A friend was playing 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors (999) recently, and was curious how it was changed in localization. The game deals heavily with wordplay and puns that seem difficult to localize. Hopefully, I’ll get to cover all of them, eventually! I actually ran into the first big change unexpectedly while checking something else.
If you don’t know, 999 is a game in the Zero Escape trilogy, originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2009. There’s also a 2017 remaster available on current platforms. You may recognize its writer (Kotaro Uchikoshi) as co-writer of World’s End Club (alongside Danganronpa’s Kazutaka Kodaka).
999 has a Saw aesthetic, but the story is more reminiscent of a scifantasy thriller, or even death games like Squid Game. The gameplay/genre is visual novel most of the time, but occasionally switches to an escape-the-room type puzzle, reminiscent of early 2000s flash games. This article won’t contain story spoilers, but I do recommend the game, if you’ve got the time.
As it turns out, the game’s very first puzzle differs significantly from the original release. The English puzzle uses a straightforward cipher to unlock a pair of colored suitcases. Colored shapes are drawn on two scraps of paper, with each shape corresponding to a number. After matching the colors to the briefcases, it’s a simple matter of referencing the cipher and entering the numbers.
The difference between the Japanese and English puzzles is immediately obvious: the shapes were originally Japanese characters!
The red text says ‘アオ/ao‘, while the blue text says ‘アカ/aka‘. Native players will immediately realize these mean ‘blue‘ and ‘red‘, respectively. Meanwhile, the cipher itself originally had this text:
So, the puzzle is to text into two 4-digit numerical combinations, one for each suitcase. The blue text is straightforward; the second half of the cipher pretty much hands you the answer. ア= 11, カ = 21. Entering 1121 into the blue suitcase will confirm that easily enough.
The red suitcase, however, is not as simple. The value for ア (A) is the same on both halves of the cipher (11) but there’s no value for オ (O). So, we’re going to have to extrapolate it, using something known as 五十音順 (gojūonjun), or AIUEO order.
Translated literally, gojūonjun means ‘50-sound order’. This is a bit of a misnomer, since even though the chart is 5×10, some of the spaces aren’t filled in. There’s even an extra character hanging around on its own outside the chart! Regardless, AIUEO order is pretty much comparable to the alphabetical order we have in English. In Japanese, vowel sounds are listed first, then the consonant-vowel pairs — starting from K, then moving on to S, and so on. This order is standard, and you’ll see it in the text-entry fields of most games.
So, how does this relate back to the puzzle? Well, if you number the rows and columns of AIUEO order, you’ll make a chart that gives the value of オ. Mark the first row of the first column with 11, then the next row down with 12, and so on. Moving left, mark the top of the next column as 21, and continue the pattern, ending up with something like this:
Looking at this, we can see that オ should be 15. That gives us a full code of 1115. Let’s give it a shot:
So, the original puzzle relied on the player making a connection to the order of Japanese characters. Amusingly, if you tried creating the same type of puzzle using the English alphabet, O would still be 15, as it’s the 15th letter of the alphabet!
I can only speculate, but I imagine changing the lock combination and art on the papers was easier than redesigning the puzzle completely to work with English characters. In Japanese, ‘red’ and ‘blue’ can conveniently be shortened to two characters, but I’m having trouble thinking of an English synonym that would’ve worked with the 4-digit code.
Another advantage of the official localization is that it is language-agnostic, so if this game had ever been localized into yet another language with a different alphabet, like Russian, Spanish, or Italian, the puzzle wouldn’t have to be redesigned yet again. To my knowledge, this didn’t happen, but it might’ve been among the considerations the team made. Players with English as a second language might also have an easier time with this puzzle.
Are there any other puzzles like this you know of that were changed significantly in localization? Let me know below. Or, let me know if there’s something in particular you’ve always wanted to know about this game’s localization. You can also follow me on Twitter to stay up-to-date on new articles!