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N3: Ninety-Nine Nights (Xbox 360) artwork

N3: Ninety-Nine Nights (Xbox 360) review

"Ninety-Nine Nights is grand, sweeping, and epic. Each character's attack style is varied, each storyline is different, and the secret character's adventure is a BLAST. At the best of times, the game's thoroughly engrossing and a joy to play. Unfortunately, because of numerous design issues, it can't fend off the bellowing swarms of other, better, older brawlers."

Two armies meet on the open plains. Swords clash, arrows fly, and lightning bolts born from wizards' incantations strike the iron-clad combatants. As the battle between light and darkness rages on, as the side of justice appears to gain the advantage, a dark, roiling cloud rises from above a distant hill. A squirming mass of flesh -- a sea of countless creatures -- approaches the river. Should these scoundrels cross the bridge and join the fray, they will annihilate the Army of Light.

One man, an enigmatic mercenary resting an enormous blade upon his shoulder, swoops down the grassy plains toward the river. As a flood of screaming, bellowing beasts descend upon him, this solitary warrior lifts his blade and stands firm at the bridge's center. His name is Myifee, and he is prepared to cut down hundreds of orcs, hundreds of goblins, hundreds of lizard-men, hundreds of dark elves, and even a massive troll or two. He will singlehandedly protect the forces of light from a force of thousands.

That is Ninety-Nine Nights at its best.

Like Dynasty Warriors, Chaos Legion, and every manly brawler before it, Ninety-Nine Nights pits the player against wave after wave of enemy troops. The difference is that everything in Ninety-Nine Nights is bigger, bolder, and more beautiful. Even though there are a few brief moments of slowdown, the familiar complaints of "boring backgrounds" or "enemies popping up from nowhere" don't apply. Hundreds of characters, both friend and foe, populate the screen at once -- and they can be seen approaching from a mile away. The backgrounds are littered with destructible towers, fragile kiosks, and crumbling archways. Every sword-clash and magical power fills the screen with blazing effects that make the once-revolutionary Soul Blade look primitive. One character, as her standard attack, conjures gouts of water that splash, ripple, and crash against the hordes before her.

The 360 makes such attacks look brain-squishingly gorgeous. While few moments match Myifee's incredible defense of the bridge, a combination of stunning visuals, silky controls, and diverse combo attacks (often topping 1000 consecutive hits) make Ninety-Nine Nights somewhat enjoyable.

. . . . .

It wasn't supposed to be "somewhat enjoyable". It was supposed to be great. Produced by Microsoft and jointly developed by Phantagram (Kingdom Under Fire) and Q Entertainment (Lumines), a lot of talented people worked on Ninety-Nine Nights. That's why it's so surprising that the game suffers from so many glaring design flaws. Quite frankly, someone in charge didn't know what they were doing. Many of the flaws are so blatant that message board nerds keep calling them glitches!

Each stage, which can last anywhere from five minutes to forty, is populated by clusters of enemies. Cool. These skirmishes are broken up by the expected boss fights: trolls, giant cape-clad frog-men, and the like. That's cool, too. However! These bosses are cheap and often impossible to hit. NOT cool -- not cool at all. Some attacks can break an enemy's guard, but here's the problem: bosses don't defend themselves by blocking. They defend themselves by attacking, because bosses are invincible while attacking. It's frustrating to deftly maneuver behind a lumbering, tree-swinging troll and strike at his undefended back, only to watch the sword pass through his body harmlessly.

In case that's not irritating enough, bosses are also impervious to damage while they're being hit. I once had orcish warlord Leuu cornered -- he was up against a spiked barricade, surrounded by myself and two legions of archers. Unfortunately, I couldn't hit Leuu because, similar to an MMORPG, "kill-stealing" is forbidden. I kept swinging, and my spear kept passing through Leuu's chest because thirty archers were already pelting him with arrows.

Since friendly troops barely inflict any damage -- even against basic, mundane enemies -- I had to reset the game. I wasn't willing to wait thirty minutes (or more) for my "friends" to kill Leuu. It would be nice if I could have ordered my allies to retreat or stop fighting, but that's not possible, as the squad controls are extremely limited. Most allies don't respond to commands. The few that do listen are limited to "attack near me" and "attack away from me". Neither is very useful when I want them to let me kill that damned orc by myself.

It's also worth noting that Ninety-Nine Nights lacks any mid-level checkpoints. If a player dies, all experience earned on that particular stage is reset, and any items acquired are removed. This may have been forgivable five years ago, but manly brawlers such as Drakengard 2 and Chaos Legion have already established a precedent: let people keep the experience they've earned. Don't screw players over for dying against an unfair boss after twenty minutes of hard work!

The game makes an unfortunate habit of screwing players over. As the player hammers, stabs, or smashes enemies, the "combo counter" in the corner goes up. The maximum combo achieved is calculated into the final score for the stage (affecting which items are earned for winning that particular level). Unfortunately, mid-level cutscenes reset the combo counter . . . and there are a LOT of cutscenes. More times than I care to count, I've racked up 1900 consecutive hits, only to miss the elusive 2000 because a mundane cutscene of "goblins running through grass" began.

Perhaps these sound like significant issues. Perhaps they sound like nit-picks. Either way, they're frequent blemishes on a game that could have been absolutely amazing, and they're things that Microsoft, Q?, or Phantagram -- whoever you choose to blame -- should have noticed.

Ninety-Nine Nights is grand, sweeping, and epic. Each character's attack style is varied (the vengeful priest is particularly fresh), each storyline features different twists on familiar missions, and the secret character's adventure is a BLAST. At the best of times, the game's thoroughly engrossing and a joy to play. Unfortunately, because of numerous design issues, it can't fend off the bellowing swarms of other, better, older brawlers.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (July 29, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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