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999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

How do you write a review of the best game you’ve ever played?

Excuse me, that was a little melodramatic — but how do you write a review of one of the best games you’ve ever played?

How do you even begin to describe the combination of an incredible storyline, fantastic pacing, and solid gameplay, all mixed into what is easily one of my favourite games of all time?

999 is one of those things I wish I could forget. Not because it’s bad, no, exactly the opposite: it’s so good that I want to be able to experience it all over again. I want to play it again, but it just won’t have the same impact as it did the first time around.

But where are my manners? I haven’t even told you about the game, and here I am, already singing its praises like it’s the best game I’ve ever played.

So we’ll start at the start.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel. It’s similar to games like Ghost Trick and more recently The Walking Dead in that the entire thing is completely story-driven. There’s parts where you actually play the game and make decisions that have some kind of impact on what happens, to be sure, but for the most part, you’re just along for the ride, wondering where it will take you.

999 doesn’t have any kind of spoken dialogue. It means the game comes of as rather text heavy, but that’s par for the course with these kinds of visual novels/interactive stories. The Walking Dead has endless cutscenes, and 999 has text. Lots and lots of text, seeing as that’s kind of the only way it can tell you what’s going on and how the story is progressing. It comes of as text-heavy at the best of times, but it works well — the text isn’t something that ever becomes overburdening at any point, is what I’m saying. The delivery of text is near-perfect, and you never feel like you’re being swamped with information.

When you’re not progressing the story through these semi-cutscenes (which can include the odd decision here or there), you’re playing the other part of the game. You see, gameplay in 999 can be broken into two parts: there’s the story-based cutscenes, if we can call them that, and then there’s the escape sequences. During these escape sequences you’re tasked with escaping from whatever room you’ve found yourself trapped in, and the sequences themselves play out a little like some kind of point-and-click adventure game. In most cases, you find objects, combine them with other objects, and then use them to escape the room — somehow. Sometimes your companions will give you hints on how to use the items you’ve collected, or hints on what you’re supposed to be doing to escape the room, but for the most part, you’re just left to explore rooms on your own.

Yes, you’re not the only one in this story. As the title might suggest, along for the ride are eight other individuals. There’s a few other characters that play minor roles, but for the most part, the eight characters and you are the only ones that really matter — when you meet the other characters for the first time, you’re not really sure who they are, what backgrounds they have, or why they’re with you. All you know is, something out of the ordinary is going on, and it’s up to you to find out what and why.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: the Nonary Game and associated rules are revealed pretty early into the piece by one of the so-called “bad guys”, and it soon becomes clear you’re just a pawn involved in some kind of game. A game where you have to find answers to questions such as: why were you chosen for the game? Why were the others chosen for the game? And perhaps the question with the most elusive answer of all: what is the purpose of the game?

The puzzles you’ll encounter as you play the game are fairly simplistic, for the most part. Usually you’ll be able to solve puzzles by combining objects, using objects with the environment and using some lateral thinking to work out how to escape out of the current room. No puzzle is impossible, although you might find yourself scratching your head on occasion when you just can’t figure out the answer. Random guessing will ocassionally reveal the answer, but some answers simply can’t be obtained by guessing every combination, and indeed, there are cases where doing so would take quite a lengthy time indeed.

Quite a few puzzles involve numbers and the concept of a “digital root”, as that’s one of the key concepts the Nonary Game is itself based around. The digital root is just the digits of any number added until only a single digit remains: for example, the digital root of 5, 7, and 3 would be: 5 + 7 + 3 = 15 = 1 + 5 = 6. Over the course of the game you’ll be using these digital roots to solve puzzles and progress though the Nonary Game; just try not to think about how the numbers do or don’t add up at any given time — there’s enough on your plate as it is without adding that kind of stress.

Solve the puzzles, make the right decisions, and maybe you’ll get to the end of the game.

But that’s just where it all begins.

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Pokémon, Part IV: The Hardware

I feel as if there needs to be something written about the hardware that I’m using to play Pokémon. Not because it’s strictly that important, per se, but because it seems appropriate considering the circumstances (I’m a pretty huge geek about this stuff).

I’m using a Nintendo DS Lite. When I first started thinking about which console I was going to acquire I (naturally) looked up the appropriate Wikipedia page. Suffice to say I was spoiled for choice but eventually settled on the Lite — the original was no longer available (besides, I already had one of those before I sold it a couple of years back). The DSi looked impressive — hardware improvements all around, but the lack of a GameBoy Advance slot was a pretty big down side. Plus, the DS Lite also had the best battery life of all the DS models, including the XL and the current 3DS. No region lockout of games, and an older model (which meant a cheaper price) sealed the deal.

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Pokémon, Part III: The Pokémon Renaissance

More than ten years have passed since the original Pokémon games (generation I)  came out, and I can safely say with some confidence that we have now entered the period of the Pokémon renaissance, a period where Pokémon culture is seen as popular and accepted, rather than just something that those nerdy kids at school play.

I guess you could say that there have been multiple renaissance periods, one surrounding every new game release, but my own Pokémon renaissance starts around the release of Pokémon Black and White.
The way I see it, everyone between the ages of say, 10 and 25 knows about Pokemon. Perhaps they’re a little less enthusiastic about it these days (if enthusiastic is indeed the right word), and perhaps they don’t show the anime on TV anymore, but the point is, everyone knows about Pokémon.

You could definitely say my own Pokémon renaissance was spurred on by my desire to play Pokémon, restrained only for my disapproval of the direction Pokémon had taken since generation I and II. I understand Nintendo can’t simply let the Pokémon franchise stagnate, but alienating existing Pokémon fans by adding (in my mind) unnecessary game mechanics and modifications only serves to curb enthusiasm, not increase it.

Which is exactly why I chose to play Pokémon once again — wait, what? I guess in the end my desire to relive old-school memories won out, or something. I saddled up with a (comparatively old-school) DS Lite (for GBA compatibility, more on this in a sec) and purchased a copy of SoulSilver and White, along with the strategy guide for White.

Forget the fact that there are now umpteen hundred Pokémon to catch, or that you can now grow berries, and that Kurt can now make up to 99 Pokéballs out of apricorns each day, forget all the game mechanics that Nintendo have added that either make the game more complex or untrue to the core Pokémon experience — for me, my personal Pokémon renaissance is all about reliving those old school days, regardless of whatever changes they’ve made since.

See, I don’t think you quite understand how much I enjoyed spending untold hours training and battling Pokémon. It’s pretty addictive once you get into it — combine that with a desire to finish the game and then catching ’em all, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for success in the game market.

What’s the plan from here on out? Well, it’s pretty simple: play as much Pokémon as I need to. Starting with SoulSilver, as it’s a generation IV remake of the generation II Silver seems like a good a place as any to start, since Pokémon Gold was the very first Pokémon game I ever played. Once that is all done and dusted I think I’ll go back to generation III with LeafGreen, a remake of the generation I Green that started it all. From there, Emerald, also from generation III, brings the best out of generation III games, and then Platinum, also the best of the generation IV games. Finally, Pokémon White. Or maybe I’ll play Pokémon White while playing all of those. I’m not quite sure yet.

And so, with my DS Lite in hand and quite a lot of Pokémon ahead of me (I’ve sunk rougly 35 hours into SoulSilver already, and am probably about 25% though), I begin a journey of my very own — call it what you want, but it’s my very own Pokémon renaissance.