Game: Ninety-Nine Nights
System: XBox 360
Genre: Action Adventure / Fantasy
Developers: Q Entertainment, Phantagram
From what I understand, there was a lot of hype for N3: Ninety-Nine Nights. Not only here in the states, but on the other side of the Pacific as well. It was one of the few titles showcased for the XBox 360 that seemed to have legitimate appeal to both territories, especially considering how badly the system is doing in Japan. And from initial impressions, who could blame them (or us)? The game looked pretty, and very impressive with the hundreds upon hundreds of models showing up on the screen at one time.
Of course, the key words in the last sentence are looked pretty.
The game was indeed hyped, and like most games, it was hyped mostly on how it looked. The cut scenes are beautiful, the battles are gigantic, and the attacks that can be unleashed are a sight to behold. But what happens when you put a controller in your hand and PLAY the game with all this beauty? Does it live up to expectations, or does it crash down like so many before it? Let’s see…
The storyline for the game is rather basic given its setting. Humans have a mystic orb of light, and non-humans (mostly Goblins) have the other half. Then war begins in order to gain control over both orbs and gain ultimate power, or whatever. Pretty basic stuff.
Story elements are also revealed before each mission via a paragraph that sets up each battle, and during the missions via cut scenes. It isn’t much, but it does give the characters involved an actual reason to kill things as opposed to the simple good/evil thing.
Speaking of the characters, there are several to choose from. You’ll have just one to start with, but will unlock more as you complete missions. The funny thing is that depending on the character you play as, the story (and subsequent missions) will actually change rather than being one cohesive unit. The other side of the coin is that some characters really have disturbing undertones accompanying their stories. Imphy, for example, believes that the only way to stop the war is to commit genocide on the opposing party. So she kills goblin civilians, along with women and children. While the story doesn’t matter much, it still turns my stomach just a little bit.
As expected, this game has some amazing visuals. The opening movie resembles something straight out of a scene from a Square-Enix game. The subsequent cut-scenes are also pretty impressive, as well as being rendered in real-time with actual player models. There’s still some minor clipping awkwardness to be found, though.
As far as the graphics for the in-game missions, one needs to look no further than the MASSIVE hordes of goblins coming at you to know that the developers spent tons of time in this department. There can be literally hundreds of character models on screen at one time, and there’s barely any slowdown to speak of when the screen gets crowded. The environments you fight in are also colorful, beautiful, and amazingly detailed. Even the elaborate attacks done by your characters are a sight to behold. The only downfall here is that the camera can be a bit of a nuisance when you need to reposition it. It rotates rather slowly, which is annoying if you run into a corner. Overall, the visuals do not disappoint.
This category, however, is one of the areas that DOES disappoint.
First off, the music. For what its worth, the game’s soundtrack contains quite a few classical pieces the sound very nice. It really adds to the battles at the beginning of each mission. The problem, however, is that these tunes don’t seem to loop very well. Any given classical piece will play for about five minutes, and then there will be silence. The music won’t even restart until about 60-90 seconds after it ends. This not only kills the ambience it set forward for a particular stage, but it also seems like a lazy shortcut the programmers took.
The voice acting for the game also takes a turn for the worse. Most of the cut scenes are just painful to watch simply because of the voices. Characters either show no emotion whatsoever, or they ham up their parts to the highest extreme they can. (At least, that’s how I see it.) Such inconsistency makes the dialogue painful to listen to. Luckily, you can skip most story aspects, so you don’t have to subject yourself to it.
Let’s put it this way: if you’ve played ANY of the Dynasty Warriors games, N3 should feel VERY familiar to you. Its your job to command your own army against a legion of enemy troops across a massive battlefield in order to reign supreme. The main differences here are that N3 is set in a fantasy world rather than feudal China, you’re given two flanks of troops to “command”, and the enemy hordes are bigger. That’s pretty much it.
In any given mission, you are given various submissions to complete. But really, they ALL boil down to some version of “Kill The Enemy Horde!” See an enemy approaching? Kill the horde! Need to be at a certain place? Run there and along the way, kill the horde! Need to wait for reinforcements? Kill the horde within a certain time limit! Need to kill the enemy general/boss? Well sure, that’s your target, but it’s surrounded by yet another horde! There’s virtually no difference in mission types, and considering that you have multiple missions AND multiple characters to complete them with, the gameplay gets very repetitive, very fast.
There are some RPG elements worked into the battles as well. For one, you are able to gain levels to increase your power and skill set, with a maximum level of 9. But its funny how the levels are gained. You can end up gaining 2-3 levels in one battle alone, and then spend the next three battles at the same friggin’ level before you gain another. Luckily you can replay past battles in order to power up for future ones, but given the repetitive nature of the game, you may not want to.
Items can also be found on each battle map. Most consist of weapon and armor power-ups, and you’ll be able to equip more as you increase in level. The rest simply increase your health, or your orb gauge. You’re also given ranks at the end of a mission based on how effectively you killed the enemy horde. Ranks range from C-Rank to S-Rank, and are based on a slew of stats. Earning better ranks will earn you better stuff, but we’ll get into that later.
Controls for the game are rather basic. The left control stick moves you, with the right control stick controlling the camera. The A button has you jump, and the main attack buttons are relegated to X and Y. Pressing both these buttons in various sequences will allow you to unleash devastating combos on your foes. You won’t start off with many, but as you progress through the game, you’ll end up learning many more. Now while there are lots of combos to try, simply mashing the X and Y buttons randomly is just as effective. You can almost go through the ENTIRE game just by mashing X and Y. It is that bad.
