Saturday, December 29, 2012

Describing 999's Best Ending - Part 1

999:  Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was a weird one for me, all told.  I played it.  I enjoyed it.  I got the True Ending and suddenly I didn't really care for it, despite liking it while I played it.  This has happened before and it's a weird feeling, a feeling that I do not understand the source, nor the reason for it.  If anything, I imagine I was left wanting a little more, perhaps, or I felt a little jilted with what's there.  Also the True Ending has....a bit to it that kind of wrecks the mood.  However, soured a little by that, I proceeded to talk to Haplo about it in a non-spoilery way for a while and then he told me, "Look, I'm probably not going to play the game, so go ahead and spoil it".  And I said, "Well, to understand the True Ending, you have to get another ending first."  It's a weird concept to be sure, but it's there for reasons I will not divulge right yet.  A strange thing happened when I started telling Haplo of this first ending.

I really got into it.  An excitement for the game I didn't know existed started welling up in me, burned at me as I explained subtle nuances of the game, things it made sure you knew at this point and that.  I fell in love with the game for the first time because I found an intense verve with which I began telling the story of this ending.  Rather, this playthrough the leads to the ending since the ending doesn't make sense, or an impact on its own merits.  The story took a good few hours at least to tell, which is rather astounding (even with a bit of audience participation, as it were) and before I knew it, it was a wee hour in the morning and I hadn't written a blog post here.  (Of course, the previous lack was because I was entranced with the game, steeped in finding the final ending)  So I was thinking about it today, a way to make it up, and I realized "Well, I really enjoyed telling I'll tell it again!" except I'll tell it here and tell it better since I admittedly did a poor job at times with Haplo.  To save myself some trouble, I'm going to be doing it in a few parts.

I believe it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway.  Beyond the Page Break (which is right after this blurb) are MASSIVE 999 Spoilers!  If only for this ending, I recommend that you play the game yourself rather than take my account as your exposure.  Because it is rather fantastic.  I will, however be explaining it rather thoroughly (hopefully) so if you must read this rather than play the game yourself, I do hope you'll be able to appreciate it.  Still, a spoiler warning is a spoiler warning and thus you have been warned.

Let's begin with a role call, shall we?  Familiarize ourselves with the cast a bit visually and otherwise before we really start.  In the above image, there are four people.  From left to right, they are known as:  Santa, Seven, Lotus and the 9th Man.  You'll see why in a few.  They are joined by Ace, Clover, Snake, and the pair of June and Junpei, respectively, the latter of which is our character that we control in the game.  They have rather odd names, yes, but there is a reason for that, give me a moment.  You'll notice (probably at least, take my word for it if nothing else) that all nine characters have a rather strange wristwatch on their left arms (I'll state it now, important things will be marked in red so you can play along at home if you don't already know how it turns out or you just want to see it come together again or something), and this is what is keeping them in the Nonary Game.  The Nonary Game is, of course, the near-titular reason for the game to exist - it is a game of puzzles and survival.

The game begins with Junpei awaking on what is decidedly the interior of a ship of some sort, which is made more apparent when a nearby window (are little round boat windows still called windows?  whatever) cracks open and water starts pouring in.  Trying the door, he finds it's locked in a cryptic manner - there's what appears to be a card reader next to it while the door itself has a large "5" written on it in red paint.  Unable to do much else, he simply begins searching the room.  This is when the game begins for you, the player.  In classic Point-and-Click Adventure game fashion, you use the DS stylus to tap on items of interest and interact with them.  The arching goal is to find two slips of paper that tell of codes with which you use to open briefcases, a picture and a screwdriver which you use to unscrew the frame of the picture to reveal a decoder and keys to open said briefcases.  Inside the first is a file that explains how you find a Digital Root which is an important thing in the game.

