The following is a contributed review by Speedyard AKA ShotgunButterfly9. He continues into his Should You Get series by taking a look at the esoteric indie title 9.03m. Be sure to check out more of his videos on YouTube.
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9.03m describes itself as a memorial to victim’s of the tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011. So far so good. Every other medium has been used to explore tragedy, to remember those who lost their lives, to evoke empathy, so it’s great to see games try the same.
It’s just, they shouldn’t do it THIS way.
Long story short, 9.03m does not need to be a game. If it were just a video presentation with roughly the same audiovisual elements, it would be what it is. I might be kinder to it. But it’s the fact that it presents itself as a game that mars it.
While you can move and look around freely, the game does not give you a world to explore. It literally draws a line in the sand with a trail of dots, telling you what it wants you to do next before having you play a token “find the butterfly” game before you can proceed to the next part. It reminds me of the puzzles in between memories in To The Moon- except that there was actually some small skill involved there (to say nothing of an actual story and world). In 9.03m, you simply rotate mementos until you find the hidden object.
9.03m makes it clear from the outset what it expects from you. It tells you, through the blue-washed environment, the sad music, and the subject matter, “You are expected to feel sad.” There’s nothing wrong with creating an experience with the goal of evoking some particular emotion or sentiment in mind, in this case, empathy for those who lost their lives. But I would argue that a well-made work of art of any kind needs to include some room for you to arrive at that point on your own, of your own power and through your own feelings, rather than simply telling you “This is what you are to feel. This is how you are expected to react.”
And in the end, that’s the crux of the problem with this game. It doesn’t give you anything to do, either in regards to how you proceed through the game or in regards to the emotional impact it seeks to convey.
Linearity is not a general flaw in a game. Some games work well in their linearity and most have to balance it carefully. But whatever kind of game it is, be it a story-drive experience like Dear Esther or an open-ended crafting and survival experience like Don’t Starve, it has to give you meaningful choices of SOME kind. There are no meaningful choices of any kind in 9.03m.