Kakeru Niimi is just an ordinary student living in the sleepy college town of Shiromitsugawa. Even a high-budget anime based on the local folklore of the town failed to drum up much tourism for the place. Kakeru lives on his own after his annoying little sister made a big fuss about needing more space at home but still has to deal with her regularly showing up on his doorstep to disrupt his peaceful life. All in all, things in Shiromitsugawa are pretty uneventful until an earthquake hits the town one day. It’s not a very big quake, but it does end up shattering a sacred relic at the local town shrine where Kakeru was helping at the time. This relatively minor event ends up turning Kakeru’s entire life upside down as it results in some of the young people in town suddenly gaining superhuman abilities. He is initially reluctant to become involved in the whole mess, especially as someone appears to be using their special powers to murder people. However, when a beautiful girl named Miyako Kujo begins investigating these kills, Kakeru cannot resist assisting her with this dangerous task.
9-Nine is the first episode of a visual novel series that is set to span a couple of titles that are all set in the same universe. Although Kakeru is the protagonist of this episode, the focus is on Miyako Kujo, a girl who gains extraordinary powers after the earthquake. Kakeru initially teams up with her purely because he wants to spend more time in her presence, but he quickly discovers just how serious things are as the murder rate in town climbs. The two find that mysterious artifacts are granting people their powers, and it is up to them to assist someone from the organization that is supposed to be managing these artifacts. Along the way, Kakeru continues to fall for Miyako, but she is not the only person he encounters who has special powers. Some of the people they meet are clearly abusing their abilities, but the agendas of others are a bit murkier.
Initially, 9-Nine feels like a typical slice-of-life visual novel, despite the supernatural killer on the loose. Kakeru is obviously concerned about events, but he doesn’t exactly go out of his way to solve the mystery and prefers doting on Miyako instead. He also has to put up with his annoying sister, Sora, and his best friend, Yoichi, who only has one thing on his brain. Players may also be somewhat surprised to be greeted with a bad ending just as the tension appears to be ramping up. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking it is really the end, as it just means you have to start the game from scratch, but this time you get to make choices.
If you make the wrong choices, you will end up back at the same bad ending, but pick the right ones, and you’ll find that the story continues for quite a bit longer. This is something that could annoy players, but thankfully there is an option to skip through text that you have already read in your previous playthrough. Interestingly enough, the second playthrough features even more romance than the first, and it is also where you get to see quite a few adult scenes, provided that you have installed the patch. This patch is available for free from the Denpasoft store and is worth the download if you don’t mind some adult content.
In terms of the storyline, there is nothing really exceptional about 9-nine-:Episode 1, but it is rather enjoyable. Mixed in with all the romance and mystery are also comedic moments, and although there is nothing here that we haven’t seen before, the characters are all quite likable. The game doesn’t have a huge cast, but the scenes with minor characters such as Haruka Kosaka and the mysterious Nao Yuuki keep things intriguing. The story is also very linear, so don’t expect any branches depending on the answers you pick during your second playthrough. Instead, it is a case of choosing the four correct answers, or you won’t see the real ending.
One thing about 9-nine-:Episode 1 that we cannot fault is the art, which is no surprise as it was done by Izumi Tsubasu, who also did the art for SakuSaku: Love Blooms with the Cherry Blossoms. All of the characters in the game look great, and their eyes, in particular, are some of the most mesmerizing we’ve seen in a visual novel. As mentioned earlier, using the adult patch will add a couple of adult scenes to the game. There are a few of these, but they fit in with the story even if they are a little gratuitous. The sex scenes do make use of a mosaic filter for everything below the waist, but the sex scenes are all animated, which is still a rarity in visual novels. Because of how linear the game is, it is impossible to miss any scenes, and all the CG and movies can be viewed in a gallery when you complete the game.
Another area where 9-nine-:Episode 1 did not disappoint is the audio. All of the characters in the game, even the protagonist, are fully voiced in Japanese. This makes for a nice change compared to the primarily silent main characters in most visual novels, and it definitely makes Kakeru more likable. The soundtrack is very good and consists of sixteen tracks that change depending on what is happening with the story. So, during mellow scenes, you might hear calm tracks like “Beneath the Moon” or “As Long as I Have You,” while tracks like “Daybreak Won’t Wait” and “Collision Course” kicks in during more action-packed moments. We also like the fact that the game shows the name of each track on the corner of the screen when it begins playing. A music gallery is also included, and the tunes are good enough that we kept them playing while writing this review. The game’s interface is also well designed, and it is even possible to make multiple by simply moving your mouse cursor to the edge of the screen, which means you don’t have to open up any menus.
9-nine-:Episode 1 isn’t the most gripping visual novel we have played, but the great art and music elevate it above the competition. It might have been better to have the bad ending be dependent on the choices you make instead of forced during your first playthrough, but there is an explanation for it in the story that makes sense. While the story in this first episode is pretty self-contained, it is definitely designed to be part of a bigger series, which means you are unfortunately not going to get an ending that neatly wraps up all the loose ends. In addition, the lack of branching paths also means that even with two playthroughs, the story is over quite quickly. Don’t let this deter you, though, as 9-nine-:Episode 1 is worth experiencing, and hopefully, the wait for the next episodes won’t be too long.
- OS: Windows 7/8/8.1/10
- Processor: Core 2 Duo (Core i3 or higher recommended)
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: 1280 x 720
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Storage: 4 GB available space