As a brief explanation, a Digital Root is found by adding numbers up, and adding the sum together until you get a single digit number.  As an example, the Digital Root for the numbers 1,8,6,4,5 together would be 6.  1+8+6+4+5=24.  2+4=6.  Thus, the Digital Root for the numbers 2, 5 and 7 is 5.  2+5+7=14=1+4=5.  You will do this a lot over the entire course of 999, so it's important to be familiar with the concept.

Also inside the briefcase is a set of blue keycards with 1, 2 and 3 on them.  In the other briefcase is a set of red keycards with 6, 7 and 8 on them.  After sliding one of both sets through the keycard reader, Junpei realizes that perhaps what he needs to do is scan the keycards in such a way that gives him a digital root that equals "5", the number on the door.  Simple enough.  1, 6, 7.  1+6+7=14=1+4=5.  Satisfied with that, the reader allows Junpei to unlock it and exit the door, which he does and rushes off just as the entire deck he was on fills with water, forcing him to rush to a higher deck which has him emerge into a rather luxurious ball room that stops him in his tracks.  Still, things to be done.  He runs up the stairs to the next deck, spots a door with 4 and a door with 5 on it, but continues and as he runs up the flight of stairs to the next deck, he spots something strange.  Or rather, two rather strange things.  One is the four folks in the above screenshot, the other is the grouping of Ace, Clover and Snake.  They all stare for a moment before they realize they share the same fate and instruct him to follow them as they rush down to the deck he just left.

As they reach the floor, the last person joins them, Akane Kurashiki, who instantly recognizes Junpei and vice-versa.  Junpei and Akane went to Elementary School together and were bestest friends, basically (which in anime terms means they were in love).  I suppose in anime, meeting someone as a child and being friends instills a deep, true love for the rest of their days.  It is a thing.  After the little reunion, a speaker crackles to life and the person speaking identifies himself as Zero and introduces them to the Nonary Game.  He informs them that they have rules for the game within their pockets which they produce and they read the rules right there.  Basically "Around the ship are doors with numbers emblazoned on them.  Numbered doors.  The key to these doors are the numbered bracelets you each wear.  To open a door, you must find a digital root of a combination of your numbers that matches the number on the door.  Only the people who people who opened the door can enter it.  Only 3 to 5 people can pass through a numbered door at a timeEveryone who enters must contribute to what lies beyond.  The goal of the game is to leave the ship alive through the door that carries a "9" upon it.

Zero ends his announcement by reminding everyone when the Titanic crashed and sank, informing them that it took 2 hours and 40 minutes.  The boat they're on, however, will take 9 hours to sink, which means that 9 hours is their time limit with which they must complete the Game.  The announcement finishes after he bids them good luck and they instantly decide that it has to be a joke and spend twenty minutes searching the rest of the ship for another way out.  Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen.  They do take stock of the situation, however and learn where things are, so it's not a complete waste.  They also discover that there are other locked doors on the ship that bear the marks of Astrological symbols.  Anyone who has played a Resident Evil game knows what that means.  After a brief argument, Junpei grabs hold of his Protagonist's balls and tells everyone to shut up - before they did anything, they would have to find out about one another.  The next eight and a half hours would be spent with these people, so everyone had to at least have a baseline.  Akane agrees and refers to Junpei as "Jumpy", her nickname for him from when they were kids, then elaborates that his name is actually Junpei and they're childhood friends.

One of the gathered steps in and puts a kibosh on any more information sharing.  Stating that Zero could be watching and planning on going after their families, he suggests that they come up with "Code Names" to refer to one another by.  His is Seven because, as he shows, he has the Bracelet with a "7" on it.  The rest introduce themselves as Ace (1), Snake (2), Santa (3), Clover (4), Junpei doesn't get one because they already know it (5), Junpei talks Akane into adopting the Code Name "June" (6) and the last woman picks Lotus (8).  They mostly all have reasons - Snake went with Snake because Ace picked a card term and Snake is blind, so Snake Eyes is pretty clever, 'San' is three in Japanese, thus Santa, Four Leaves on a Clover, June is the sixth month, and there are eight petals on a Lotus.  Fairly basic stuff.  But they look to the last man, the man that has the 9 bracelet by virtue of elimination and they ask what his Code Name is.  He states that he will not be needing one because he will not be going with them.