The B button is your “Special” button. As you kill the enemy hordes, you’ll build up a special bar (or “orb gauge:) in red on the lower half of the screen. Once it reaches the maximum, and after pressing B, you’ll enter a more powerful state, where you can use X and Y plow through your enemies like a hot knife through butter. Now the interesting thing about this is that while you are in your more powerful state, the enemies you kill will charge an entirely separate blue meter under your red one. This takes much longer, but the payoff is worth it. One the blue meter is fully charged, pressing B will activate a mega-attack that instantly kills all the enemy troops around your location. Just be careful not to waste such an amazing attack on an area with a small amount of enemies.
The L-Trigger is reserved for your block button, which comes in somewhat handy for boss battles, but not by much. The R-Trigger is the “dash” button, but it’s just as useless. For starters, you end up moving REAL slowly around the battlefield to begin with. Dashing gives you a quick burst of speed in one direction, but you’ll end up slowing to a stop by the end of it. Its simply easier to run to whatever locations you need to. (At least you’re given a MAP for that.)
As I said before, you are given two flanks of troops to command. The game tries to add a bit of strategy by allowing you to directly command your armies. Pressing Up on the D-Pad puts them in Attack position, while Down puts them in Defense. You also have the option of pressing LB or RB to dismiss/reclaim your left and right flanks respectively. However, most of the time, you’ll notice that having the armies by your side actually hinders your ability to kill things yourself. As an example, bosses are hard enough to KILL, let alone damage. They end up blocking most of the time, and during the times they AREN’T, you’ll find yourself swinging your weapon at point-blank range and missing 9 times out of 10. (And when you DO damage them, its very random exactly what damage you DO.) When you throw your army into the mix, when your TROOPS attack the boss, you won’t be able to damage it. At all. They’ll attack, do no damage, and you’ll sit there swinging your weapon at point-blank range hitting nothing. It’s infuriating.
All in all, the game offers quite a few enjoyable mechanics. However, none are refined enough to do you any good, and end up incredibly repetitive. And the sad thing is that you NEED to be repetitive in order to succeed.
At least the game gives you reasons to come back. As said before, there are quite a few characters to unlock and use as the game progresses. Each character has his/her own set number of missions to complete, increasing the game’s shelf life. Then again, every character’s mission involves “killing the horde” 99 times out of 100, but if you LIKE that sort of thing…
Still, there are some nice bonuses. Each mission you complete earns you a few points. By accumulating these points, you’re allowed to spend them to unlock character profiles and special artwork found in the Art Gallery. Winning battles and seeing the game through also offers you Achievement Points. You’ll get the largest bonuses from beating the game with every character, as well as raising them all to Level 9. So I guess it isn’t ALL bad…
Replay Value: 6/10
The game’s learning curve is almost a flat one, to be sure. You’re given a tutorial mode at the main screen that teaches all of the game’s particulars, and even a three-year-old can figure out that there are only two attack buttons and they can take you through most of the game. But there are points where the game instantly goes from “romp in the park” to “I died? What the hell just happened?!?!?”
For most of a given mission, you’ll be able to waste the incoming throng of enemies with little-to-no problems. Then either a specific group of enemies or one gigantic powerful one will appear, and you won’t be able to get a hit in edgewise. This mostly happens with the bosses, but there are a few enemy types that will give you the same problems. And its REALLY annoying when you die after spending upwards of 30 minutes in a mission, only to lose ALL your progress and having to start over.
As I’ve said before, if you played Dynasty Warriors, you’ve essentially know the core of N3. It’s the same type of game, with the same type of real-time army VS army missions, and the same type of progression from stage to stage. The main differences lie in the game’s “location”, the amount of characters on the screen, and the ability to super-chain massive combos together by taking out tons of the enemy horde. Other than that, its kill, kill, kill with not much else going for it.
N3 does have an initial addictive factor that appears when you first begin the game. I know I was hooked for the first day or two after going through the initial stages. (I’m a fan of Dynasty Warriors, after all.) The seemingly never-ending hordes were rather entertaining to decimate, and the beautiful locations were a pleasure to do battle in. But once the “wow factor” wore off, the game grew VERY repetitive for me. I was no longer sucked in, but bored to tears. At least DW5: Empires had a lot more strategy aspects going for it with the ability to manage your armies in between battles. N3 has none of that.
The game had a lot going for it before its release, and I’m sure that most casual gamers will be drawn in to the fact that it’s PRETTY! Not to mention that its one of the cheaper 360 titles at a mere $49.99. And considering that there’s more in this game than quite a few OTHER games already priced at $59.99, your average gamer will consider this a good value. The demo you can download off of XBox Live is also an amazing promotional tool for drawing people into the game. I know that I was hyped after experiencing the demo, that’s for sure. I just wish I got more out of the full version than the demo…
Appeal Factor: 5/10
N3 looks to have all of the ingredients to make a great and memorable game. Massive battles, hundreds of enemies to kill, multiple characters to play as, nearly 50 gigantic missions, and loads of unlockable content. On paper, this looks to be Microsoft’s first real mega-hit for the 360. But in practice, it seems to be the same old song for over-hyped games: too much effort in one area, not enough in where it counts. The game has pretty graphics, as most games on the 360 do. But the game’s lack of originality and having different characters fight essentially the same battle over and over again kills any longevity N3 might have. And that’s really a damn shame.
Replay Value: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
TOTAL: 45/100 BELOW AVERAGE