Preview: Unknown 9: Awakening Shows Real Promise, Once the Story's Out of the Way 1

As we entered the furthest corner of Bandai Namco's space at Summer Game Fest Play Days, we were introduced to the world of Unknown 9, a multimedia story spanning comics, novels, podcasts, and soon, a video game. It's a super ambitious project, and admirable effort has gone into building this intriguing universe, but it's once all the proper nouns and key words are set aside that Unknown 9: Awakening can show its potential.

Still, if we had to try and wrap our heads around it, so do you. The titular Unknown 9 are immortal beings with a strong connection to The Fold, a strange parallel dimension. They're said to have watched over humanity's entire existence, though nobody knows why. A group known as Quaestors believe the 9 to hold profound wisdom and power, and these people have aligned themselves into two groups. The Leap Year Society is aiming to learn the 9's secrets and pass it on to humanity for the greater good. Meanwhile, The Ascendants want this knowledge for themselves, and to break the cyclical nature of humankind's messy history.

Our protagonist, Haroona, is able to tap into The Fold herself, resulting in some interesting and rare powers such as Stepping. She can temporarily step into The Fold and use that to possess people and manipulate objects. She's on a quest for revenge against Vincent, the man who killed her father.

All of this context is important and sets up an interesting narrative, but it's just a lot to churn through. Fortunately, from what we were shown of the game itself, it appears to be shaping up pretty nicely. This is a linear action adventure with an emphasis on combat infused with Haroona's supernatural abilities.

She can step into enemies to temporarily possess them. When she does, you can control the enemy's next movements; perhaps you strike a nearby hazard, or fire a weapon at another enemy, for example. When she returns to her own body, these actions are carried out, with the bad guys effectively eliminating themselves. Of course, this ability can only be used sparingly, but it gives Haroona the edge even when outnumbered.

As you get further into the game you'll be able to use this more often (though it's still limited), and of course unlock various other skills along three branches. We're told you won't be able to unlock everything on this skill tree during a playthrough, so you'll need to be choosy with your abilities. While Stepping will become more prominent, however, enemies will take steps to mitigate it. A portion of our hands-off demo took place at an enemy outpost where they'd set up an anti-Stepping area. You won't be able to use any of Haroona's special powers in that zone, but if you avoid it, you're able to stealth through and disable the apparatus. Apparently there will be at least a couple of ways to deal with each mission.

Though we didn't get to play, we can tell there's a lot of potential in the Stepping mechanic. You'll be able to set up some interesting combinations, like having one enemy fire their gun at an explosive where some others are standing, then having another foe attack that first enemy. It'll also be used in some light puzzle solving and exploration, too, as Haroona can also pull and push objects. You're rewarded for exploring with collectibles that provide more lore, and a lovely-looking journal keeps track of all the information you've gathered.

There's a really interesting game to be found in Unknown 9: Awakening, even if its core story feels a little convoluted. It's important to remember that each story in the overarching universe is standalone, so you won't need to engage with the other parts unless you want to, but it still feels like a lot to chew on even then. With the game due to arrive in Fall 2024, it shouldn't be too long before we can play it ourselves to see if the gameplay can keep it afloat.

What do you think of Unknown 9: Awakening? Let us know in the comments section below.