introductions next time. Jonez, thanks for coming along on this ride with me – if memory serves, it’s only going to get bumpier.
No problem. Thank you all for reading and I hope you guys and girls enjoyed this as much as we enjoyed writing this for you guys!
I didn’t know there were so many differences between the DS version and the Steam one. Is the voice acting any good? Are the characters who are voiced in another game still voiced by the same person?
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The voice work isn’t bad, but I don’t think it adds much; I end up changing it to Japanese in the next instalment, less distracting for me.
You’d have to ask Jonez about the second question, but from what I remember, the characters from 999 who show up in VLR are quite a bit older so I don’t know whether they’ve got the same voices… be interested to see, though.
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