Ninety Nine Nights (N3) combines appealing visuals and perfect controls for a satisfying experience action fans shouldn’t miss.
Ninety Nine Nights (N3) is a military hack and slash action game in the spirit of Dynasty Warriors and Kingdom Under Fire, which tasks players with killing hundreds upon hundreds of enemies using powerful melee combos and ancillary support from backup soldiers. The degree to which gamers enjoy repeatedly killing large groups of enemies with increasingly stylistic and powerful moves will determine their enjoyment of this title, as it offers little else in the way of game play. There are some mild strategic elements with regard to selection and application of support troop types, but the strategy definitely takes a back burner to the more immediate focus on your character, and their ability to kill with maximum efficiency and style.
Games of this sort are all about conveying a sense of power, and to its credit, N3 conveys this feeling of raw killing energy better than any other game in the genre. Initially your characters will start off with a dozen or so tiny combination moves that are effective against only small groups of enemies. As they progress by cutting swaths through wave after wave of soldiers, characters level up, granting them new abilities or longer versions of existing combos. These longer moves however come at a price and often make the character vulnerable for a moment, so one can’t just repeat the same uber-powerful sequence of attacks repeatedly. The various combos all have an appropriate context, and part of the thrill of N3 is reading the battlefield and pulling off the appropriate combo at just the right moment.
Being surrounded by hundreds of bloodthirsty enemies is commonplace in N3.
Items are scattered around the game space, which either recover the player’s health and orb energy or alter their offensive and defensive statistics. There are some problems with how the game handles item dispersal, (which will be discussed momentarily,) but overall, finding a new sword or piece of armor is helpful and gives the game an added layer of customization. Oddly there are items which actually lower your stats and provide no bonuses whatsoever. A questionable design choice, but such items can be easily ignored.
Players choose between taking two units consisting of infantry, heavy infantry, pike men, or archers at the onset of each battle. However, these allies merely tie up your foes so that you can kill them more slowly, and aren’t really necessary from an offensive perspective. Rudimentary orders can be given like “Stay Here,” “Defend Me” and “Attack,” but really this aspect of the game feels like an afterthought, and no real strategy is required. True, certain troops will survive longer against particular enemies than others will, but since it’s impossible to predict what kind of enemy forces you will encounter on the 1st play through of a level, it’s basically a crap shoot as to weather or not you chose the right men for the job. You can just leave the army in “Attack” mode the entire game and forget about them. Kingdom Under Fire, on the other hand, had a more robust troop control scheme, but it was at times too much for players to contend with in the heat of battle. Perhaps a balance between the two games’ approaches to troop controls would be the best way for future games in this genre to grow.
Although you will lead troops into battle, you’ll be baby sitting them rather than relying on them for assistance.
The majority of attacks are controlled with two face buttons, but there is a surprising amount of depth to the combinations these two buttons afford, particularly at the higher levels. Gameplay feels a little like Soul Calibur, where one button controls vertical attacks and the other controls horizontal swipes. Fallen foes drop red orb energy which builds up in a meter. When filled, characters can unleash their spark energy, super moves, which last a limited amount of time but absolutely devastate opponents. Enemies who are killed during this release of spark energy drop blue orbs, which in turn fill up yet another blue meter. By activating this blue spark energy, players can essentially kill all enemies within a large area instantly.
Kill hundreds of enemies in a single blow using N3’s spark attacks.
Although games of this sort are often criticized for being repetitive button mashers, N3 sidesteps this pitfall by providing players the incentive to level up and unlock new combination moves, thereby making them more effective battlefield killing machines. Were it not for this ability to grow deadlier with experience (not to mention the ability to do it with all seven characters,) N3 would be monotonous and unrewarding. However, the variety of combinations that a player can earn are more numerous and visually spectacular than previous games in the genre, and it’s the variety that ultimately helps N3 rise above its mindless hack and slash roots.
Controls are responsive and precise, and rarely frustrate. A player can easily vary their combos in an intuitive fashion based on the ever-changing state of the battlefield. Eventually, the player gains so many moves that it would be daunting to memorize them all were they available from the onset of the game. However, because the new moves are parsed out so gradually, there is a rewarding sense of accomplishment and character growth as the players level up and learn the half dozen or so more powerful combos they have just earned.
The number of possible attacks offered to players is a welcome change from the limited move-sets of earlier military hack and slash games, making N3 a more goal-oriented affair. In addition, there are a total of seven playable characters, so there are plenty of combinations to unlock in N3. All of the different players’ combos are variations along a common theme, though, so once players grasp the basic philosophy of play with one character they will be able to easily transfer that knowledge to the other player-characters.
The story is told from numerous points of view. For example, a single battle will be told from the perspective of every main character involved on both sides of the war. It is somewhat interesting to see so many different aspects of a single battle, but at the same time most players would have appreciated some new battlefields to explore with the games numerous playable characters.
The narrative elements are not the strong suit of N3. Although the story isn’t terrible, it’s not the reason for playing the game. The cut scenes are generally very attractive, but lip-syncing is quite poor, and localization efforts could have been much better regarding dialogue translations. The quality of acting is serviceable, but not outstanding. A final gripe regarding N3’s cut scenes: there is an annoying design flaw in which the movies interrupt the players hard-won spark attacks anytime they unleash their orbs just before an unpredictable triggered cut scene. Not a game-breaker, but obnoxious nonetheless.
Cut scenes are attractive, but you won’t be playing Ninety Nine Nights for the mediocre story.
There are some other notable problems with the game, most of which center around how the game drops special items. When the player defeats a tough boss character for example, the reward items like bonus XP and more powerful weapons are only available for a few brief seconds, and if the player can’t pick them all up by the time the cut scene loads, the items are lost to the ages.
Compounding this frustration, the game will occasionally drop a powerful item outside of the boundaries of the playable area, making it impossible to pick up. Item drops are random, and all maps are repayable, so it’s not as though one can’t go back through parts of the game in order to gain better equipment, but the developers should have made sure players get their rewards after a single play through of a given level.
Another popular complaint of the game is the lack of an in-mission save system, which the developers claim was an intentional choice to promote a sense of tension. In practice the save system is not actually a significant impediment to the action, and the design choice actually seems to work in N3’s favor. When you are on the final boss fight of a given level, and you only have a few pixels worth of health remaining, the ensuing drama is palpable as you alternate between defending and attacking.
So although N3 is not a narrative powerhouse, it does offer up some visceral action for the Xbox 360. Although the pleasure to be had from mowing down army after army may not be enough for everyone, fans of straight-up action who appreciate tight controls, high production values, quality graphics, and well paced character progression could do much worse on Microsoft’s console. Fans of Kingdom Under Fire or Dynasty Warriors will be pleasantly surprised at the improvements found in N3. As mentioned earlier though, newcomers to the genre will like the game to the degree that they will enjoy the making their characters increasingly more powerful over time. The battles are all the same, essentially… it’s the player-character that improves as the game progresses, and capitalizing on these improvements is at the core of N3’s fun.