With all of them confused, there's only a moment before he moves into action, producing a knife and grabbing Clover, putting it to her neck.  Dragging her back to the 5 Door, he demands for Ace to come over and add his number to theirs after he scans his hand on the device next to door and shoves Clovers hand onto it as well.  9+4+1=14=1+4=5.  Ace complies and the 9th man shoves Clover away and runs through the opened door, waving to them as it closes with a smirk.  Afterwards, however, there seems to be a commotion - the man begins screaming as something has clearly gone wrong.  "Why isn't it working?! lied!  You lied to me!!  Help me!  Open the door, please!"  They try to open the door with their bracelets but the device reads "Engaged", thus it will not register them.  "Shit!  There's no time left!  Listen to me!  He lied to me!  He put me in here!  He killed me!  He killed me!!"  There's the sound of an explosion, and then silence.

Everyone, unsure of what happens, looks back to the device to see that it once again reads "Vacant" so they decide to open the door to see what happened.  Junpei can either ask Ace and Lotus (1+8+5=14=1+4=5), Snake and Seven (2+7+5=14=1+4=5) or June and Santa (6+3+5=14=1+4=5) to help him open the door, the choice doesn't really matter, however.  The result is that the pair he calls on comes over, verifies and they open the door to a rather grisly scene.  The bottom portion of the 9th man, around his abdomen, has basically completely exploded and he is left in a bloody heap, obviously dead.  The door closes and the group doesn't quite know what to do and are confused as to why the man exploded, and what he meant.  Snake, confused at the confusion, asks if nobody was paying attention and then a choice comes up allowing you to state that the reason he died was because he didn't play by the rules.  He went through the door by himself so everyone who verified couldn't participate.

Snake pulls out a card that he then shows to everyone, but nobody can decipher it.  This is because it is a card with braille, which only Snake can read, being blind and all.  He proceeds to do just that and the group discovers that it's a supplemental note from Zero gifted to Snake because Snake has a handicap.  The note details that the devices next to the numbered doors are called "Red"s or Recognition Device and within each numbered door is a similar device, called a "Dead" or Deactivation Device.  Everyone who verifies must verify at the Dead as well before 81 seconds has passed.  After they pass through a door, a detonator in their Bracelet activates for a bomb that has been planted in their body.  Everyone verifying at the Dead is the only way to stop the detonators.  Thus, the 9th man died because he broke the rules - entering the room by himself and the others were not there to verify.  This is all automatic, based in the Bracelet which can only be removed under two conditions:  The wearer dies, or the wearer reaches the outside of the ship and escapes.  Snake was given this information to give him an edge, but he decided to use it to inform the remaining Nonary Game participants of what was fairly obvious anyway.

The rules all told, everyone begins talking amongst themselves as the realization of their situation finally settles in.  They all speak of how they saw Zero before they passed out - simply a man in all black with a gas mask- and the stories that entailed.  One pair was found in the same room and awoke in the same room, however - the pair of Snake and Clover.  When asked, they explain that they are brother and sister which surprises everyone, but then they realize that Junpei and June also have previous history, so perhaps it was just coincidence.  Nothing comes up in the rest of their conversation and it's then that they realize that it has been one and a half hours since the game began - they only have 7 and a half hours left to complete it for their own survival.  There's only one way to go - well, two ways - through the Number 4 and Number 5 doors before them.

That is honestly a good place to stop for now.  The basic premise is set up, there's some pretty important bits to keep in mind, and it gives me a good clip of writing to do for the next part.  With any luck, I'll be able to tell the whole thing in three posts total (this one included), and the next one will get into the meat of the game, hopefully leading to the beginning of the ending.  It's a hell of a ride, I assure you.

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